Where our organization began to take shape

Since 2015, Guatemala has been a home away from home
In 2015, we made our very first trip to Guatemala. The experience touched our lives in a way that we never could have expected. Each year since that very first trip, we have made it our personal mission to return, touch more lives as we do. Come and view our journey through the years!
Manuel Colom Argueta
Our very first trip ever! Talk about an incredible experience. Being made from a team of wonderful ambassadors from around the world, we were brought to Guatemala by an ambassador named Tony De La Roca. He invited the team to come to his country and take part in the construction of 10 homes, situated in Zone 3 of Guatemala City. Zone 3, as it turned out, is a capped portion of the city dump, where people have settled and made home.

Seeing the people work in this area of the city (which the existence of is denied by the country) was fascinating! Almost all jobs of those who lived there were self employed, working off what they were able to find inside the dump, while others were workers who either drove the trucks to the dump or worked inside the dump itself. As trucks would arrive, those who scavenged from the trash would place a hand on the side of the vehicle, laying claim to the items that were inside. Each truck could have 10 to 20 people with and arm out, touching it. They would then turn the items inside into their livelihood- whether it be cleaning up chairs, fixing bicycles, even reframing mattresses, this was the lifestyle for Guatemalans who lived here.

The people themselves were kind, and loved that our team was there to help. Walking through the community, some of the best moments were interacting with the children. They loved being up on our shoulders, seeing how tall we were. Kids would run up and start playing soccer, throwing a ball around, or just start chatting! It didn't matter if you spoke Spanish or not- they just wanted to interact with you in some way. 

It was not just the people of the community that wanted to connect with us, either. The members of TECHO, the non-profit Tony worked with, were some of the kindest people one could ever meet. Between group activities, mealtimes, building, and more, we all became an incredibly close knit group. The memories made were so impactful, that we made a vow to return each and every year- a promise which we have kept up as Helping Hands Grateful Hearts! 
Vuelta Grande
For our second build we headed to Vuelta Grande, a community located a little ways outside Guatemala City. It was our first experience in a more rural community, and we were treated to beautiful views of clouds rolling through the volcanoes surrounding the city. Our teams were also quite spread out, with some of us walking 30 minutes to get to our sites! The community was more agricultural than what we had experienced in our first year, and we were treated to fresh fruit, vegetables, and delicious pineapple juice! We had many people from our first year return to build with us, and our family even reconnected with cousins that we hadn’t seen in years!

Xepiacul will always be a favorite for President, Susan Johnson.  This was the first year the Johnson Family went out on their own raising money and sponsoring the trip.  We had a great group including a young family with four children. It was a good feeling to be able to pull it all together. 

It was also a year where Susan and Cam got to work together on the same home.  Every other year the Johnson family has been put on separate builds.  The had a lovely family with a story that pulls at your heartstrings.  Chico, the father, was the leader of the community.  He had lost his wife several years earlier and had tried unsuccessfully to immigrate to the US, being rejected three times.  He had spent all his money and was at the point of suicide when he met his second wife. 

They had lovely, blended family and Chico was proud to be the leader of his community. The home Susan and Cam built would allow the family to house the older children from the first marriages.  Chico weaved fabric and presented Susan with a beautiful bolt of material at the end of the build to say thanks.  Cam gave Chico his boots before he left as a parting gift. Several years later we got a video from Chico when he was attending a Techo function.  He was still wearing the boots and wanted us to know he not only still had them but thought of us often.

For the rest of the team, it was also a successful trip.  The kids loved playing soccer with Arthur and Hunter, one of our teens, funded and helped rebuild the school kitchen. Even the teams seven- and nine-year-old enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer in a foreign country.  
Pie Del Cerro
Pie Del Cerro was a beautiful place to be able to visit. Cam had an opportunity to be a site leader, which was a true honor. This meant traveling between the different sites of the build and making sure that each group was on schedule, had all of the supplies which they needed, and then leading team building activities between the different members of the build. Normally, a build is very intimate, but getting a chance to see so many different families in person be touched and have their houses delivered was a sight to see. 

Our build in Sehaché was truly special. We had a huge group of Helping Hands Grateful Hearts volunteers ranging from young teens to people in their 70s. We also had the opportunity to build in Cobán, a Province filled with lush rainforests and true jungle environment. This was the farthest we had traveled to a build but it was so worth it! The ground in the community was soft and required more digging for sturdy pilotis, but few groups hit rocks or construction snags. It was so rewarding to see our HHGH web grow so much and see volunteers from all walks of life working in unison. We even were able to head north after the build to Tikal, Guatemalas most famous Mayan ruins! We did an early morning hike and saw a misty morning sunrise from one of the highest buildings. What a way to end the trip!
El Marillo

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What a special community Quiaquizuyal was!  Located in the Huehuetanango region in the upper western part of Guatemala. A beautiful part of the country, mountainous, green and remote. And what a gracious and kind community. They waited up for us to arrive (We werre very late.) to serve us a lovely local dinner, welcome us and sing us songs.  This community was very musically minded and proud to sing for the team. We loved it!

There were several brothers who had families in the community. Susan clearly remembers her family of six. The father, one of these brothers, and son worked hard to help the team build their home.  As always, Susan became very attached to the family. The mom was lovely, and that dad was impressed that Susan, almost 60, would work so hard to help him have a home.  They had four children, two teens and two under six.  

One the last day of the build, the dad was so happy, he slaughtered and served the team a rooster. This is a big deal for families struggling.  He honored Susan by serving her in a special china bowl with a larger piece of meat. He even wrote a special song to Susan from the community to thank her and the team for helping the community out. Susan had noticed that the dad had badly worn boots about ready to fall apart. She gave him her boots when she left (Yes! They had the same size feet!)

The rest of the team also fell in love with their families and the community.  Several other families wrote songs for their teams and sang them at a farewell ceremony. One young girl sang a song she wrote with her dad. It had us all in tears. 

 This is why the Johnson Family mantra is, "We always get more than we give. The kindness, caring and love we fell from the communities we work in drives us to come back year after year."
El Durazno
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    • Mail: Helping Hands Grateful Hearts c/o Susan Johnson 624 Highway 139 Dandridge TN 23325
    • Business: 31 Kenyon Avenue, Wakefield, RI 02879
    • +00 (1) 401-749-3242