Guatemala Giving Trip 2018

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The Aloha for People journey started two years ago. The idea was to make shirts from fabric hand-woven in Guatemala and with every shirt we would provide a child in Guatemala access to clean water for 2 years. We launched our company on Kickstarter and were able to raise $25,000 in 30 days because people around the world believed in our mission and wanted to support this new business venture hoping to make a profound impact on the world.

This past October, Aloha for People fulfilled its mission of providing clean water to children in need thanks to the continuous love and support of our customers, manufacturers, and fabric, retail, and water partners. Emily and I traveled down to Guatemala with co-founder Jeff Michaels and Aloha Ambassadors Brady Miller and August Reiss to hand-deliver Ecofiltro water filters that were purchased exclusively from Aloha for People product sales. The experience was inspiring and life-changing for all of us.

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Our inaugural Giving Trip started with a red eye from Los Angeles down to Guatemala City. When we landed in Guatemala, we met up with our good friend and tour guide, Hugo Suarez. Hugo was born and raised in Guatemala and has owned and operated a travel company called Wild Guatemala for the past 28 years. We left Guatemala City shortly after arriving and headed toward the wonderful city of Antigua. This history landmark was the original capital of Guatemala and was built by the Spanish after they arrived in the country. Antigua is as charming as it is historic with cobble stone streets, European influenced architecture, and vibrantly colored buildings. Our water partner, Ecofiltro, is located just north of Antigua so this was the perfect place to show our friends a truly Guatemalan experience.

Hugo started the evening by taking us to the Casa de Zacapa to taste premium rum that is produced in Guatemala. We wandered down a winding staircase to the cellar and sipped our libations among barrels and exposed stone. We continued to a local restaurant where we ate traditional Guatemalan food that included beans, rice, chicken, and tortillas. We conversed with the locals and toasted to being alive in Antigua.

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The next morning we rose with the sun to catch a glimpse of Antigua during broad daylight before we headed to meet with Ecofiltro. On a previous trip to Guatemala, we had discovered a sensational local coffee shop called Cafe La Parada. We made it a priority to enjoy a coffee there in the morning before leaving Antigua. We meandered through the streets as the city woke up around us and caffeinated ourselves with rich, creamy Guatemalan coffee.

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We were fortunate enough to rendezvous with a friend of ours from Guatemala named Jaime Ramos Mendez. He has supported Aloha for People since the first time we came to visit Guatemala and is finishing school in Guatemala City. He hopped in our van and came with us to gather the Ecofiltro water filters for delivery. Before heading to deliver the filters, the wonderful folks at Ecofiltro brought us on a guided tour to show how they make each and every water filter. The process to make these water filters is truly incredible.

They start by mixing wet clay with sawdust and forming them into the shape of clay pots. They then bake them for about eight hours at an extremely high temperature that forces the sawdust to the center of the filter and creates a distinct line as a carbon filter. The pots are then saturated in water and dried where they are coated with colloidal silver, which neutralizes bacteria. Dirty water can be poured into the filters which percolates through the clay while stopping any existing debris. The water passes through the carbon filter which helps to make it taste good and any bacteria is neutralized when it comes in contact with the colloidal silver. These filters create clean, cool, great tasting water.

At 9 AM we arrived at a Mayan village just north of Antigua. This village had a few hundred residents that lived around a central square with a church, a paved soccer court, and an elementary and middle school. The two schools served more than 400 students and, until this day, they did not have clean water available for the students to drink.

When we arrived, the school headmaster welcomed us with open arms and was gracious to us throughout the day. He was amazed that a group of young people from California had even heard of Guatemala, let alone wanted to help provide its children safe drinking water. As we set up for the formal presentation of the filters, we were surprised to see that many of the parents, grandparents, and extended family members of the students started to arrive at the school. Many of the families did not have access to clean water in their homes and they wanted to learn more about the water filters.

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With the help of our water partner, Ecofiltro, we had a beautiful presentation ceremony that started with a heartfelt thank you to the school and families for hosting us. We introduced them to the Aloha for People mission and explained how the Ecofiltro water filters are made, how they function, and emphasized the importance of clean water for everyone’s health and wellbeing. The hospitality and pure gratitude we experienced was unparalleled. As we helped the first children understand how the filters worked and knew they would be healthier, we all began to feel the volume of the event. With tears in our eyes, we photographed the students, shook hands with the parents, and profusely thanked everyone at the school and Ecofiltro for allowing us to be present for this monumental experience. It truly was impactful.

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Our trip had a different feel after leaving the school and saying goodbye to the children and their families. It immediately became clear that the mission of Aloha for People was justified and that this company was making a positive impact on people in need. We all felt honored to be part of this mission.

After dropping off Jaime in Antigua and saying our goodbyes, we headed off toward Lake Atitlan. This breathtaking lake is located in the highlands of Guatemala and was created by a crater formed by massive volcanoes that surround the lake. It has a number of small villages tucked away along the shores and many of them are known for their unique fabrics and vibrant textiles. Since we are always on the look for new, unique fabrics whenever we are in Guatemala, we could not wait to get there.

We arrived at Lake Atitlan at dusk and shared cocktails at the hotel bar before heading into the town of Panajachel for dinner. Pana, as it is known by the locals, is the main center of the lake and is the artery that connects tourists and travelers to the other towns situated around the lake. The best, and sometimes only, way to get to each town is via water taxi. They zip in and out of the docks at Pana joyfully shuttling passengers.

We traveled to the lakeside community of San Juan La Laguna. This area is most known for it’s women’s fabric co-ops. These talented groups of women weave fabric that is grown organically in local farms and only dye the fabric using natural dyes like indigo, avocado, and beet root. Their craft is enchanting and it is only trumped by their hospitality. A group of them welcomed us in for lunch and showed us how they spin their fabric the same way their ancestors did generations before them. We all gathered in amazement to watch them weave these intricate patterns using different threads. A few of us were even brave enough to try our hand at weaving. We all were quickly humbled when we realized how difficult it was to even spin a handful of cotton into yarn.

Our adventures on the lake eventually came to an end and we packed our things to head back to Guatemala City. On the drive back we all reflected on our expectations of Guatemala and the Aloha for People Giving Trip compared to our actual experiences. Hands down we agreed that none of us expected the strong emotional feelings we had while delivering the water filters. The pure joy and vibrance that the children exuded was contagious and we felt a deeper connection to them as human beings. We felt as if we had a duty to continue our support for the people of Guatemala so their culture can continue and so their lives can always be improved. We were amazed, inspired, captivated, and humbled all at once. The inaugural Aloha for People Giving Trip was a success, and there will be many more to come.

Aloha,

Brian

Brian Poage