Nine of our employees had an experience of a lifetime this summer. Every year, Christopherson sponsors a group of employees to travel with CHOICE Humanitarian to volunteer on one of their international work sites. Based out of Salt Lake City, CHOICE Humanitarian is a strategic non-governmental agency (NGO) working in seven countries: Kenya, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru. Their overriding goal is to end extreme poverty and improve quality of life through a bottom-up, self-developing, village-centered approach. Christopherson has been involved with CHOICE for more than 20 years and is also a corporate sponsor. Employees who are part of the employee contribution program are eligible to go on an expedition. These employees contribute donations to CHOICE monthly, with Christopherson graciously matching the donation. Below is Donna Alford’s story from this year’s trip to Guatemala:
There really isn’t any way to adequately describe my recent CHOICE Humanitarian trip to the Polochic Region of Guatemala.
Was it hot? Yes! If anyone hears me complaining about the heat and humidity in Alabama, you have my permission to whack me on the head.
Was it exhausting? I typically sit at a desk all day. So, yes! It was exhausting.
Was it amazing? Absolutely. I would go back in a heartbeat!
It was such an incredible experience and I’m so honored to have met and worked with the villagers of Chimaxyat. To say that these people don’t have much is an understatement. At the beginning of the trip, my first inclination was to feel sorry for them. By the end of the week, I realized that what they lacked in material things, they more than made up for in their wonderful spirits. They were so gentle, happy, and full of grace, and I am so thankful that they welcomed us into their lives.
The CHOICE model states that “rather than participating in short term service delivery, we focus on building long term, sustainable solutions to issues related to extreme poverty” and boy, did we see that in action. Instead of CHOICE deciding what is best for a community, CHOICE involves the people of the village themselves. They determined what was needed for their village and we all came together to make that happen. In this case, it was a stove project.
Before this project began, the women and small children spend all day in close proximity to an old, unvented stove or, in some cases, just a re pit, which causes many health problems. Our project was to build new, more efficient stoves that were vented to the outside. They were so welcoming and kind to us as we went into their homes for this project.
We were also fortunate to visit the Sikaabe (meaning “Seek your Path”) Training Center. This is an educational and vocational school that can accommodate up to 32 students. It is a real life changer. The school teaches classes such as masonry, animal production, farming, hospitality, and culinary arts. The students gave a presentation and it was incredible to see the pride in their eyes. No translation needed for that! As a bonus, one of the students was getting married the day we were there and we were all invited. After the wedding, the groom changed back into his work clothes and proceeded to give us a tour of the animal production facility. All in a day’s work!
From the moment we arrived to a ceremonial dance performed by the children, to the end of our stay with the men of the village carrying our luggage on their heads, up the muddy, slippery trail to the bus, we were wrapped in love and caring from “our” village. The CHOICE staff did a wonderful job taking care of all of the logistics and the in-country team of cooks and servers were incredible. They served us three delicious meals each day and I am craving more of their hot chocolate. I am forever ruined for Swiss Miss in a packet.