For anyone who’s spent even a relatively short amount of time in Antigua Guatemala, it’s hard not to notice that large swaths of the population aren’t living under the best of conditions. The day-to-day realities of the indigenous Maya population become even more noticeable when you venture out to the rural communities outside of Antigua’s touristy bubble.
For some weeks now, my wife and daughter have volunteered to help at a newly opened community feeding center in Santa Maria de Jesus, which is staffed and sponsored by Iglesia del Camino, the local bilingual church we visit on Sundays.
I made this video to showcase the program, which has been well-received:
My wife had begged me for some time to go visit with her. Every time she visits Campos de Sueños – the name of the community center which literally translates to “fields of dreams” – she would come home with another heartwarming story about the Maya children that the center was built to feed. I took a break from my busy schedule yesterday and headed out there to document the visit.
Waiting for children to arrive at Campos de Suenos
Santa Maria de Jesus is about 20 minutes from Antigua and it’s the highest community along the slopes of Agua Volcano and serves as a jumping off point for excursions to Agua’s summit. Residents live off farming the land. Campos de Sueños is located right on the outskirts of town and its goal is to feed 500 local children every weekly, in every session.
Small church in Santa Maria de Jesus
Cornfields in Santa Maria de Jesus
My wife was right. The children were incredibly friendly and most were quick to open up to me, even though most had never seen me five minutes before meeting them. Some had a natural spark to them and couldn’t wait for me to make eye contact and offer me a warm smile. Others were shy and their eyes communicated a sadness that was palpable.
I spent most of the time sitting down next to them and engaging in conversation. The girls taught me their favorite pattycake games while the boys showed me their favorite secret handshakes (I learned the “milk-the-cow” handshake, which I’ll show you when we meet in Guatemala).
I was also struck by how close family members were. Brothers always watched after their younger siblings and girls carried on their back, with great effort, as they looked after them and made sure the young ones ate all their food. To be a brother’s keeper was not something they did begrudgingly or took lightly. I really admire them for their dedication.
(Click Any Pic for Full-Screen Slideshow)
After taking each picture, I would show it to them on the camera, which made them shriek with delight. Pretty soon, they were calling me from every table asking me to take their picture.
After sharing the picture-taking experience with a staff member, she told me the following story:
A volunteer group arrived a few months back with a Polaroid camera and had given the children copies of their pictures. Fast forward a few months later, when one of the same children was gathering firewood for the family in a remote lot. The person watching over the property, in their attempt to discourage trespassers, shot and killed the child. At the child’s funeral, as witnessed by staff members from the center who attended the wake, prominently displayed was the Polaroid picture that the child had received a few weeks back. It was the only picture that the parents had of her.
That story touched me, because, in this era of over-sharing and Instagramming selfies, there are people in this world for whom having a picture of themselves is a luxury and for some, a treasured possession. Which is why I plan to print some of these to distribute to the children and go back to take some more pics. It’s the least I can do.
It’s been my experience that when one volunteer to give back, the one doing the volunteering often gets back the same, or more, than the person on the receiving end. Always.
Check out the Campos de Suenos Facebook Fan Page and spread the word about the project. If you’re interested in donating time and/or money – tax-deductible by the way, check out their official website.