Frequently, many of us here in Connecticut read and hear about poverty in various countries, and wonder how we can help. Can I as an individual really make a difference? If I donate to a charity, will my money go directly to the people in need?
Fortunately, I was recently able to find a meaningful volunteer project in Guatemala that addressed my concerns, focused on children and seemed doable. Guatemala is a country ranked 131 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Poverty Index. Published reports tell us that the country’s young people and those living in rural areas are the most vulnerable, and poverty is highly concentrated among indigenous communities, which comprise over 40 per cent of the total population.
Tackling the issue of children living in abject poverty is complex and can be overwhelming, but one effort seemed a simple, but yet a significant concept. It’s the Bunk Bed Project (http://www.theloveofpatricia.org/the-bunk-bed-project.html), for which volunteers raise funds to purchase bunk beds and then travel to Guatemala to build them.
The project is led by Leceta Guibalt and now has three components, which includes The Bunk Bed Project, The Backyard School and the El Amor de Patricia orphanage. Guilbalt explains ” As we decided to support The Bunk Bed Project……we chose children who attend the Backyard School after school project. It encourages a healthy night sleep
and education and family support.” A nearby orphanage was soon added as part of the project to provide those children as well with beds and other supplies.
Volunteer teams,, made up of up to 12 people from around the country, each raise on average $5,000. This can be raised through local fundraisers, donations, or sale of donated items to pay for the cost of the beds and mattresses. As a teacher at Avon High School, I was fortunate to be able to engage a group of students to help raise money by soliciting donations to help pay for the beds. Friends and family also responded generously to donation requests, large and small, while students at the DePaola Middle School in Southington also pitched in by donating school supplies.
Finally this past March, armed with, good intentions, school supplies and even a suitcase full of new children’s shoes, I traveled with other volunteers from across the country to Guatemala for one week to help build the 25 bunk beds and mattresses our fundraising purchased.
As a teacher, my main concern was that every penny our team raised would go directly to the children. Upon arriving, I saw immediately that was the case; it was clear that Lecita and her two adopted sons from Guatemala, Alex, and Nestor, cared deeply for the children, and I saw first-hand how our dollars were spent.
Working alongside them, we visited homes of families at the school based on need to make sure they are people who, sadly, might sell the beds for money. Our work included removing what the families were using as makeshift beds, such as twigs, cinder blocks, and wood pallets. In some cases, there was nothing to remove; the children were sleeping on the floor.
Our work was conducted in San Bartolomé located in the center of country, 30 minutes and 9 miles from Guatemala City. We spent time at the orphanage the project is associated with, El Amor de Patricia orphanage in San Lucas, Sacatepequez and, as a teacher visiting the Backyard School to bring the school supplies donated by the students from Southington, it was especially memorable.
Throughout the week, I was so struck by the graciousness and appreciation of the people there for our work, that by the third day of the trip, I knew I had to return and began texting family members, including my mother, aunts and cousins in Connecticut, to join me in 2016 Bunk Bed Project.
My family and that of another teammate from last year responded, and I am glad to say that this coming March, “Team Familia” made up of our family members is already raising money and will travel to Guatemala to help assemble the beds and distribute other supplies.
The goal for our second trip is even greater than providing beds and other supplies. We also want to let the children and families we met in Guatemala know that people do return for them and that they matter. We intend to keep forming relationships and using our resources here to improve their lives.
Gina Carchidi is a Special Education Teacher at Avon High School. If you are interested in learning more about The Bunk Bed Project please visit http://www.theloveofpatricia.org/the-bunk-bed-project.html, if you would like to donate to help ‘Team Familia’ raise the $5,000 needed for the beds, please contact: (firstname.lastname@example.org). Donations of $5, $10, anything you can give, will go a very long way in making a difference.