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13 Memories from Hugging It Forward in Guatemala
In February 2012, 21 LUSH staff from across the North American business went to Guatemala to work on a Bottle School, in partnership with the non-profit organization Hug It Forward.
As a Charity Pot Partner, Hug It Forward receives funding from LUSH to further empower Guatemalan communities with educational opportunities. While they provide support for the project, the school community actually builds the structure; one of the main connections Hug It Forward makes is linking up groups of people who can work on a portion of the project alongside them. In this case, LUSH Voluntourists participated in one stage of the El Retiro community project. Bottle Schools take several months to complete—learn more about this amazing work, and how anyone can help build a Bottle School here.
Aimee O’Donnell Saunders joined the trip from the LUSH Content Team. Here she shares 13 memories from her travel journal:
Waking up with Christy’s coffee and breakfast every morning in San Martin. The same blend of Hug It Forward coffee is available for delivery back home, but the food isn’t as good as the Full Moon Café. I am especially hungry for the breakfast burritos!
Wearing one common thread: Black “I *Heart* Charity Pot” T-shirts. Regardless of where we live, or which department in the diverse LUSH business we call home, all of us brand ambassadors on the trip now have concrete stains and memories from working on El Retiro’s community school.
Playing Soccer. A unifying activity for children and adults alike, games were played at each break. Playing soccer seems like an easy social currency people everywhere relate to.
Planting trees, roughly ten each, on the hillside around the school. El Retiro’s school environmental education includes a community garden, and watering and care for these new trees under supervision of Hug It Forward’s Environmental Teacher, Jorge. Hug It Forward’s environmental education program, that runs in parallel with bottle school construction, is possible thanks to a Charity Pot grant that was awarded in December!
Hanging plastic bottles, repurposed as planters for green seedlings. They are dotted along the school’s main walkway, overlooking the soccer pitch. One man’s trash is another’s community project educating children about plastic usage!
Visiting La Escuelita in San Martin, a school for children with various learning needs, all with little funding for its programs. The children come from surrounding villages across San Martin Jilotepeque. They welcomed us warmly into their play yard and classroom, with open arms and smiles. Though bright and cheerful, and run by dedicated individuals, the school lacks for many resources. Along one wall are piled the now-familiar sacks of trash-filled bottles; the school is actually collecting their future insulating material. Hug It Forward plans to provide building materials and the support of groups of voluntourists for the project eventually, but these initial stages like collecting and stuffing materials are up to the community to initiate. Bottle Schools are not built overnight, as we learned.
Applying LUSH energy to every task. Even a seemingly mundane task of sorting giant bags of bottles into piles by size became fun, easy work with an optimistic attitude and plenty of jokes along the way.
Sharing Guatamazing sunset views.
Shopping at La Casa de Los Gigantes, an Antigua co-op for artisans to sell their wares from all over Guatemala, run by women who are friends of Hug It Forward. Upon arriving at the store, I wanted to take everything home! The prices are extremely reasonable, and lovely people staff it. I could have stayed for hours. Plan for serious shopping here.
Creating a skit for the children on our last visit. LUSH being LUSH, the main theme was Lavate las manos and accompanied gifts of soap for each of the kids along with school supplies and soccer balls. Talents from singing, dancing, acting and poster making were called upon, and LUSH Men, of course, made their appearances.
Touring Chwa Nima Ab’aj (Mixco Viejo), the sacred grounds of a Mayan city that held off Spanish Conquistadors for many months, many hundreds of years ago. Our group enjoyed fresh air in our lungs atop the ancient, meaningful structures. It was a good place to reflect on our previous days’ work while learning more about where we were visiting. Watching the birds soar in the open canyon is a sight I’ll behold forever.
Jumping off a cliff with the kids. From the steep path to the soccer pitch, we leapt into a pile of sand destined to become cement for their classrooms—a game from thin air. Our laughter is now infused into the concrete mix that will become walls in their classroom.
Participating in Charity Pot’s action, beyond just promoting a lotion that “gives back” monetarily. The privilege to attend this Employee Volunteer Program extends beyond how fun the trip was, and it was that. For me personally, it provided an outlet to drive my LUSH pride and joy FORWARD.