Volunteer Work in San Miguel Chamil


With National Volunteer Month coming up in April, it is a good time to think about philanthropy.

Design Engineer Scott Stainer, out of KPFF’s Special Projects Division in Seattle, has been involved with Food for the Hungry for over a decade helping a small remote village in the mountains of Guatemala.  San Miguel Chamil is made up of roughly 200 families, living in simple structures consisting of thatch or metal roofs, dirt floors, and rough plank walls. The only available utility is water, fed from a nearby spring on the mountain. 

Food for the Hungry is a non-profit organization operating in more than 20 countries, with a focus on ending poverty by traveling to challenging places, and reaching out to the world’s most vulnerable people. “I have been in a number of countries, and worked sparingly with quite a few organizations, I believe that Food for the Hungry has the best model for how to help the poor primarily through the work of local staff supplemented through US staff/short term people.”

Since 2005, Scott and his wife have been supporting the village of San Miguel Chamil through Food for Hungry, assisting this village in providing cook stoves, fruit trees, and new classrooms. “The stoves make the houses safer and provide cleaner air to breath in the houses rather than an open fire on the dirt floor. The 10 fruit trees that each family was able to plant help expand the limited diet of the villagers, decreasing malnutrition among the children. Two new classrooms give the children enough space for an entire elementary school where kids can learn in a clean environment safe from the elements.”   Translators assist with communication, as the primary language is Que’chi, one of the 23 different Mayan languages in Guatema. “There are translators available most of the time, but often you just smile and use your hand motions to try and communicate.” Materials are supplied through fund-raising and donations, with a small amount from the village itself, in partnership with the organization.  “Each year, KPFF has contributed significantly to the project costs.” Scott added. Once materials have been purchased by the local Food for the Hungry staff in Guatemala, the materials are brought into the village, located at approximately 8,500 elevation - by truck up a dirt road.  Materials brought to individual houses, are transported on foot, through the village trails.

As the program works to improve the living conditions for the people of this community, the volunteers are given a life experience: “It’s an opportunity for staff to build relationships with the community, and to interact with the families of children that (we) sponsor, learn how they are doing, what is troubling them or what makes them excited, and they share some of their food with us. We find out how their kids are doing in school and encourage them to stay healthy and stay in school. Food for the Hungry is supported largely through their wonderful child sponsorship 20140530_120647.jpgprogram. Check them out if you are considering sponsoring a child overseas.”

According the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are over 2.3 million estimated non profit organizations and charities in the United States, ranging from small community based nonprofits, to opportunities abroad. While it can often be a challenge to find the time to volunteer, there are a number of benefits to participating in volunteer work. It is a chance to build new relationships, develop new skills, or learn about a completely different culture, to name a few.  Whatever our reasons for volunteering may be, someone’s quality of life is benefiting in one way or another. 

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