Thursday, March 29, 2012


            Over the past five days I have being telling stories, showing pictures, doing anything to try to answer the question, "how was your spring break?" but nothing can explain the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and growth I experienced while living in Guatemala. If you truly want to know how the trip was, sign up next year- there's no possible way you will regret a second. After hiking up the volcano the first day, hauling 20 lb sacks (or 44 lbs if you have abs like Josh) back down home, biking in place in order to pit the beans, drying, fermenting, and shedding, and sorting, and roasting, and then grinding the beans, my view of daily life has dramatically changed. Every person we met only spoke of what they were doing to progress, provide for their family, children, or grandchildren; even if they would never meet one another. The support system the community showed was incredible, and how much they appreciate what they have that's good in their lives. So often we complain that we need a new phone, clothes, TVs, ipods but this trip really opened my view to know there are people living under the same sky who work all day, to provide for others, and not once  complain or desire personal 'needs'. One man who we met really made me realize how important it is to care for others, it was about halfway through the trip while having dinner at a farmer's home. Afterwards he told us about his life, beginning with when Guatemala was in civil war brought on by none other than the U.S. (who also provided weapons). Living in times of the civil war he knew he must help the rebels for if they lose, the farmer would also lose his family and life. Once peace settled, the farmer began to be successful and working with As Green As It Gets and was able to provide more opportunities for his family such as a middle school. His unselfish, genuine care for the idea that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will attend school, even though there is a very good chance he will never personally witness this, was astounding. The growth we as a group were able to bring to deserving lives was incredible, and I am so happy to have shared the experience with every person/puma who went. I want to thank you Mike for gathering us all together and Mother Hen for keeping up the chicklets b.p. Just enjoying an entire week with our own sense community we created was so relaxing and an escape from the busy 'Amurican' dream life. If this trip has convinced me anything is to go out and find out what's really going on in the world. Experience life, do what's important, and understand other's daily lives.
Now I will try to explain the experience in pictures, which are worth 1000 words but still don't cut it.
I love this photo, it really shows the beauty of the beans when harvested
What's significant here is the smiles on our faces, and this is how it always was even after 9 hours of exhausting hard labor with depleted oxygen and limited water. We're Guatemalan tough now.
You decided your future.
'And in that moment, I swear we were infinite'

-Dana McDaniel

Friday, March 23, 2012

Washington DC

One of the interesting things I have learned on the trip is the different ways to advocate for those affected by hunger and who take to the street to find home.  Talking to Senator Kohl and his staff helped me feel better informed about what is being done at the legislative level to help these people out. The images that stick in my mind are those that show the drastic level between the rich and the poor.  This is everywhere in DC.  It may be the difference of walking five minutes or walking five feet and you see the differences between the rich and the poor.  That sticks out to me.  Those are just some of the images I carry.

Day 7 DC

Our final meal in DC

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Washington DC

The week has blown by rather fast. All of us cant believe that today was the last day that we would serve the men that come into the center. Everyone was so appreciative about us being here and helping that its hard to say goodbye.

Today we made pancakes for breakfast and spent quality time with different people and hearing their stories. Before lunch there is a group at 11 every day and we got to sit in. Gary, the drop in center coordinator, told his story. It was very powerful since he wasn't shy about the things he has done or put other people through. He also made it real and showed that these are real problems people have and it takes yourself to make a change. He is a recovering addict and just wants to help anyone that wants it. Everyone in the group that was able to sit in on the group time, feels very fortunate to have heard his story and grateful for the things in life. 
Something he said that stuck with me, "if you want something different you have to do something different"

After group we served lunch and said our goodbyes!  Very awesome to see the people that were thankful we were here and sad to see us go.

From there we went sight seeing.  The metro is still complicated but we find our way.  First we went to see the cherry Blossom Festival and took our pictures of the pretty view. We then walked to the world war II memorial which was a sight to see.  We walked to the Lincoln Memorial! It was pretty sweet seeing him sitting there.  The last memorial we went to was the Vietnam one with all the names of the soliders that have died. Very emotional to see how many lives were lost.  The last thing we saw on our last day was the capital! Nice to see all the amazing things you read about and hope you get to see!!

Everyone is tired but sad to leave tomorrow.  This trip cannot be described with words what it has meant to each and everyone of us.  Many have rethought career paths to try and do things that we have done this week.  I am very grateful to have come with such a loving group and they will never know how much they have helped me change and become a better person.  so i would like to thank them and the mckenna center for everything this week!!

-jade ertel

Washington DC

The ladies of ASB at the Lincoln Memorial!!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Day 6 Of Our Adventures in Washington DC

Our day was jam packed with service, exploring, and excitement that begin before the sunrise and lasted long after the sunset. As I was discussing with fellow group members it seemed everyone had positive experiences throughout the day and unfortunately this post will only be able to scratch the surface of the activities.

We started off the day by preparing breakfast and lunch for the men of the Father McKenna center.  This enabled us to work together as a group and efficiently provide meals for roughly 50 men. Following breakfast we were able to attend the daily meeting that takes place before lunch.  In order to receive lunch the men must attend this meeting.  Different topics are covered daily and today our ASB group switched off introducing ourselves and between our introductions we were lucky enough to have the men introduce themselves to us and they spoke to the different aspects of homelessness to provide us a better understanding of their lifestyle.  Following the 11:00 meeting we were lucky enough to have a speaker from the Washington DC Fiscal Policy Institute.  Here we discussed the financial aspect of poverty and what is being done in regards to the problem.  We finished the night by traveling to Georgetown which contains a beautiful college campus and a delicious cupcake shop that will be featured on the show D.C. Cupcakes. We had the pleasure of being shown around by Ali, an Oshkosh alumni who now resides in the D.C. area.  Along with that, we had the chance to go to a dine in restaurant which was a great treat! We celebrated Kevin's (very belated) birthday with some cake and cheers from us and other customers in the restaurant. It was nice not to have to walk to and from the grocery store and then prepare dinner so we could eat at 8:00 p.m. which has been our schedule throughout the week. 

Now that you have an idea of what our day consisted of, there are a few important topics that I would like to cover.  The first is the themes apparent in the homelessness and poverty stricken lives.  The following are themes that were discussed in our group meeting with the men at Father McKenna, observations, and in meetings such as the one by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institution.  The three most prominent and important items were discussed at the meeting and include: 1. Not all homelessness is attributed to drugs and alcohol 2. Many homeless men and women don't "look homeless" because they find it important to use the resources provided to maintain their appearance 3. Most homeless individuals are not "lazy" or "bums" but have fallen I to an unfortunate and temporary situation in which they are doing their best to work their way out of and 4. Many homeless individuals do not sleep out on the streets.  Of the 45 men in attendance, only two of them stayed on the street for the night.  This was startling to me because it means that we only see a very small percentage of the homeless population and a large part remain unseen to the common eye.  I compare the situation to an iceberg - we only see the tip but underneath the water there is a very large problem.  Another theme that has been apparent in almost every presentation we have attended is the enormous disparity present between the upper and lower class.  It is the third highest gap in the nation.  This is present everywhere we go.  The first night we were here there was a beautiful wedding procession going on in the upper part of a building while there sleeping on cots because it was their chance to sleep with a roof over their head.  Another example is us volunteering at the McKenna center during the day and taking a short metro ride to the Georgetown University where it costs close to $40,000 a year in tutition costs alone to attend.  The disparity is hard to fathom but it is apparent more and more every day. 

You may be familiar with the Father McKenna center, but just in case you're not, I want to share with you some of the things I have witnessed. Before arriving to Washington D.C., I had done some research on the center and was very impressed with the programs they had avaliable and the values the center held.  It wasn't until the point I was immersed that I truly understood how things really worked around here.  The staff really cares and takes I interest in every individual that walks through their door.  In order to exemplify this fact,  I have a story about a man named Joe*.  Joe grew up in a home where he saw his mother beat, where he was told the only way to survive was to fight and drink, and were he suffered violence as well.  Growing up in an unstable household like this, he resorted to a lifestyle such as the one that was modeled to him as a child.  During his his young adult years he resorted to robbing individuals to keep afloat.  He stated that his only two forms of identity were the two guns he carried.  On one occasions he was shot in the jaw and had to stay in the hospital for an extended amount of time with his jaw.wired shut.  During this time a women came and read him the Bible.  This was something new to him and he couldn't talk so he just listened.  At first the words didn't mean anything but as time went on they began to mean something. Shortly following this encounter, Joe ended up at the Father McKenna where a few of the staff members took interest in him.  It took a long time for their words to register but eventually Joe started realizing that he could do better for himself and was capable of so much. He started turning his life around and gave up drinking and narcotic use.  Instead of carrying weapons as forms of ID, he was provided a legitimate ID and doesn't go anywhere without it. Speaking to Joe today, you would not know that he had a past like I described.  He is just one example of the positive effects the Father McKenna center has on the lives of men.  They have a small capacity but it is because of this that they can work one on one with the men and truly get their life back on track.  It takes a lot for me to consider an individual a hero and I believe Joe is one.  He has overcome situations that many cannot imagine and has used them to better himself.  Along with that, he has shared his story with others and is a symbol of hope.  It is important to never lose sight of hope and if you set goals you will achieve them. 

The experiences discussed barely scratch the surface of what we have seen and witnessed but I hope it gives you a bit of understanding about homelessness and what we are doing during our stay.  Throughout the week we have given our time but I feel that for the little bit of time we have given, we have gained so much more and it's the individuals that we have conversed with that have given to us.  I am so thankful and feel so blessed to be among such grateful,  knowledgeable, and compassionate individuals.  This spring break has been one that I will remember forever!

*name has been changed in order to maintain confidentiality

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Washington DC

Georgetown tour!