A Journey of Exploration in Guatemala
At the beginning of December, the Aloha for People team headed down to Guatemala for a trip of exploration and education. Since the beginning, our goal has been to provide clean water and jobs to the people of Guatemala, but in order to truly help people improve their lives, you have to know them. While we had many friends from Guatemala, we had never been to the country and seen the people we have been trying to help first-hand. This experience heightened our understanding of the conditions in Guatemala and significantly intensified our desire to provide more clean water and jobs in the country.
The journey started as we flew into Guatemala City and met with our friend and tour guide, Hugo Suarez. Hugo owns a tour company called Wild Guatemala and we lovingly refer to him as the “Mayor of Guatemala.” Hugo knows everyone everywhere he goes and is adored by all who know and meet him. Born and raised in Antigua Guatemala, Hugo spent a year in the United States learning English and has spent the last 26 years guiding tours throughout Guatemala while also working to improve the country. He sits on the boards of many non-profit organizations that work to improve health, clean water access, education, and job opportunities for the people of Guatemala. Once we met up with Hugo, we headed straight for his hometown of Antigua where we explored the city and surrounding villages in search for new and unique fabric sources. Our goal with purchasing fabric hand-woven in Guatemala is to provide economic opportunity for women sewers in the country. Their craft is passed down from generation to generation and all of their patterns represent the different Mayan or Guatemalan tribes and communities. Each pattern is as different as it is beautiful. Each sewer is as talented as they are kind.
A key reason for this trip to Guatemala was to meet with our water partner Ecofiltro. We had been communicating with their CEO and founder, Philip Wilson, for over a year and were excited to finally meet him and tour their facility outside of Antigua. The place did not disappoint. It was incredible to see how much planning and thought had gone into even the smallest of details regarding their plant. All of the Ecofiltro water filters for Guatemala are made right in this factory by Guatemalans using Guatemalan materials. There is almost no outsourcing required which allows them to be very self-sufficient.
The water filter technology that Ecofiltro uses was developed by a Guatemalan and his patent for the filters was donated to humanity. The filters are made using clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver. The clay and sawdust are mixed with water and formed into clay pots and then dried out. The factory has almost no walls to allow for the daily breeze to help dry out their pots naturally instead of using fans which require excess electricity. Once dry, the pots are placed in fire kiln and heated to an incredible temperature for 9 hours. After the kiln, the pots are saturated in water and then dried out again and lastly coated with colloidal silver.
Using the water filters is easy and practical. Pour some dirty or contaminated water into the clay pot. The water will permeate through the clay and past the sawdust which acts as active carbon and makes the water taste good. Any sediment or debris in the water will be trapped. Once it passes through the sawdust line, it hits the colloidal silver which acts as a bacteria neutralizer. Out comes clean, cool, great tasting water that is safe to drink.
The highlight of the trip may have been when Hugo took us to a remote Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala to meet a group of people who were living in extreme poverty but were in the process of seeing great improvement in their community. Two years ago, Hugo had found this village on accident while meeting with a school nearby. He found this community in heartbreaking condition. They had no power or running water, the mothers did not have food for their children, they lived in mud huts that were held together by sticks and plastic wrap, and they all slept on the ground which was hardened mud. Inspired to help them, Hugo has been working for the past two years to help build them houses, get them clean water, and help provide them food. With the help of some non-profit organizations he was able to hire two construction managers who train the men in the village to build their own houses using concrete mason blocks and concrete. As of now, six of the eleven families have new houses that they built themselves. The women are experienced and talented sewers and make incredible fabric. We were blown away by the detail in their pieces and the care in their craft. Immediately we started brainstorming ways to utilize their fabric in our Aloha for People line. We plan to stay in touch with them and hopefully introduce a line using their fabric for Winter 2018.
While the families in this remote village seemingly had nothing, they seemed to have everything. They exuded love in every way. The men invited us into their homes and provided us chairs, the women insisted we eat their fresh tortillas and allowed us to even help make tortillas on their stove. They made us rice and beans and fed us until we had to refuse more food. The children greeted us warmly and were constantly looking for gifts to give us so that we would remember them after we left. We assured them there was no chance we could forget. This emotional experience hit home with us and validated the work we had been doing for the past year. Our mission to provide clean water and jobs to these people had never felt more fulfilling or clear to any of us. Our only hope is that we can provide more for the people of Guatemala.
We ended the trip at the breathtaking Lake Atitlan. This natural, fresh water lake was formed by craters created by volcanic activity in the highlands of Guatemala. The lake is a particularly spiritual place which makes sense because of the sheer beauty of the landscape. An Eco lodge awaited us with a warm and friendly woman named Luzmi. The views of the lake were something out of a postcard and the tranquility of the area calmed us like a mother rocking a baby to sleep. With recharged souls, we headed to Guatemala City and onward home to California. The trip changed us. The experience validated our belief that the Guatemalan people deserved clean water access but we never imagined their warmth and care would touch us to that degree. They inspired, they excited, and they asked for nothing in return. Aloha for People will do everything we can to empower them and give them an opportunity to continue improving their lives.