Travel notes from islanders’ journeys (part 3)

James Tuer revisits Guatemala

It has been a long, cold winter for many of us, with too much white for the preference of most rainforest dwellers. 

Some of us have been fortunate to enjoy beach time in sunny Hawaii or Mexico. Others have gone a bit farther out of their personal comfort zones, like the travellers featured in this section.

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Architect James Tuer made a return trip to Guatemala, not for adventure but for service, to build connections and help people in need. This is his story:

In his early 20s, James Tuer backpacked through Guatemala. This winter, he returned but with very different intentions. The 10-day visit, he says, was life-changing.

“This was not adventure travel,” he says. “The purpose of this trip was service work, and I visited very non-touristy parts of the country. The purpose of visiting the various places we went was to show people that we cared and, for me, the experience taught me that it is much better to serve than be served.”

James’s journey began back in the fall, when he started going to Village Church in Surrey. The church is connected with an organization called Hope of Life that was started by a Guatemalan named Carlos Vargas, who grew up poor in Guatemala but went on to become a successful business person in the U.S. He came back to Guatemala in 1987, when he was very ill, and had made a promise to spend his last days helping the sick and needy. Vargas made a miraculous recovery, and now “village of inspiration” includes an orphanage and homes for host parents, a private hospital, five large warehouses where donations (including food, medical supplies and building supplies) are stored prior to distribution, and they are in the process of building a rehabilitation centre for children rescued from sex trafficking.

For James, taking a trip to Guatemala with Hope of Life required him to pay an intial fee of $2,300. His team leader made a challenge to raise more, so James tapped into his network of friends, colleagues and clients to raise more than $16,000. James says his team built a house, helped run a medical clinic, participated in the rescue of two children who were close to death from malnutrition, and ended their trip by hosting a lunch and ceremony for more than 300 people. 

“I’ve been inspired to do a trip like this for a long time. I had no idea if I could make a difference. But what I learned is that if you make a commitment, the money will follow. It costs about $8,000 to build a house in Guatemala. And it costs money to get the required medical care for the children we helped to rescue,” says James. “Lots of people asked me why I didn’t just send the money, but I learned during my week in Guatemala that the Greek word for charity is agape, which also means love. And the people in Guatemala living in extreme poverty need to know that we care about them, and so that is part of what set out to do.”

James gives the example of one of his trip’s most touching moments, when his team took a detour so that two of its members could connect with a family they had been sponsoring. 

“They literally only met for five minutes, but the gift of that connection had a huge impact. Ray and Grace came back to the bus with tears streaming down their faces. Those were tears of joy, as they had witnessed first-hand the power of love and the fact that they had really made an incredible difference to someone’s life.”

James says that it is his goal to make the trip again next year.

“My dream is actually to take a team from Bowen down, to build a school,” he says. “And my daughter, who will be 12, is a big part of that dream.”

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