South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club changes lives in Guatemalan village

South Everett-Mukilteo chapter builds school and stoves for small village
By Brandon Gustafson | Apr 18, 2018
Courtesy of: Sean Straub South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club member Sean Straub working on the early stages of a new school in Canton Maya Jaguar, Guatemala.

Members of the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club broke out their work boots, tools, and passports for their recent volunteer trip.

Last month, members of the SEMR teamed with members of the Marysville Rotary Club and the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation in the small Guatemalan village of Canton Maya Jaguar, where they helped build a school, as well as putting new stoves in houses and clean water through water catchment systems.

Sean Straub, a local realtor who was raised in Mukilteo and graduated from Kamiak, has been a member of the SEMR for the last 13 years, and made his first trip to Guatemala this past month.

“We left Seattle on March 9 and got back March 19,” Straub said. “We were in the village of Canton Maya Jaguar from March 11 to March 15 with a couple days of travel on either side.”

According to Straub, volunteer work in Guatemala isn’t new for the SEMR.

“The SEMR has been a part of this for a long time,” Straub said. “We built a four-room schoolhouse with a brand new water catchment system for clean water. It’s a big school.”

According to Morrie Trautman, also with SEMR, the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation has been jointly leading trips to Guatemala with Rotary Clubs and other organizations for 25 years.

Leeon Aller, who was from Snohomish, started the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, in 1985, in order to assist villages in northwest Guatemala.

Trautman, who made his seventh trip to Guatemala last month, said a lot of kids attend the school in Canton Maya Jaguar.

“There’s projected to be over 100 kids who attend the school,” Trautman said. “They only go to sixth grade, though.”

“It’s a very poor country with a wide diversity of income,” Straub said.

“There are the haves and the have nots,” Trautman added. “The people we help live in houses with dirt floors.”

The need for a schoolhouse in the village was very apparent, Straub said.

“The existing schoolhouse was a really dark place,” Straub said. “They had a generator that ran sometimes, but not always. This new school has plastic skylights to brighten the place up.”

According to Trautman, the volunteers started work early in the morning and would work until dark.

“We started the job usually around 7:30, had lunch at noon, and would work until it got dark around 6 or so,” Trautman said. “Then you’d go back to your hut, was all the mud off, and take a nice, cold shower. Most people would lay down around 8:30, and it was a like a den of bears by 9.”

Trautman said the weather in the village can be tough to deal with at times.

“The weather can be fairly aggressive,” he said. “In going down there the last few years, I’ve found myself working in mud – mud that went over my boot tops. We had extension cords that ended up running through mud puddles.”

In addition to building the school, Straub said they also built over 50 new stoves in the villagers’ houses.

“We’ve put in hundreds of these things over the years,” Trautman said. “We also manufacture the stoves in Barillas (about two hours away), so it also provides jobs for the locals.”

Trautman said villagers would cook in their homes and get sick because of smoke and ash getting in their system, and would often die young as a result.

“These stoves are eight times more effective than wood stoves,” Trautman said. “It’s less work since they don’t need to gather firewood. We also build them chimneys. It gives them more time to craft and to spend with their children and families. The women were crying with joy.”

The volunteers also put in multiple water catchment systems, including one at the school.

“Clean water there is so important,” Straub said. “If they don’t have the water catchment, they walk miles for clean water. Children and women are usually the ones to do that, and it takes time from other things.

“Now, they can gather supplies or create things to sell. It saves them time so they can better help their families.”

One thing Straub and Trautman both said was the people of the village were extremely happy and eager to learn.

“Everything you picked up, they wanted to know the English word,” Straub said. “Really, we were all learning together. The simplicity is beautiful. It’s a great filter.”

“There are kids everywhere,” Trautman said. “They weren’t bogged down by the influences around them. They were very curious and joyous. They love that kind of distraction.”

Trautman said the projects normally take about five days to complete, depending on the village. He said the overall process of getting something built there takes roughly two years.

“Villages have to apply to the program,” Trautman said. “If accepted, they have to donate the land, clear and prepare it. We send in the supplies, and the village supplies the labor. In this case, there was a 1,000-foot increase in elevation, and they packed all the supplies by hand and foot. We come in when it’s ready to go.”

Trautman said the villages also have to show that they can support a new school with teachers and supplies.

Pete Kinch, the executive director of the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, said the village is in the northwestern part of the country, an area the foundation focuses on, and they usually focus their efforts on improving education by building schools.

“We work in that area because those people really don’t have anything,” Kinch said. “Education is the ticket to better living conditions.”

The villagers help the volunteers build the school, and often come away with gifts for their help.

“There were about two to three guys per person, and we had about 45 villagers helping us out,” Trautman said. “We leave tools for them as a thank you.”

Trautman said one of the biggest takeaways for him was how the elderly acted.

“They’re amazing to observe. They’re so incredibly thankful,” Trautman said. “The mayor of the village actually stopped me on my way out and wanted to give me his jacket. That was the only thing this guy had, and he wanted to give it to me.”

Trautman said he often saw elders crying out of appreciation for what the organizations were doing for the village.

“The elders realize what this school is going to do for these children,” Trautman said. “Now their kids and grandkids have a bright future as a result.”

The school in the early stages of construction. According to South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club member Morrie Trautman, the project took five days to complete. (Courtesy of: Sean Straub)
Volunteers and villagers pose in front of the new school in Canton Maya Jaguar, Guatemala. Members of the South Everett-Mukilteo Rotary Club assisted with the project. (Courtesy of: Sean Straub)
Sean Straub and a Guatemalan villager posing next to a new stove. Volunteers put these stoves in the villagers’ houses, along with chimneys, to reduce disease and sickness caused by using wood fires to cook, which filled the houses with smoke and ash. (Courtesy of: Sean Straub)
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