A Catholic, college-preparatory school, grades 7-12
Red Knights on a Mission

Red Knights on a Mission

July 10, 2017

Service is a key element of a Benilde-St. Margaret's education. One notable service experience at BSM is the Guatemala Mission Trip. For over 20 years, Red Knights have been traveling to Guatemala to participate in mission trips. On July 9, yet another group of Red Knights departed for their 10-day mission trip to this Central American country.

Accompanying the group of 16 sophomores, juniors and seniors are Spanish teachers Sr. McMerty-Brummer, Sra. Megan Hansen, Sr. Luna Martin and French teacher Mme. Toft. The group will be building houses and outdoor kitchens in Antigua and its surrounding villages through an organization called The God's Child Project (GCP). The GCP creates stability and growth in developing areas of the world.

Our Catholic faith calls us to serve: "Thank you for your openness to use your hands and your heart to serve and love. We are so blessed to travel with you and pursue our common mission-- to love and serve our God and to answer His call to love and serve each other. Over our ten days you will stretch, grow, love and be loved in ways that today you cannot yet imagine."

Stay tuned for updates on the Red Knights journey to Guatemala as they deepen their relationship with God and immerse in the Guatemalan culture.

Day 1: Arriving in Antigua - Tia S. '18

We made it safe and sound to Antigua without any hiccups!

The morning started early with a few check in troubles and some very tired travelers before the day even began. We boarded the “avión” to start our trip to Atlanta. Flight was smooth and we had a few funny photo opportunities of some particularly sleepy passengers (neck pillows were involved). A quick food and rest stop in Atlanta and then Guatemala City. As we began the decent into Guatemala we noticed the difference in the landscape. Guatemala is green and all the buildings are colorfully decorated. We boarded a bus, put our suitcases on top, stopped for food and then met our host families. We also saw the volcano near Antigua erupting with lava! We are safe and sound and enjoying a relaxing evening in a cafe sending you all this letter!

Below are a couple of fotos from the Café San Martín.




Day 2: Visiting Casa Jackson - Hannah N. '18

Dane_holding_a_friend_at_Casa_Jackson.JPGWaking up just in time for breakfast, we gathered for a quick meal, many still rubbing sleep from our eyes. Somehow we made it to our meeting place on time – the neighborhood basketball court. We walked to the Dreamer Center – the headquarters of the project - and garnered a tour from Javier, our group coordinator. Dreams were certainly met as kids rushed out of classrooms to hug us strangers that had come to visit. Other students were excited at the chance to hold the infants at the Casa Jackson – the center for malnourished infants that the entire BSM supported through a Common Basket program last year. After learning about Casa Jackson and raising money to assist with the construction of the center, it was amazing to meet some of the children today and see the fruits of our Common Basket. After we got our fill of the younger kids, we hopped in the back of some pickup trucks and took a jaunt to the high school. After a tour of the high school, we went outside to face off the students in a game of fútbol. The field was a little muddy and some of us definitely needed used a shower after the game. The two schools were pretty evenly matched and no one pulled off the win, but BSM still got the pizza party for lunch. One hour, six pizzas and four boxes of wings later we were ready for yet another tour, this time around the picturesque city of Antigua. After walking the cobblestone streets of Guatemala, we worked up a healthy appetite and luckily our host families were ready with our first home-made meal of the trip. Next, bellies full once more, we set out for dessert. Prowling the streets, the girls sang at the top of their lungs for the locals - classics like Bohemian Rhapsody and the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. Currently we are sitting in the Funky Monkey, better known as Monoloco, typing up this synopsis for you guys. Adios.

Day 3: Update from Sr. Matt McMerty-Brummer

While we do not have a student blog update for today, we wanted to give you a quick update. The students are resting after setting the foundations of their houses. We have been treated to fantastic views of the volcano, and we saw another show this morning when we met for our first work day. The goal today was to dig the four trenches for the foundation, set the concrete blocks three levels high and secure them with cement. All of the work is by hand, and the students did a great job! Tomorrow we will put up the wood frame and complete the cement floor. 

Day 4: Rise and Grind - Alex K. '18

We were back on our feet ready to work. We knew today was going to be tougher, but nothing can stop “A TEAM”. We first cut some wood in record speed and framed the house in a matter of minutes. Then our builder, Lorenzo (“A+ one man show”) , put up the entire roof by himself. There were a couple of non recyclable materials in the house, but we made sure to clean them up.  The construction was difficult needless to say but what was most important was the lesson behind it. It was apparent that everyone was tired and sore. However, with the A-team values (efficiency, persistence, and strength), our group was able to fight through the fatigue that was dragging us back. 


Day 5: Houses Become Homes
With the installation of the door, window and gutter, the students successfully completed the four homes! The homes are estimated to stand for at least forty years and will benefit multiple generations.

On the way to the work sites this morning, the students stopped at the grocery store to buy a housewarming present for the families. The students were given a budget and had to work together to decide how to best spend the money, purchasing items such as rice, beans, corn floor, pasta and oil for the families to enjoy with their first dinner in their new homes.

Upon completion of the homes, our coordinator Javier lead the teams in a blessing of the homes and presentation of the homes to the families. Both the families and the students shared reflections and words of gratitude, and there were many teary eyes. Team Toft had an especially eventful morning, as they learned that the family's new baby may have arrived today!

saying_gracias.JPGTonight we gathered at the Dream Center to hear the story of one of the team leaders who was one of the original six children who was helped by the project. He graciously shared with us the challenges of growing up on the streets, working his way through college with the support of the God's Child Project, earning his degree in social work and now showing his gratitude by working with the children of the project and leading service teams like ours. After taking questions from the students, we also asked students to share reflections on what they have experienced and how they have grown during our time together.

Tomorrow the students have a well-earned day of rest, and we will be traveling to the Pacific Coast to enjoy one of Guatemala's beautiful black sand beaches. Hopefully the students will be able to write some blog entries during the road trip!

We are all SO impressed with how well the students worked together this week to build FOUR homes in THREE days! Our Red Knights are amazing!

Four very proud teachers,
Megan, Frédérique, Eric and Matt

Day 6: A Day of Fun - Collin P. '19

Today, we went to the beach and a water park and got some salsa lessons. We got to wake up a little later than usual since we had just finished three days of hard work. The ride was long in the bus, but it was fun to see the countryside and its people on the way to the water park. The bus driver played music that was really good; it was mostly Spanish pop. We danced in our seats, laughed, and had an overall good time. When we got to the water park, it was pretty much empty because it was the middle of the day on a weekday. At the water park, there were four slides, and two of them were really steep. The steep ones were so fun, but you literally couldn’t see anything because water was spraying everywhere. We also played a game in the wave pool that was a mix of ultimate Frisbee and football. Team B and C totally crushed it. Then, we went to the playa with black sand and went into the waves. It was so much fun jumping over the waves and riding with the tide. It started to rain soon after. After, we started the trek back to Antigua and pretty much everyone fell asleep; however, we woke up periodically to bumps in the road and a flash of lightning (people with their eyes closed could still see it!!!!). We arrived back with our host families and ate dinner together. Later, we took bachata dance lessons from Lorenzo and some other maestros.

Day 7: Cultural Exploration
Today we learned about the history and culture of the Guatemalan people during our guided tour of the Iximche ruins. With an estimated population of 40,000 people and an area of approximately 2,000 square kilometers, this royal capital city had five plazas. We toured the three remaining plazas, each with their pyramids to the sun, moon and wind. 
Our lunch came with a scenic view of Lake Atitlán. We crossed the lake by boat and visited the Catholic church. We learned that the parish priest, a missionary from Oklahoma, played a significant role in defending the local people during the civil war in the 1980s. He was martyred for his solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and a sign on the church proudly displayed the countdown until his beatification in 70 days.
The students used their bargaining skills to purchase the hand-made souvenirs of the local artisans, and we crossed the lake again to go to our hotel for a dinner pizza party. 
After going to Mass this morning, we will go to Chichicastanago, one of the largest open-air markets in Central America, before returning to our host families in Antigua.

Day 8: Feast of the Patron Saint
We attended Spanish mass this morning, celebrated by a missionary priest from the United States. It was the feast of the patron saint, and there were many petitions of blessing and thanks. The students enjoyed the upbeat music, and all of the Spanish students did very well when we got to the Our Father! Even though Spanish was not the priest's first language, he did a great job and his homily served as an excellent example for the students of breaking down language barriers to communicate and connect with people. 
We drove to Chichicastanango to see all of the beautiful artisan work at the open-air market. Before the students put their negotiating skills to work, we first feasted on a delicious lunch buffet of traditional foods. With their bellies full, the students embarked on their quests to find treasures of colorful ponchos, blankets, hammocks, jewelry, leather goods and wood carvings. 
As our host families have a break from cooking duties on Sundays, we took the students to McDonald's for dinner. A cultural experience in its own way, the students enjoyed the opportunity for some comfort foods from home. 
Tomorrow we are going to a nearby village to help with a clothing distribution to an anticipated 300 mothers. Among the clothing that the students will distribute will be some of the donations that the Parent Association allowed us to collect at the end of the Treasure Hunt. After having collected the donations, packed the suitcases and hauled the suitcases through multiple airports, it will be great for the students to see the process come full circle by presenting the clothing to the mothers.
Day 9: Headed Home

Working with the staff of a nearby municipality, the students distributed clothing to the elderly and mothers. While the GCP staff anticipated about 300 people, the students significantly surpassed everyone's expectations and served 357 adults and dozens of children. After organizing the donations by gender, clothing type and size, the students applied their Spanish skills to help the people they served on a one-on-one basis to find what they needed.
The GCP staff made an inventory of all of the donations that the students collected from the Treasure Hunt and junior high fundraiser, and the calculated that the clothing, linens, school supplies, toiletries and medicine were worth $8,647. That is in addition to the money that the students paid to purchase the materials to build the four homes for their work site families. 
At our closing ceremony, the students shared highlights of our time here - from being greeted with open arms by the elementary students on our orientation tour the first day, to the muddy soccer game with the high school students, to playing with the children at the work site during breaks from battling with the seemingly never-ending cement mixing, to the joy of presenting the new homes to the families and the sadness of saying goodbye, to experiencing the history and culture of Guatemala through our visits to the Mayan pyramids and the artisan markets.
After the GCP staff thanked the students for all of their hard work, each work site team thanked the build leaders for everything they did for us this week. In addition to all of their patience and hard work at the construction site, our team leaders escorted us around the city and accompanied us on both our evening outings and our weekend excursions. Many days they were with us from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM, ensuring that we were always safe and doing everything possible to provide the absolute best experience possible for our group. Especially for the men who accompanied us on our weekend overnight excursion, our guides spend a tremendous amount of time away from their families to take care of us. Their incredible work ethic was a powerful example for the students. 
We closed by reflecting on the writing of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador. The entire passage can be found in the journal, but we focused on the following lines:
"This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise."
We asked the students to think about what seeds they planted during our time here in Guatemala, and we asked them to think about what seeds our Guatemalan hosts planted in them. We challenged them to continue to continue their experience here by being open to the call to water and nurture those seeds, in whatever form that may take in the future - expected or unexpected.
The students have had a profound impact on four families for decades to come. As the founder of GCP said in the closing video, we hope that the students have grown in their understanding of themselves, the poor and God. 

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