Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 12, 2003
Teens plant garden of love for Guatemala orphans
Sherwood Park youth share their blessings by working for the poor
Special to the WCR
Patrick O'Reilly, Kelly O'Brien, Robyn Smale and Jen Neil, Sherwood Park graduates from Archbishop Jordan High School left Canada Jan. 16, on a mission to Guatemala to work in an orphanage.
The trip came after Margot Bilodeau, director of the Western Canada sector of the Secular Institute, the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, put them in touch with Father Roger Fortin, the priest who coordinates the project through CASIRA, in Guatemala.
After many organizational meetings during which Bilodeau prepared them for their experience, they were ready to go.
This was the beginning of an extraordinary two months.
While in Guatemala, these four people helped in the construction of Sumpango, an orphanage for boys who have been left there either because of a death of parents, or because their families were no longer able to support them. Their tasks were many including planting a garden, building a basketball court or bike rack, helping assemble a library or helping with food preparation and dishes.
On the weekends, they took in the many extraordinary sights of the region, including the Mayan ruins of Tikal, the beautiful scenery of Lake Atitlan, the markets of Antigua and Chichicastenango, and the beaches of San Jose.
The tours gave them needed relief in dealing with the everyday poverty and hardships: Low wages, extreme pollution, corruption in government, even inequality of treatment for women were all realities each Sherwood Park visitor had to handle.
O'Brien said "Dogs, young children, seniors, everybody rummaging through garbage to find their next meal was hard to deal with.
"You can hear about it and see it on TV, but it's not the same until you're in the middle of it all."
But there were rewards and lessons learned through this harsh reality. Aside from brushing up on his French, and learning Spanish, Patrick said, "I learned that you have to appreciate having a family, living under a roof, and having food on the table because some people don't even have any of these luxuries."
He said that after seeing children play for hours because they found a small ball, it was difficult to re-enter a world where we complain about the cars we have or the size of house we own.
"They work just to try to keep their family alive."
What was most rewarding about this trip was the relationships made with the orphans and Father Roger, and the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a difference in these children's lives.
It simply felt good to help someone.