Atop a steep hill near Tecpan, Guatemala, not far from the ancient Mayan ruins at Iximche, a framework of steel posts and rafters rises amid the trees.
Its builders call it WAY-bi, which in Mayan means “house of dreams.” It is the beginning of a hospice facility for children and their families being constructed by Mission of Love, an all-volunteer humanitarian organization that works abroad and within the United States to assist those in need.
Kathleen Price, director and co-founder of Mission of Love, has high hopes the building will be finished by the end of the year, but Medina Township resident Tom Borror said next year may be more realistic.
Borror and his wife, Sharon, were members of the most recent team that traveled to Guatemala — Tom to work on construction, Sharon to teach art lessons to Mayan children.
Mission of Love teams have been there three times since October 2011, working with Dr. Edgar Moran and his wife, Claudia. Volunteers pay for their transportation, rooms and meals, and most of them also contribute toward materials needed for the project they’re working on, Sharon said, adding they discovered several other Medina County residents — Henry DeGroh of Hinckley Township, and Roger Estep and Jason and Ludmila Matthews, all of Medina — on the team when they arrived in Guatemala City.
The Borrors became involved about two years ago, when Darrell Waite invited Tom to build crates for looms Mission of Love prepared for shipment. When Waite invited him to go to Guatemala to help build an orphanage, Tom and Sharon volunteered. When the hospice project was announced, the decision to go again was an easy one to make.
A Denton C5 Airlift delivered 85,000 pounds of building materials, medical and educational supplies, bags of corn, clothing, shoes, toys and playground equipment on March 17, several days before the team arrived.
Edwin, the Mayan translator for the group, said Price called it a “large plane full of love.”
Mayan volunteers sorted and organized the donated goods.
The Americans stayed at a retreat center similar to a hostel at Tecpan. They rose early during their weeklong stay in order to be on the road by 6:30 a.m., packed into two big vans.
“They were wrecks, the tires were bald,” Sharon said with a laugh, as she looked over photos from the trip. “They dropped us off at the restaurant (near the building site) and picked us up at the end of the day. Most people walk, but we also saw people on horseback or bikes, or driving ox carts. Women walk down the street with baskets balanced on their heads. There’s not much public transportation. They use old school buses for that. Some people own tiny little cars that look like toy cars.”
Work began at Granja, the farm and cultural arts center at the bottom of the hill near the site, where future assistance dogs will be trained, and where a menagerie of turkeys, chickens and rabbits live.
When children enter the hospice center, they each will be given an animal. When a child dies, the animal will be presented to the child’s family.
“All the women weave,” Sharon said, adding she worked with the Mayan women setting up a new loom. “They took ownership of it.”
The restaurant near the hospice site — another building project completed not long ago — will sell their handiwork.
The art classes Sharon hoped to teach didn’t turn out as planned.
“Word spreads fast there, and if you said there would be lessons, they told me 300 kids would show up,” she said with a small smile. “I didn’t have enough supplies.” She had to be satisfied with classes for children of the Mayans who came from Guatemala City to work on the center.
“The art lessons didn’t turn out as anticipated, but they will grow, and we will send more supplies.”
She already is collecting supplies they will send on the next trip sometime in September.
Although the Mayan ruins she saw on the mission made an impact, her visit to impoverished homes of Tecpan, where Price made arrangements to assist two women in need, made a bigger one.
“Just by going in, doing humanitarian things, help ‘gringos’ to be more accepted. Word gets around that it’s not just words, but action,” Sharon said. “The people who came to work from Guatemala City said we opened their eyes to see the needs of their own people.”
Sharon worked with other female volunteers who cleaned and painted the steel beams at the farm. Working in relays, men and women hauled the beams and equipment to the building site, 7,240 feet above sea level. Workers were encouraged to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, to help avoid altitude sickness, something that plagued a few members of the team.
Tom said the previous group set more than 60 foundation piers of concrete and rebar for two structures, one measuring 30-by-120 feet, the other 30-by-100 feet. The Borrors’ group set steel posts and rafters for the buildings, which will be connected by a 20-by-80 foot walkway.
Once the frame was complete, a Mayan ceremony blessed the site with fire, flowers and music, and the volunteers were invited.
“They brought bags of flower petals, arranged in arrows pointing north, south, east and west,” she said, with candles completing the pattern and the Mayan priest chanting against a backdrop of music. Each volunteer received a wooden amulet based on his or her birth date. “Mine was I’X, the jaguar.”
Eight of the volunteers also were privileged to attend a Mayan New Year’s ceremony before departure.
“As the chanting started,” Sharon said, “I stepped outside myself thinking, ‘I am here, taking part in a Mayan ceremony in the woods in Guatemala. This is not a tourist attraction. This is for real.’ It was overwhelming.”
They gifted the children in the area with a fiesta, provided toys and clothing, and played with them by blowing bubbles.
“By the end of the week, we had a Guatemalan family,” Sharon said. “There was a language barrier, but we learned to communicate with the heart.” When they passed by the family who lived near the work site, one little boy blew her a kiss. She caught it and pantomimed taking it into her heart.
“What’s better than that? People ask why we do this. That’s why we do this.”
The Guatemalan crew will continue the hospice center work, and the volunteer group going in September will help them take it to the next level.
Future plans include a dental-medical clinic, procuring an ambulance and school buses, and a program to train assistance dogs for the blind and disabled.
For every dollar donated, Mission of Love generates $122 worth of goods and services. Donations are welcome. Contributions may be sent to Mission of Love, 2054 Hemlock Court, Youngstown, 44515, or visit www.missionoflove.org to contribute online.
Contact Judy A. Totts at email@example.com.