Back from a life-changing trip to Guatemala

As they say in some of the remote parts of Guatemala, “Ma saa le chole?” or “How is your spirit today?” I hope all of your spirits are well and that you are enjoying the change of seasons and this beautiful time of year.

I am back from Guatemala, feeling deeply inspired. It is true what they say about our international service trips. They are life changing. They push you out of your comfort zone and make you grateful for every single blessing in your life. They also force you to face the social inequalities in the world and make you realize that we can’t turn our backs on those in need wherever they are on our planet.

The families we met in the remote highlands of Guatemala helped me to see and understand this in a whole new way. They are people who live in total poverty yet they are full of joy and generosity. Their warmth is contagious.


smiling baby

A warm welcome

When our bus pulled in to the small community of El Amay, it seemed like the entire village came out to greet us. I had been practicing the phrase, “Ma saa le chole” for days, and when I first blurted out the words to the group, we all had a good laugh at my terrible accent.

It was one of the warmest welcomes I have ever experienced. The community showered us with a festive ceremony full of song, dance and proclamations from local officials. There were children’s games for the kids, and lots of curiosity about one another.

Greeting 2

Greeting 3


Installing clean burning stoves

When the festivities ended, our team from Providence quickly got to work. Our assignment was to install clean burning stoves in homes to reduce respiratory problems that families in that community have been experiencing. We split into three groups and walked through the village and corn fields, with a parade of smiling children trailing behind us, until we arrived at our first homes.

The family I worked with had nine children. Their mother was named Carmen, and their father was away for corn harvest. I was immediately struck by the simplicity of their home: two rooms and three beds for the whole family, a thin roof, a dirt floor. It was dark except for rays of light coming through holes and cracks in the walls. Yet, the home was filled with love, and the family couldn’t be more excited to be getting a new stove.

After we installed it, Carmen prepared masa for the volunteers, so we could inaugurate the stove by making a batch of tortillas. Needless to say, Carmen’s turned out perfect. Ours, on the other hand, were more like oddly shaped blobs.



stove building

Guess which tortillas are mine.

You have to be resourceful in a place as remote as this. The handwashing system is an example of that. I was impressed with the creativity, a two liter bottle held by a string with a small opening at the bottom to prevent dirt from entering. I could see that our handwashing education program in Guatemala is having an impact. It’s essential for preventing the spread of bacteria.

The bus ride

In all, there were 21 volunteers from Providence on our trip. It was great to get to know them on a personal level. When we left the village, we spent the entire bus ride back talking about the experience and the families we met. We also learned about one another, each other’s families and kids and lives back home. It was definitely good bonding time, which is bound to happen when you spend hours together on a bus careening down winding roads, crossing rivers and even summiting hill tops.



Personal formation

Aimee Khuu, the director of our international program, says that our service trips to Guatemala are as much about personal formation for the Providence caregivers who volunteer in these programs as they are about helping the people of Guatemala. She says the experience causes people to challenge their assumptions and take personal responsibility for inequities and injustice in the world.

I think Aimee is absolutely right. The experience has made me much more grateful for everything I have and has made me more resolute than ever that Providence has to continue to be the voice for the poor and vulnerable. Thank you to everyone at Providence who brings our Mission to life and serves populations in greatest need both in our home communities and abroad.

I invite all of you to learn more about our international service program and how you can get involved.  If you missed my last post about our visit with our medical school partners in Guatemala and our new Providence Scholars of Hope program, you can read it here.

More pictures from our trip



Partners 3



Me and Nancy


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  1. Thank you Rod for this moving account of your trip. Speaking of perspective and gratitude, I wish that more young people – teenagers and young adults – could be part of mission-oriented teams such as these. They would most likely return with a whole new understanding of the world and would see their own place in it differently. Inspiring the next generations is crucial to an ongoing tradition of compassionate service and to fostering peaceful collaboration across borders.

    • Investing in our young people and giving them opportunities is important to many of things we do at Providence. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have had a dream to assist the Sisters of Providence in Chile with my skills as an Occupational Therapist. I percieved a need for establishment for multi-generational programing (not unlike what is done in Seattle). I have only met barriers to connect with someone about my ideas & further clarify the needs. My dream would be to have a temporary transfer to that province, versus having to take a leave of absence… Would appreaciate your help or guidance as my dream was rekindled by your account. Thanks in advance, Paul Zulak, OT

  3. Dear Rod:
    Wow….thank you for sharing your journey with us. Your leadership is unwavering and your humbleness is inspiring.
    Thank you again,

  4. What a great story and such sweet photos. Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to go on this trip one day!

    • Elizabeth – Thanks! It’s an incredible experience. Great to hear you want to participate.