This January and March, we hosted three University service groups here in Comalapa. As happens each year, they came to volunteer with Long Way Home over winter and spring breaks as an alternative to the “normal” activities college students often choose during their school vacations. We were able to accomplish a lot and, as each of these schools were first-timers, we were also able share our project with new audiences.
To kick off the new year, we had a terrific group from University of Maryland - Hillel here for a week. They had an extraordinary time working: creating and applying earthen plasters: prepping and hauling materials for the bathrooms’ E.T. beds; and helping in the students’ Physical Education classes. As with most people coming here for the first time and mixing cob, the scariest part quickly became the most thrilling; playing with cow manure! Stomping on it with your feet, mixing it with your hands, throwing it to each other, and finally tossing on to the wall. The group had fun making up jokes and songs to go along with the “crappy” job of forming the walls of our new Computer Lab building.
When Cultural Night came around, this group began a new tradition of putting the Peren family, from Feliciano to little Diego, up in a chair while the group circle danced to the marimba band. This group chose to have an extra special excursion to a nearby lake. They stayed at a beautiful eco-lodge near the village of Santiago to end their week with us. We had a lovely Shabbat and, other than a minor shuttle boat mishap, thoroughly enjoyed the activities available in the amazing slice of paradise that is Lago Atitlan.
Hillel of San Diego came through with two different university groups, back to back, in March. University of California - San Diego was the first and came over Semana Santa, Easter week. This presented many unique opportunities that other groups have not experienced. With a shorter work week, they still accomplished making over 400 glass bottle bricks to be put in the ceiling of the new Computer Lab. Additionally, they made progress pounding tires on the retaining walls along the road and above where our newest buildings will be built. They also had more time to explore the town of Comalapa and its culture, going shopping, hiking up to the ridge above the village of Cojol Juyu, and viewing Easter processions that happened throughout the week. Wednesday night we celebrated a combined Purim and Cultural Night. Since it was virtually impossible to stay in Antigua during the week of Semana Santa, we drove down for the day on Thursday. Everyone explored the city taking special note of all the alfombras, which are gorgeous carpets created from flowers, pine needles, colored sands and other elements. Saturday we hiked the Pacaya Volcano and then journeyed back to Comalapa to enjoy a last evening of good conversation and story-telling.
On Sunday, we said goodbye to one Southern California group and welcomed in the next: another Hillel group, this time from San Diego State University. They continued the work from the week before, getting us even closer to the 2,000 glass bottle bricks needed for the roof of the Computer Lab, and pounding tires on the retaining wall of the new entrance. Both of these groups generously donated handkerchiefs for our students to help with the extremely dusty conditions that we have had this dry season. San Diego State had the pleasure of going into each of the classrooms and helping the kiddos decorate all of the handkerchiefs. Then they enjoyed exploring Antigua and Pacaya and finished up with a relaxing Shabbat morning playing in Parque Chimiyá.
We look forward to welcoming these groups back in 2017 and continuing to build relationships with our new partners!!