Students Transform Lives in Rural Guatemala

News Story: June 1, 2015

Nine Sacred Heart students recently traveled to Guatemala as an alternative spring break through the Office of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning. Their destination was a small, rural village in the southern part of the country located at a sugar plantation. The students’ goal was to learn about the community, get to know its people and identify ways they could help them achieve a better life.

The students and their adviser, History Professor Charlotte Gradie, stayed at the local non-profit CERNE (Centro de Educación y Recuperación Nutricional Emanuel) medical clinic where they painted the inside of the clinic and also its one-room schoolhouse. The trip also included a one-day excursion to an Ixil Maya village, where the students helped residents paint the community center. The week ended with an overnight stay in Antigua, the picturesque colonial Spanish capital.

Dr. Edwin Rojas, the clinic’s medical professional, identified respiratory illnesses as an important medical problem in the village. Inefficient wood-burning stoves used for cooking were the culprit. Sacred Heart student Adyel Duran ’17 went on this trip in 2014 and recognized it as a place where students could help. He found that the ONIL stove would meet the community’s need for an efficient, smoke-free stove. Not only would the air be cleaner, but these stoves use less wood—an important consideration in a place where people must carry wood long distances to their homes and where deforestation is a problem.

“Our project was not only feasible, but also tackles one of the most common health problems in rural Guatemala,” Duran says. “It took us two spring break visits to accomplish this, and we are beyond excited to move forward with this project. That this project sustainably approaches common health problems is only part of the reason we did it. More importantly, community development projects such as this one build the necessary trust our delegation needs from the community to offer similar projects.”

Working through the non-profit HELPS International, the student group raised funds to provide stoves for five families in the village. Last week, they received news that the stoves have been installed, along with an appreciative thank you from the families. Duran hopes that this initiative will continue in coming years and will transform even more lives in this small Guatemalan village.