This is a guest post by Abby about the experience she was able to participate in during November. We are very thankful not only for this opportunity, but also for the amazing young lady she is becoming.
Abby with Ingrid and the other “gringas:” Miriam, Sarah, and Taylor.
When I was first offered the chance to volunteer with the WALC program* for twenty-five days of November, I nearly said no. I’d been hoping to do NaNoWriMo again that month, get ahead in schoolwork, and prepare for the holidays, and I didn’t want to leave my family or my kitten for that long. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the month in a place I didn’t know, with new people, and a hundred Q’eqchi’ girls talking to me and asking the same questions every day, and then laughing to themselves in a language I didn’t understand. But God reminded me how I’d prayed for Him to take me out of my comfort zone. He softened my heart to see my stubbornness. My selfishness. In my notebook I wrote:
“Don’t I know that by following Him, His voice and His call, and leaving this bubble of comfort –don’t I know there is so much more to be experienced outside my desires? I claim my greatest desire is to follow Him- but does comfort mean more to me?”
“If it weren’t for You,” I wrote to God, “I’d choose no.” And so, though I was still nervous, I chose yes.
Abby and her friend, Heydi.
“You will be my strength- all of it, for I have none of my own for this- and You will be my song, even on the hardest days. You will be my shield- all around me, protecting me, upholding me, and You will be the only reward I ever need. “
Working on and showing off their orchid embroidery.
I stayed at the site of the program five days a week, coming home for one night mid-week and for the weekends. On November 6th, the day we picked up the girls and checked them all in, the day the program began, I found these words playing over and over in my head.
“God of the skies
You are watching over me
Every moment of every day
You are by my side.”
Planting cebollines with Ingrid’s (back left) gardening class
The adventure began. There were twelve classes, twelve groups, and twenty-four workdays, meaning over the course of the month, each group spent two full days in each class. For the first week of the program, I helped with the hortalizas –gardening- classes. We planted cilantro, kale, onions, and peas, all in the first few days. We harvested malanga root from taro plants with machetes, and spent the majority of our time weeding.
Organizing tree bags with Cleydi’s reforestation class
After that, I joined the reforestation classes for a week and a half. We spent four hours every day organizing tree bags in the nursery, rain or shine, and more often than not, it was extremely muddy. I discovered most of the girls were afraid of earthworms and centipedes and snakes of any kind, to the point where they would simply stand still for several minutes until it disappeared back into the soil, or scream and cause the whole group to gather around. It became part of my job to move the earthworms out of the way whenever they were spotted so the girls could continue with their work.
For the last week or so I helped out the cocineras –cooks- in the kitchen, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed those hours most of all. The days were spent chopping, peeling, and grating various vegetables, cooking rice, fetching tortillas from a nearby few families who worked together to make them for us every day–300 every meal, and collecting leaves from a certain plant called rok’tix in Q’eqchi’, to fry with eggs.
Helping distribute ingredients for making a rehydration drink–a very important recipe for rural communities where health care is hard to reach.
Over the course of the month, I learned the importance of choosing kindness before preference or comfort or judgment. I become excessively thankful for those who have been kind to me after I wasn’t to them, and I learned so much about just how connected I still am to my comfort zone, even when I thought I wasn’t. I met a hundred and thirty beautiful souls and got half a hundred hugs every day. I got to hear them sing, I got to dance with them, and I got to learn bits and pieces of their lovely language.
After the flower arranging session, some girls show off their creation.
I’m so thankful God didn’t let me choose no.
1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
*WALC stands for Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation. The program is for teenage Q’eqchi’ girls, focusing on agroecology but also teaching them about nutrition, cooking, health, hygiene, self-esteem, and various life skills. The program is made to empower the girls and to equip them so they can improve the agricultural practices of their own villages. Some teachings are based on historical practices of the Q’eqchi that have been lost over the years. When they complete the 25 days of training, the girls receive scholarships to go to school, since dropping out is extremely common for girl in their age range otherwise. More about it here: http://cloudforestconservation.org/our-work/walc/