Kites rose above the caserio of Pacaman as we descended the narrow, twisting road that wound across the face of the hillside and down into the village. Soon after we arrived, however, the kites began to be pulled down and put away, and children of the community began to converge on the school. Though November and December are vacation months for Guatemalan schoolchildren, today was the opening day of our newest feeding center, and the smells drifting out of the small kitchen at the back of the school promised a more than sufficient reason to entice the students back.
Only four months ago, this feeding center was just an idea, the malnutrition among the schoolchildren of the community a need that had been brought to our attention by two volunteers who had been working in the village for the past year. While we were cautious about committing to a new feeding center project, after visiting the community and meeting with the director of the school, and buoyed by the overwhelming success of our first feeding center in Nueva Esperanza, we began to seriously consider the possibility. And then, soon after, with the generous and overwhelming support of Johns Creek United Methodist Church in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, the idea begin to evolve into reality. We met with the community leadership, who agreed that if Mission Guatemala could provide a cook to supervise and help direct the program that each day two mothers from the community would assist with the meal preparation. Through Doña Irma, our cook in Nueva Esperanza, we met and hired Lesvia Can, another talented cook from San Andres, who began to meet with the mothers of the Pacaman community to teach them how to cook the basic menu selections that had been selected for the feeding program.
And then opening day arrived and we stood in the small kitchen and eating space that the school had allowed us to use, and watched the excited children, each one carrying their own plate and cup, begin to file in and take their seats. Peals of laughter rang out up and down the rows of tables, as the children noisily waited for their turn to be served, sounds that were soon replaced by a gradual quiet that drifted over the room as the children, one by one, hungrily dug into their heaping plates of beans, cheese, and Kids Against Hunger rice. And when they finished, amid calls of ¨¡Gracias!¨ and ¨¡Provecho!¨ they gradually filtered out, returning to their homes to continue whatever tasks or play that the rest of their day held.
And as for myself, I left the school that afternoon excited for the future of this program, for the 60 students of the community some of whom, for the first time, could be secure in the fact that they would receive at least one substantial and healthy meal each day. I felt fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of this, for the chance to get to know the children and families of Pacaman and to be able to play a role in improving their quality of life. And I felt overwhelming gratitude to Johns Creek UMC, as well as all the other individuals and churches back in the States that have been so supportive of Mission Guatemala, without whom none of this would be possible.