Thirteen Manatee County residents and some friends from around the United States recently took a mission trip to Guatemala.
They traveled with Orphan’s Heart, the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes International Missions organization.
Floyd and Bobbie Price of Bradenton organized the trip and were joined by Jeff Smith, Don Vautrinot, Britt Williams of Bradenton, Bill and Di Bennett of Parrish, Danny Hall of Palmetto, Angela Burkett of Lakeland, Ty Lim of Pensacola, Christina Spence of Manassas, Va., and Paul Greenspan of Atlanta.
The group represented several churches, but primarily First Baptist Church of Palmetto.
The trip’s purpose was to build houses for families and to work at a malnutrition center for children in San Juan, Guatemala.
The team stayed at a hotel in Antigua, enjoying the sights of the historic city with its cobblestone streets, historic buildings and exotic marketplaces.
They were able to enjoy local foods and shopping as well as a zip-line tour 2,400 meters above a canyon at a coffee plantation before beginning their work among the people of Guatemala.
Each day, the eight men boarded a bus to drive 30 minutes outside of Antigua to do construction work.
Earning sometimes only $1 an hour, it is difficult or Guatemalans to earn enough money to buy a small piece of land on which to build a house, much less the materials for construction.
Many families live under cardboard or thatched roofs or cram several generations into one house.
Families headed by a single mother or a disabled father are at a much higher disadvantage.
Using funds donated by Women of Compassion, a support organization of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, the team built three new houses.
By American standards, these homes were really metal sheds, but to the Guatemalan families they might as well have been mansions.
The men poured a concrete floor for each house -- a luxury in Guatemala.
Though the men did not speak Spanish, it was evident by the expressions on the people’s faces and the light in their eyes how excited and touched they were about their new living conditions.
The group also discovered two families living in homes with broken walls or leaky roofs, so they remodeled two houses in addition to building the new ones.
While the men were building homes, the women traveled an hour from Antigua to San Juan to the malnutrition center begun by the Guatemala City Lion’s Club in the 1950s.
The Florida Baptist Children’s Home is partnering with this local agency to feed and care for malnourished children ages 2 months to 12 years.
Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere.
While there is food for the children, it is not high in protein or calories and many children are starving to death with full bellies.
News of the malnutrition center’s work has spread throughout Guatemala. When parents realize their children are ill, friends and family urge them to go to the center where they leave the children for as long as a year until they are healthy again.
The children receive three well-balanced meals and two snacks each day. A doctor and two nurses tend to their needs.
When the children go home at the end of their stay, the families receive enough food for the entire family for 15 days.
If the parents return with the child for a health examination twice a month, they received more food to keep them until the next visit.
While the children are nourished and brought back to health, there are not enough workers to give the children the affection and play that is also necessary for healthy development.
There were 68 children at the center the week the team visited, and fewer than two dozen workers to cook, clean, do laundry and work with the children.
The team’s purpose was to assist the workers, but also to play with the children and hold and love them.
Because the group of women was small, only the bed babies and toddler rooms received extra help.
The days sped by with baths, diaper changing, snacks, meals and play time.
As much as possible, the women rocked and held each child hoping to let them know in some small way they were loved and special. Each woman became particularly attached to at least one of the children and is proud to show pictures of “their” babies.
It was very hard to say goodbye at the end of the week, as a piece of their heart was left with the children.
Each member of the team hopes to go back to Guatemala soon and continue the work they started in building homes and working with the children.
Other teams through the Florida Baptist Children’s Home travel monthly to minister to the children and families there. For more information on how you can help, go to www.orphansheart.org.
Cathy Slusser is deputy director of Historical Resources for the Manatee County Clerk.