Guatemala Blog: Smile

June 20, 2022 by Keith

I’ve been a little slow to post photos of my recent Guatemalan trip because I’ve been heavily processing about the opportunity, experience, and the realities that the trip brought to the forefront. Guatemala is a beautifully dense country, steeped in culture and traditions that long predate our Canadian revelry. It’s a country inhabited by incredibly hard working, driven people aiming for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that’s approached day by day, sometimes hour by hour.

Being amongst the people of Guatemala will leave you gripped with humility, grief, guilt, shame, and a few other emotions along the way - or at least that was the case for me. Extreme poverty and conditions so far outside of my day to day purview really shook me and had me questioning what could be done, from my vantage point, to help there.

Professionally, I’m a philanthropist. In reality, I’m a fixer of problems. Philanthropy gives me the privilege of trying to fix things by way of strategic funding. But finances can’t fix all problems or issues in this world, and I profoundly felt that reality while in the deep backcountry of Guatemala.

The people I came across in the remote villages of Guatemala, far outside the city centre, were living in ways I had only seen on television or humanitarian adverts over the years. To say that we are blessed to live the lives we do here in Canada is an understatement. Even now, a couple weeks removed from my Guatemalan adventure, I find myself incredibly aware of the stark contrast of my reality and that of those I met just a few short weeks ago.

I’m writing this post on the newest smartphone, it’s fully charged, and I’m doing so from the  the comfort of my office that overlooks our beautiful Okanagan Valley and the lake that defines it. In a few minutes I’m heading home, a home with safety, security, running water, internet, all the amenities I need (and then some). The only noise disruptions I’ll likely experience tonight are those of my beloved neighbours Kim and Jackie, who plan on building some patio furniture. I hope their relationship can withstand the IKEA build that is forthcoming.

Three weeks ago today this comfort and reality seemed so much further than the 6500 km I travelled to be in Guatemala. My reality there was very different and defined by things like pollution, lack of water, noise, safety concerns, lack of food, limited infrastructure, limited opportunities, weather risks, and systemic extreme poverty. And although I was there for just a short time, these realities had a profound impact on me.

However, as I peruse photos from our time in Guatemala there are moments of happiness that are emerging. These photographs, despite highlighting the disparity in living conditions, also highlight the humanity of the wonderful people we met along the way. If you look closely enough you can’t help but see smiles and, most importantly, hope. These themes are jumping out to me today and they bring some much needed humanity to an otherwise dark experience.

Whether it’s Sylvia showing off her garden, or Miguel touring us through his home and offering a snack, or the children at the various schools eager to damage my shins at soccer, the smiles capture a very real sense of hope and humanity that can easily otherwise be clouded.

That hope, that humanity, those smiles keep me hungry to make the most of this experience and keep forging forward to try to make their reality a little better than I found three short weeks ago. How I plan to do it, I don’t quite know. Actually, I have no clue. But those smiles, and the people behind them, are reason enough to keep trying.