September 25, 2019
6 Things I Learned from Installing Latrines in the Remote Hills of Guatemala
For four years running, through a partnership with Medical Teams International, we've sent a team of Superfeet employee-owners far into remote regions of Guatemala to help increase access to clean water and improve hygiene practices in the community. Superfeet employee-owner Bailey Erickson just returned from this year's trip. Here are six things she learned while installing latrines in the remote hills of Guatemala.
A Smile is the Universal Welcome
As we stepped off the bus on day one in San Sebastian Beleju, we were welcomed with a sea of warm smiles. The villagers held signs, greeted us with hugs and handshakes, and one woman even offered a quick kiss on the cheek. We walked into a community where the only words we understood were gringo and kalen (hello), and somehow it felt like walking into a neighborhood block party. At the first house we worked at, Marcela smiled, happy to see us, and invited us into her home. She shared about her family and the work she does as a mother counselor.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
A recurring theme from the villagers was a sincere thank you for showing up. We spent four days learning from and, more than likely, slowing down the village masons as they taught us how to build latrines: forty shovels of sand and cement, add water and stir, dig holes, bury logs, cut and build frames, lay rebar, add rock, add cement, top with latrine. But, it wasn't ever about the number of latrines and handwashing stations (20, in case you are wondering). It was about the sacrifices we made to be there, the effort we put in to help, and the willingness to learn about, connect with, and be immersed in their community.
It Really Does Take a Village
I've heard the phrase it takes a village since I was a kid, but it didn't truly click until I experienced life in San Sebastian Beleju. Food was often cooked for multiple generations or more than one family. Children played under the watchful eye of surrounding adults. At each home we were typically accompanied by the woman of the house, her kids, friends and neighbors. The men were often working in other villages, returning home once each week or month. The men and older children who were around tended to help out their neighbors, some even digging the 10-foot hole for a family's latrine if assistance was necessary.
Enjoy Each Moment Like It's Your Last
Our time in San Sebastian Beleju was short, but we made the most of it. We jumped into the opening and closing ceremonies, speaking our hearts to the villagers and dancing awkwardly alongside them. We played soccer with the kids and gave stickers to the mob of children chanting "give me one, give me one." We ate lunch with the mother counselors and heard their hopes and desires for the community's health moving forward, and learned why they each accepted their roles as leaders. I listened carefully, trying to absorb every bit of information they were willing to share.
If You Can, Give Back
There was a moment on each woman's face, at our first latrine installation in particular, that struck me each time the job was finished. It was a mixture of joy and gratitude expressed in their eyes. It was the moment that you've changed their life forever and they've changed yours. At that moment, I felt love and honor. I was honored to be invited to participate in this special moment.
Be open to change, challenge, and adversity. Allow yourself to learn new things and new ways to do things. Be willing to open your mind and your heart, especially to those you don't know or understand. Explore new experiences and opportunities, and be receptive to the effects that those experiences will have on your outlook on life.
To learn more about Medical Teams International and the work they do both at home and abroad, visit www.medicalteams.org. For more about how your Superfeet purchase helps shape strong foundations, visit the Superfeet Giving page.