Our journey in Guatemala

February 13, 2011

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Guatemala is a land with unlimited potential and a hardy population. Sugar cane, rubber trees, plantains, and coffee all grace the fertile soil and highlands in this Central American country. The coffee here is prized as some of the most flavorful in the world. Guatemala Antigua, the hills around Semuc Champey, and many other regions grow prized beans that find their way into cafes around the world. Unfortunately, this country has suffered through an extraordinary period of hardship. A 37 year civil war, political and drug related violence, and a poverty stricken indigenous population hamper the ability of this nation to grow and prosper.



Red Barn Coffee Roasters employees recently visited this country to assist a small village with their water and medical needs. We invite you to learn about the coffee of Guatemala and learn about our amazing journey through the accompanying photographs.



/files/u3017/antigua.png" align="left" height="267" width="211" /> Antigua is the focal point of most tourists visiting the country. It was once the colonial capital, but after being destroyed by an earthquake in the 18th Century, it was moved to the equally earthquake prone Guatemala City. Guatemala City is simply too dangerous and too empty of interesting points for most people to seriously consider staying for more than a ticket out and Antigua offers stunning views, dining, and numerous day trips to volcanoes, hikes, and villages.



Surrounding the colonial town are dozens of latifundias. These large coffee plantations are home to wealthy landowners of Spanish decent that were either handed down generation after generation or seized from German growers at the request of the US government after the outbreak of hostilities with Germany in 1941. The coffee grown in the highlands surrounding the city is rich from rains and volcanic soil and, when brewed, maintains a fine balance of body and acidity. The day workers who labor tirelessly to harvest the crops are paid by the amount picked and often do not meet the requirements to afford them a minimum 56Q ($7) per day wage.



Great efforts have been made through various industry movements to improve the well-being of all peoples working within the coffee industry, and here in Guatemala a few plantations have jumped on board the movements.



 Much has yet to be done and regardless of the struggles still being /files/u3017/farm1.png" align="left" height="171" width="229" />fought, events such as this mans are more often being heard. Our mission to was complete a medical clinic in a local village and, after a harsh day of labor complete with bug bites and boulders blocking our progress, a coffee farmer offered to take us to his plantation on the opposite side of the district capital. After walking and driving through markets and city streets, we were greeted by a dilapidated van missing its sliding door and driven off to a plantation in the hills. He was immensely proud of his work, having escaped the village and debt, and worked his way back to purchase some of the land his family had originally owned. A rare story in any nation, but especially in this. He explained his crowning achievement, doubling the lands coffee output, with the use of natural fertilizer and olive oil used as an organic bug repellent. 



/files/u3017/mario.png" align="left" height="248" width="193" /> Before the efforts of our host organization entered the village, the water supply was tainted with a parasite resulting in a tragic amount of disease. The water in Guatemala, never safe to drink from the tap, is best when supplied in a manufactured bottle. This can be expensive and often is not a luxury all can afford. The rivers are clogged with trash and villagers use them as a laundry facility, bathhouse, toilet, dump, and play ground. Our team was accompanied by water experts who constructed, maintained, and tested water filter systems that drastically improved the quality of life for the villagers who were able to access them. Children such as this one, who had once suffered from infections common in "bad" water, now had a much better livelihood.



Despite the difficulties, the children here rarely complain and often stepped in beside us and forbade us to interrupt their attempts at helping. Whether it be simple tasks carrying empty buckets or digging a ditch, they were fiercely proud of themselves and their future medical clinic. They knew they had more of a stake in the work than we did and were willing to help us by bringing water, candy, or occasional mischief and laughs.



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