The DukeEngage in Guatemala group, which partnered this summer with Social Entrepreneur Corps, recently shared an 8-minute video with us that the entire team pulled together providing a peek into their experience serving as social entrepreneurial consultants. You can also check out their blog for a broader look into the program. The group wrapped up their immersive experience July 16th.
I returned a few weeks ago from a trip to Guatemala where my family took part in a house build through the auspices of the organization From Houses to Homes. Through six days of hard physical labor that included mixing concrete, applying mortar, carrying hundreds of cinder blocks and painting, we were able to finish a 13 x 19 cinder block house for a family of 7 with children ranging in ages from 9 months to 12 years old. I also had the opportunity to visit with some of our DukeEngage students partnering with Social Entrepreneurship Corps and spent the day visiting with Cross Cultural Solutions, a U.S.-based organization that provides service opportunities throughout the world. The house build (check out the slide show above) was an extraordinary experience for my family and me. We got to know the family we were building for very well, in large part because my daughter, Leah, speaks such good Spanish and served as a translator for us. They shared with us the little food that they had, their curiosity and good spirit, and the challenges and promises of their lives. Below are reflections I wrote during the course of our service experience:
Now having just completed day three of a six day build, I can say that the physical labor is exhausting and incredibly rewarding. I have new appreciation for the term “back-breaking labor”. I have been shoveling, mixing cement, moving cinder blocks, applying mortar and sweating profusely. The building site is in front of the current house, up a narrow dirt road that is just wide enough to accommodate the pickup truck that picks us up each morning (we enjoy riding in the bed of the truck, which is, for the record, prohibited by DukeEngage) to the town of Santa Catalina. The surroundings are a complex mix of abject poverty and beautiful people and surroundings. Steep hills with coffee and bananas made lush by the frequent rain, framed by mountains partially obscured by clouds, provide a wonderful backdrop for this work. Trash strewn paths led to very small tiendas that vary little – the ubiquitous Coca Cola and a multitude of different forms of chips, or as I came to call them “salt delivery vehicles.”
We have gotten to know the Hernandez family well, and they are lovely. The dad is a carpenter who makes caskets and cutting boards, though he does not have work now. The mom went to school for one day and thus is illiterate, and rarely is seen without her nine-month-old Miguel on her hip. My children have very much enjoyed the Hernandez children, learning Spanish and teaching English, dancing, joking, throwing cement. These children are bright and hungry. They enjoy doing the fist bump with us and singing “The Wheels on the Bus.”
It became clear to us on the first day that this family did not have a lot of food as they watched us eat our ham and cheese sandwiches with hungry stares. They were not eating. We shared parts of our sandwiches with them, and passed around the cookies we had bought in the market in Antigua. My wife asked what they would like from the market, and they gave us a very long list including beans, rice, cornmeal, etc. We arrived the next day with a few things, and they have been eating these ever since. They are now asking for more, with the children wondering if we will bring them bicycles, cameras, etc. When we climbed out of the truck today they immediately asked what did we bring? We brought them a soccer ball, and coloring books and markers that we brought from Durham.
Needless to say, my family has been discussing what the right thing is to do here? I fear that we have now established a relationship with this family where we are in the dominant position because we can and have given them material goods. But when is it too much? When do the material goods that we are bringing disrupt their calm lives and fill their homey but rudimentary space with possessions that looks all too familiar to me? When does it become the defining feature of our relationship? When does our giving them material things become taking away their familiar lives? This is a struggle for us, and I can imagine for the Hernandez family as well.
We never solved these issues or others, including how the Hernandez family will be viewed by neighbors who did not have a house built for them.
I know that many of our DukeEngage students struggle with similar challenges. While I do not have the right answers, I do know that we should discuss these, look at the implications of our good intentions and, at the same time, not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.