Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Modern playground equipment is big hit in centuries-old Ixtahuacán

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 2, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Playground equipment designed by Peace Corps worker John Engler, and installed by Dave Dodroe in Ixtahuacán. The children of the village had never had facilities like this before, and it is now in constant use. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

The Mayan Indians of the 400-year-old village of Ixtahuacán have had to cope with more than their share of adversity. However, the earthquakes, hurricanes, atrocities of a 30-year civil war, and even the abandonment of most of their 650 families, have failed to quench their spirit.

Life in the remote village has seen something of a rebirth. Even while the evacuation was taking place 10 years ago, after Hurricane Mitch, the large reinforcing steel beams of Church of Santa Catarina were conveying a contrasting message. The core of the village would endure like steel, along with the faith of her people in eternal life. The village remains the focal point that links thousands of residents in the surrounding mountainsides to the outside world.

A few years after the exodus to “New Ixtahuacán,” community leaders helped rejuvenate economic life by constructing new metal stalls in the market square. Then, over 100 local men volunteered to help with the cement work on Father David Baronti’s Marian Community Center. Foreign trekkers began hiking the 8,000 ft elevation trails from Quetzaltenango to Lake Atitlan. They relished the beauty of the mountains, and found it convenient to chart their course through Ixtahuacán.

With numerous families still in the area and no ovens to bake bread, the need for a bakery was apparent. Two years ago, Family-To-Family (FTF) began planning and construction of a bakery/training center complex in Ixtahuacán. And who better to manage the project than David Dodore, a master craftsman who had already built a power station, school, and chapels in the area.

A special outdoor oven has been constructed and the bakery is nearing completion. Courses are already underway to provide local adults with self-supportive skills in the training center.

But what about the children? Given the size of families in the Highlands, there are always children around. What are they to do when their parents are involved in church or market activities, or in a training session? In its hundreds of years of existence, Ixtahuacán has never had a “park” or play center to occupy local children. (Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Spokane has, however, provided a play facility along with the preschool they support in New Ixtahuacán.)

Dave Dodroe lives in Ixtahuacán, just a short distance from the building site. During construction, his walk to work took him by some roadway machinery and large culverts. Day after day, he saw how much the local children enjoyed climbing all over the idle equipment and chasing one another through the large culverts.

Like other improvements in the village, the bakery has become a source of civic pride for a community that was once considered too decimated to survive. Located adjacent to the Church of San Catarina and near the Ixtahuacán market square, it is near the “center” of activity. Wouldn’t it be great to add a playground in the vicinity for the children?

Enter Peace Corps worker John Engler. One day, when Engler happened to visit Ixtahuacán, Dodroe approached him about playground equipment. Engler had previous experience building playgrounds and soon came up with a design. Some items would have to be purchased, but he could make use of old tires. The beams would come from trees in a local FTF reforestation project. Dodroe would supply the workers to put everything together.

Like many projects in Guatemala, the playground equipment has been completed thanks to help from many sources. The children of the village have a place to play thanks to an enduring community spirit, volunteers like Dave Dodroe, and Peace Corps worker John Engler, and organizations like FTF. The playground is complete (except for a slide), and virtually in constant use – seemingly 24 hours a day.

(Jerry Monks is a member of the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)

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