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When I became a mother, I counted how many summers I got to spend with my girls before they found their wings and left the safety of my home. In retrospect, now that they are nearly grown, I felt like we had so much more time. I knew that my days with them in my home were limited, and I wanted all the time we could squeeze out of their childhoods to be full of adventures. In 2012, according to my calculations, I had nine summers left with Justice and thirteen with Trinity.  I had dreamed of an experience that would bring our family closer when we made the life-changing decision to spend three months living in the developing nation of Guatemala. Justice was ten, and Trinity was six years old. 

Risking it all, we rented out our home, packed all our belongings, left our friends and family, and drove off towards a country full of unknowns. My husband Darrin, myself, Justice and Trinity loaded our car and drove 2,826 miles over 12 days from Utah to a little town in Guatemala. This trip inevitably changed my family forever. What I thought was going to be a few months living in a developing country turned out to be a lifelong love for the country and the people I could never have expected. 

While in Guatemala, I taught English while my girls attended school at the same campus, and Darrin was volunteering as a nurse. During the weekends, we’d plan outings so that we could see more of the country. One weekend we volunteered at an orphanage in the highlands of Solola. My daughters loved the children, reading to them, snuggling with them, and feeding them while Darrin did physicals, and I provided over 50 haircuts. We worked most of the day, laughing with and showing love to these kiddos. We also cried as we learned how many of these children had come to live in this orphanage.

International adoptions were not allowed, so many children would live out their lives without being adopted into a forever family. My young daughters got to experience what life is like inside an orphanage. They also got to learn one of my fundamental beliefs, that we can all give love. We can show love to people who speak another language, infants who don’t yet talk, people with different customs and cultures, and individuals with varying skin colors. This invaluable lesson was made available to our kids because of our humanitarian travel. 

In May of 2012, we wrote to our family back home, “We are doing good. We are still settling in. We live in a middle-class, gated community in a 400 sq ft home, with a pila (an outside cement sink) we use to wash our clothes and our dishes by hand, whether it’s raining or sunny. We’re still figuring all that out. The days of loading a dishwasher or washing machine are gone for a while. The comforts of ‘home’ are so much more appreciated!! Our girls have been AMAZING!!! They have not once said a negative word about anything. They volunteer to wash our clothes and have been great helpers moping, sweeping, and unpacking. We have sprayed the entire place several times for the coach roaches, flies, or red wasps:) Gratefully the only roaches we’ve found were dead!! Still adjusting to all of the critters, though 🙂 Know that we send our love from Guatemala.”

I have always liked to travel like a local. When we are in Mexico, Guatemala, or Belize, our family rents a home in a local neighborhood to understand what it’s like to experience that community. When many of us vacation, we fly into another country, take a taxi to a resort and spend a blissful week soaking in the sun. When friends ask, we tell them we loved the country and encourage them to go. There is wonder in an all-inclusive resort, however, I want to see how life is lived in another country. 

In 2020, Guatemala and the rest of the world was shut down. People were stuck in their homes without food and no possibility of work. Families in Guatemala put out white flags on their front door letting neighbors know that the family inside was out of food. 

I was sending money to Guatemalan friends and organizations who were able to buy food and deliver it to their neighborhoods. It was simply the only thing I could think of because we were all struck with such fear. After seeing posts about the food distribution a woman named Linda reached out to me on social media asking me for money. What was different about her was she was asking me if we could help her feed the hungry people in her community. My initial reaction was to say no. I am not in the habit of giving hundreds of dollars to someone I’ve never met. I told her I would need 2 days to think about this arrangement. The truth is I had looked for someone that lived in Guatemala and would work as hard as I do to help the people there. I had wanted to meet someone like Linda for years and I was thrilled that she might be ‘the one’. I decided to send her $600. With $600 Linda and her husband were able to feed 53 families for 30 days. For about $20 a family Linda made sure that hundreds of people were fed. I was elated.

After getting to know Linda she shared with me that she wanted to start a preschool. The schools were closed and she had just lost her teaching job. She was now home with her small children and wanted to be teaching other children. I explained to her my desire to start a nutrition program. I believed that they would work hand in hand helping children grow healthy bodies and brains. Because Guatemala ranks about the 4th most malnourished country in the world it didn’t make sense to only provide an educational opportunity. Linda and I decided that we could do both and without any sponsors we started our breakfast program bringing kiddos a warm breakfast 5 days a week. As sponsors signed up we were able to add preschool and then lunch to our day and with a generous grant we were able to add dinner boxes to our week. We are currently providing thousands of meals a month to our community and are in the process of buying land to build a sewing center. We are making huge strides and I am elated to see the changes in our community. I took a risk on Linda and it has paid off. I believe in creating win/win experiences and I believe that is what we create with the volunteers who join us and the people we serve in Guatemala. 

Being brave enough to leave our comfort zone opened up our lives to lifelong friendships and connections. I simply can’t imagine what my life would look like if Guatemala wasn’t in it. I would certainly have more free time and our family would certainly have more money, but we would have missed out on nine years of incredible memories made. Together we have swam with whale sharks, watched dolphins play in the ocean over breakfast, ridden horseback up an active volcano, donated thousands of backpacks full of school supplies, watched butterflies migrate, enjoyed new foods, hiked Mayan ruins, filled libraries with books, volunteered, fallen, threw up, froze taking s