Living conditions ‘a tremendous shock’ for Rifle teen after humanitarian trip to Guatemala
Citizen Telegram Editor
Working nearly 12-hour days in heavy rain to build homes for two families in Guatemala isn’t the main impression one Rifle teenager recalled about a recent two-week trip to the third world country.
The overriding lasting impression Anthony Iribe, 17, came away with was how little people in Guatemala have.
“We think we don’t have much here,” he said. “There, dogs are all over the place; the living conditions are really poor, there’s flies everywhere. We had to sleep with a mesh tent over us. That’s how every day is for them, but for us, it was a tremendous shock.”
A recently-formed Rifle-based group, Hispanic Alliance Colorado, organized the May 29 to June 12 humanitarian trip to the town of La Blanca, Guatemala, to help build a home for a family living in the street. Executive Director Milton Rodas said five teenagers from Rifle made the trip and ended up helping to build two homes for families in the town of around 8,000 people. Funding from a foundation – along with proceeds from local yard sales – made the trip possible.
“They basically had no time off,” said Rodas. “They worked for five days straight, in the rain.”
Rodas was born in Guatemala in 1983 and came to the U.S. in 2001.
Iribe said he decided to go on the trip to try something new.
“I always wanted to help people, even if all I have is a little to give,” he said. “In Guatemala, no one can afford to give anything to any one else. Here, even if you’re poor, you can usually help someone somehow. There, people are literally living on the streets.”
Iribe went on the trip without knowing much about building a house.
“My granddad taught me how to mix concrete with a shovel,” he said. “But we had to unload about 100,000 cinder blocks by hand, one at a time, with a human chain. And it was raining, which was fun because it cooled us off, but it’s dangerous carrying cinder blocks in the mud.”
The houses they built measured 6 meters (13 blocks) high by five meters long and were for families of three and four, Iribe said.
Rodas said the people in the town lived in “poverty to the extreme.”
“The kids have to bike to school in the rain for about four hours,” he said. “And they get no lunch or breakfast. Here, we worry if our kids miss one meal and transportation here is everywhere.”
On the way to La Blanca, Rodas said their bus drove through around 50 little towns, “completely devastated by poverty.”
People in Guatemala “don’t know how to say thanks, because no one has ever given them anything,” Iribe noted. “But they were poor and still accepted us with open arms. We met them one day and we’re talking the next day like we’ve known each other forever. That’s the kind of people they are.”
Rodas said the Rifle teens had daily chores on top of building homes, such as grinding corn for the meals of the day.
“We rode bikes to get flour, pick up mangoes, feed the chickens and had to hand wash our own clothes,” Iribe said.
Days would start at 5 or 6 a.m. and the teens would work until 4 p.m., often without lunch, Rodas added.
“We definitely gave all our efforts and energy into building those homes,” Iribe said. “But it was worth it, to help people who really needed it.”
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Photographer Kyle Mills and editor Alex Zorn took home awards at the recent Colorado Press Association Convention, held in Aurora.