In February 2011 Lucy (my wife) and I were needing to make some serious life changes. When we started we had no idea what we would eventually end up doing. We were living the “American dream”. We had 4 sons, a dog, a comfortable home, 3 vehicles, and a 401k. I worked in a cubicle at an unfulfilling job. I was twenty pounds overweight and had little time to exercise. We ate fast food and rushed around to all our busy activities. Our kids wanted the latest in gadgets to keep up with their friends. We were all just trying to keep up. On paper we were happy, but in life we were tired of our “first world issues”.
We wanted to do something different. In recent years my grandmother, uncle, two cousins, father, and younger sister had died. All but my grandmother died prematurely. This taught me that life is short and we never know when our time will come. So why were we living an unfulfilling life?
We wanted our kids to learn about gratitude and work and humility. We wanted our kids to learn to serve by serving. We wanted this service to be a part of everyday life, not just a prescheduled youth Saturday morning project. We wanted to live it.
We decided that for our family, a move to Guatemala was the right thing. We knew Guatemala would be the place to live, love, and serve. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and one of the highest chronically malnourished countries in the world.
By the end of June, we had put our home up for sale, sold all our belongings except the basics to take with us to Guatemala, our minivan, and a few boxes of personal items which we stored. We sold beds, dishes, 2 cars, a treadmill, the lawnmower, sleeping bags, everything. If it was replaceable, we sold it.
In July we started driving south, visiting family along the way. In August we arrived in Panajachel, Guatemala, where we have been living for five years.
We started a custom running tour company, taking foreign tourists on trail running tours around the volcanoes of Guatemala. (I got back in competitive running shape in order to accomplish this.)
Lucy and I had both lived in Guatemala for 2 years, almost 20 years earlier. We knew what poverty looked like. But seeing it again, now as parents, was very different. We knew that we had the responsibility to help. With another family, we started organizing service projects. We identified the need for better nutrition and education on more sustainable living. We helped families with gardens, worm composting, composting toilets, solar hot water, and other things. We learned many lessons of how to do effective humanitarian work, by teaching and not just giving free handouts.
This developed into the Mayan Eco Homestead and later Cultiva, the nonprofit organization we co-founded. We work with indigenous Guatemalan families who want to improve their family’s lives by teaching them farm-to-table skills with sustainable farming, and hygiene and nutrition education, so they can improve their health and living conditions, become self-sufficient, and raise themselves out of poverty. It is a 2 acre hands-on learning center where local Mayan Guatemalan people volunteer in return for this education, while earning a garden box, seeds, a composting toilet, or whatever their specific need is.
We feel this model empowers people and teaches them to take responsibility for themselves. These people work hard and take pride in what they do. They just need some inspiration and new ideas.
After hearing our story, many people call us crazy, or adventurous. Both may be true. We feel that as human beings, we are responsible for what we do with what we are given. It is awesome to help others help themselves. For us it was a choice to give up some of the first world conveniences, but in reality, what we gave up is worthless compared to what our family has gained.