A Day in the Life on Lake Atitlan – Volunteering

A Day in the Life

I wake up early to my alarm going off. I press snooze. When my alarm wakes me for a second time, I groggily roll out of bed. I love mornings but I hate getting up – go figure. When I come back down from the shared Overlander bathroom, Walter’s cute face is waiting at the window – he knows it’s time for his little morning walk. After a quick tour of Pasajcap with Walter and a bowl of oatmeal, it’s time to get started on the long journey up to Panyebar for a day of volunteering at Saludos Ninos.

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Saludos Ninos (which translates to ‘hello kids’) serves impoverished Mayan families in the rural Guatemalan community of Panyebar, above Lake Atitlan. The little school offers learning and nutrition programs to the kids who are most in need. So far, our volunteer tasks have included fixing playground equipment, fitting kids for donated shoes, sorting donated clothes, playing with the kids and my favourite, taking photos for the organization’s Facebook and Blog.

The journey starts with a very dirty, dusty walk to the village of San Marcos. Along the way, I catch a couple of gorgeous lake views and pass a few locals heading to work in the fields. The hippie bus with the busted up window is still parked on the roadside – I’m dying to know who lives in there.

When I arrive at the tuk-tuk stand, I ask the first driver in line how much to San Pablo. He says 15 Q (quetzals). It’s supposed to be 10 Q but clearly my camera has made me look rich. I say, ‘no thanks’. He says, ‘ok, 10Q’! I hop in.

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I get out at San Pablo, the tuk-tuk driver graciously accepts my 10 Q and I wander over to the Chicken Bus stop. While I wait for the bus, I watch women making tortillas on the other side of the road. Before I can see it, I hear the Chicken Bus (old, tricked out US school bus) rumbling up the road. When I climb into the bus, I see my friends Sheila and Brian – founders of Saludos Ninos. They kindly scoot over and somehow all three of us manage to fit in one bus seat. Clearly this bus driver is new to the job. He has to 3-point turn around just about every switchback on the steep hill up and our stomachs are in our throats by the time we get to the top.

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Upon arriving in Santa Clara, I’m thrilled to discover it’s market day. The village is full of activity, colour and every kind of fruit, vegetable, meat, cheese, fish and fabric product you can imagine. The town is vibrant and I wish I had more time and money to do some shopping. We wander through the market, take lots of pictures and then it’s on to the mini-bus stop.

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Sh2 Shopping @ Market_Fotor

Sh2 Shopping @ Market, Fabric_Fotor

Munching on mangoes from the market (thanks Brian!), we bump along the dirt road to Panyebar in the mini bus. I attempt conversation with the driver but my sloppy Spanish results in a pretty short conversation. Roughly 2.5 hours after leaving ‘home’, we’ve finally arrived in Panyebar.

Today my primary task is to take lots of photos for Saludos Ninos. I’m stoked – as an amateur photographer in training this is a great opportunity. I take SO MANY photos! Photos of… the local public and private schools where the Saludos Ninos kids will attend once they’re old enough …views and streetscapes of Panyebar… progress on the construction of the new classroom… discussions with teachers regarding imminent priorities and most fun of all… the kids!

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When we arrive at Saludos Ninos, many of the kids run out to greet us. They yell ‘photo! photo!’ and make cute poses for the camera. I can’t help but snap a few photos. They tell me stories while I’m taking their pictures but I don’t understand much – they don’t seem to care! It’s a busy day at Saludos Ninos. A new classroom is under construction; Brian supervises the work. Sheila works with the teachers to sort through medical records for the upcoming Doctor’s visit and buys handicrafts from the teachers to bring back to Canada as a Saludos Ninos fundraiser. I do my best to take photos of it all. I also take time to draw and colour with some of the girls. They like my gato (cat) and perro (dog) drawings and insist that I draw one in every colour.

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Sh2 Kids @ Play_Fotor

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Every day the kids are fed a healthy lunch and when we’re visiting we get lunch too. I devour my chicken and noodle lunch, which is served with a tortilla-like side. A meal is not a meal in Guatemala without tortillas! I regret not capturing a lunch photo.

After lunch, it’s time to start on the long journey back home. We wander down the hill from the school and locate a tuk-tuk. Five of us squeeze into the tuk-tuk… I didn’t realize that would be physically possible but apparently, it is! We have 45 minutes to kill in Santa Clara while waiting for the Chicken Bus so Brian and Sheila treat us to an ice cream and we wander around the market… or what’s left of it. Sheila and I joke that the streets look like the aftermath of a great house party. Many of the stalls are gone, garbage litters the street and the dogs run amuck looking for scraps… even the vendors now look a little disheveled. On our way through what remains of the day’s chaos, I find some puppies for sale… MELT. I briefly debate bringing one home and then take a photo instead.

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Blog9 Puppy_Fotor

The afternoon Chicken Bus is almost empty – a rare and luxurious occurrence. This driver is much more skilled than the morning driver and we make it around each switchback in one shot. I get off the bus at the village of San Juan, my favourite little village on the lake, and buy another ice cream before boarding the boat back to Pasajcap. The boat ride home is uneventful and I arrive back ‘home’ happy but exhausted. I lazily climb the stairs back up to the van and plop down in my lawn chair soaking in the paradise that surrounds me.

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Want to Help the Kids at Saludos Ninos?

We are so impressed with this organization and with the Founders, Sheila and Brian, who (small world!) just happen to live in the same village as us back home in Quebec. Saludos Ninos operates entirely on contributions from people like you and on the sale of Guatemalan handicrafts and Panyebar jewelry and ornaments. If you’d like to help the kids at Saludos Ninos, click here for more information about how to donate!

6 thoughts on “A Day in the Life on Lake Atitlan – Volunteering

  1. Hello Natalie & Marc

    Great pictures Natalie ! They tell so much of where you are & what you are doing. Yes I would like to help the kids at Saludos Ninos.I don’t know how to click onto whatever & Sherri is just getting over a very bad cold so I want to wait a day or so yet before she comes over. Such cute little kids. I don’t know if you can tell me how to do it or if it’s better to wait for Sherri’s help. It’s just the kind of “giving” I enjoy.

    Always great to hear from you, Lots of love, Grandma oxoxo

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Thanks Anne! My understanding is that there are a couple of reasons for the name Chicken Bus. One is because people are jammed so tightly onto those buses that it’s reminiscent of transporting livestock. It’s also because actual chickens and other livestock are sometimes transported on these buses. Chicken buses are a little different in every Central American country but the ride is always exciting.

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  2. Oh my goodness what a day you had. Just gorgeous photos. The children are just so cute…as is that sleeping puppy. What a great way to give back to a country you so obviously love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Barb. I know, wasn’t that puppy adorable?! There were about 15 of them divided into 3 cages… sooo tempting. Good thing Marc’s here to keep me in check 😆

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