For the second year in a row, a group from Dunn School gave up their winter break last month to build homes and friendships in Guatemala.
The Guatemalans, among the most impoverished people in the Americas, gave the 10 high school students and two teachers the most they could give — a blessing for a safe trip home and a blessing over the rest of their lives.
The group was composed of Spanish teachers Ulises Castaneda and Alejandra Santos, and juniors Sean Lin and Emma Van Steenwyk, sophomores Katri Morrison-Goulias, Matthew Honeyman, Kristina Jackson, Bruce Lai, Danielle McNally, Hannah Roots and Michelle Thibodeaux, and Castaneda’s son, freshman Balam Castaneda. All but two of the students have had formal Spanish instruction.
Both teachers as well as Emma and Balam were on the trip last year.
Balam said he intends to become a medical doctor and go back to Guatemala or another Spanish speaking country to help the people there.
The delegation built two homes and repaired two others in the town of San Mateo through the group Constru Casa, which is dedicated to offering basic homes to poor families to improve their living conditions and health.
The Los Olivos Rotary Club donated money to Constru Casa, which requires donors to help build the homes, and two club members, David and Carolyn Lawrence, were also on the trip.
More than half of the population in Guatemala lives in poverty, according to Constru Casa, which in English translates to “build a home.”
Of those people, most live in make-shift dwellings made of corn stalk walls, dirt floors, and roofs made of cardboard and plastic or wood and corrugated iron.
One of the homes the group worked on was for a family of 13 that was living in a shack with two rooms, no running water and no restroom
They will now have a house with three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen.
Each three-room, one-bathroom home is made of 1,200 concrete blocks with a corrugated iron roof and concrete floor. At least one family member is required to work on building the house, among other requirements that the family must satisfy before getting the home.
Each house costs about $3,700 to build.
During the week of Feb. 20-24, the group worked from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for five days. They carried blocks and concrete and used no electric tools. They departed for Central America on Feb. 17 and returned on Feb. 27.
Castaneda, who was ill for three days after eating a seafood dish called “ceviche,” said he was impressed by the students giving up their vacation time for hard work, particularly when they had to pick up the slack after he got sick.
“We see [the students] differently in those scenarios,” he said.
Carolyn Lawrence also said she was taken aback by the student’s dedication to their tasks.
“The kids really worked hard,” she said.
Sean, one of two students of Taiwanese descent on the trip, gained enough trust from one of the masons that he got to set blocks on his own, Castaneda said.
Guatemalans associated Bruce, the other Taiwanese student, and his last name with the late martial arts legend and actor Bruce Lee, Castaneda added.
In their free time, the students played soccer with village children and had water fights with them, ate crepes and banana pancakes, and hiked up a mountain to look down on Antiqua, a city in the central highlands of Guatemala.
Katri said although the people in Guatemala are poor, they were joyful, happy, and appreciative of the work the students did.
“I thought that was nice to see,” she said.
Hannah said she will look back at the relationship made with their host families and the families whose homes they were building.
Established in 1957, Dunn is a co-ed, college-prep boarding and day school in Los Olivos.