Volunteering a look into our trip to Project Somos

In February of this year, 21 volunteers, one videographer, one Artist Ambassador and two (read: all) members of Team LYT met in Guatemala City for the trip of a lifetime..

Coming in from 6 countries and all directions, complete strangers united merely by the desire to accompany Let Yourself on it’s inaugural Volunteer Trip joined together in the lobby of a hotel. From there, we would climb onto buses, the buses would climb winding roads, and we would head to Tecpan, home of Project Somos. There, a patch of ground was waiting for us to start work on a Music Dome for the children and families of Somos.

I leave you here, with two accounts straight from the volunteers themselves.. one from America, one from the UK, united by the experience of Guatemala, and the desire to do a bit more that led them to Let Yourself Trust’s inaugural Volunteer Trip.

Justine Joseph, LYT Exec Director

The base of the Music Dome, awaiting our arrival

Steve N. from Leicester, England:

Sometimes an initiative comes along that was meant to be. Martyn’s music has always inspired me but a sadness around the fractious state of the world at the moment and a reflective milestone of my own in turning 40 later this year prompted me to change my own status quo and get up and do something. Having read about the partnership trip to rebuild in Palestine in 2015, I was keen to be involved in LYT’s next undertaking and so, as a musician, when it was announced that the project was to build a Music and Arts centre for a children’s village in Rural Guatemala, this really struck a chord with me and I seized the opportunity and promptly signed myself up.

Having committed to funding the trip one way or another I set out to fundraise. I’ve always been a big bloke and having already lost more than 60lbs by last summer, I set myself a challenge to lose another stone (14lbs) by Christmas and more importantly asked all and sundry to sponsor me to do it. 13 weeks and 17lbs later I hit my weight loss target and started collecting the pledges. Whilst family, close friends & colleagues all chipped in as expected, I was staggered by the generosity of other people; some long distance and Facebook contacts and even strangers gave some significant sums.

With building gloves, suncream and insect repellent in hand we all met up in Guatemala City, 25 or so strangers united by a common cause. What could have been an awkward coming together of personalities and priorities in an uncomfortable environment was soon just a gang of friends on a mission. By the time we reached the project up in the mountains the jokes and banter were flowing and we were already firm friends and raring to go. For someone who sits in an office all day every day and struggles to do more than a half day’s manual work in the house or garden normally, I think it was the common goal we were working to which motivated me to get up and shovel, dig, lift or paint all day. The days flew by and it was a genuine pleasure to work alongside the other brilliant volunteers.

There are so many good memories and experiences to reflect on, but the one thing that stands out from the trip is the people. Despite Guatemala being a relatively poor country, I have never seen people smile so much.. the genuine warmth from locals both in the city and the workers, mamas and kiddies on the project will stay with me forever.

One night we watched a short UNICEF film about the issues facing Guatemala, one of which is the plight of teenage Mayan girls who are forced into arranged marriages and pregnancies with men, many of whom simply discard them with no support from the husband or family. It brought home the good work being done at Somos in taking in these women and their children, each with their own story, many of whom feel they have no worth.. and firstly just extending the hand of compassion and friendship, showing they are loved and valued, and secondly grounding them in language, craft skills, health & nutrition to empower them to eventually work and provide for themselves and their children. Later in the week we heard from Tita, a mama in the village who has been there for a while with her three children. She shared how she couldn’t fathom why strangers would travel all those miles to help people like her, and how thankful she was for the project. The line of an ancient hymn has reverberated through me ever since — “Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be.” — there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she described the Somos staff & volunteers as angels.

On the last night I shared with the group some thoughts from the week, it occurred to me that in the all the planning/organising/fundraising for the trip I hadn’t stopped to think about meeting up with a group of strangers but I reflected on the atmosphere that was fostered due to the natural goodness that was within all of them. It was humbling to be in an environment of unconditional acceptance and a genuine pleasure to have spent the week with them and the Somos staff.

Finally, it just remains to say thank you publicly to Martyn & Justine for leading the trip, their skills and approach complimenting each other perfectly but their hearts aligned in the goals of the amazing Let Yourself Trust. Martyn has such a kind, people-focused spirit and has a gift for touching souls through song, and he and LYT will help to change many more lives in the years to come.

Steve with some local kiddos at Project Somos on the ‘open call’ day — all kids welcome in to come play!

SOMOS Trip Memoir by Antje Duvekot — LYT’s amazing 1st Artist Ambassador (www.AntjeDuvekot.com)

We are the stories we tell ourselves. They are as comforting and predictable as well-worn fairy tales. And sometimes constricting. But there are openings in them. It’s subtle. But in every narrative there’s a chance to pause and instead lay your ears on the tracks of the moment. To listen and to look anew. I suspect this is why people like to travel. Because we are a confluence of our environments and our adhered to narratives. Environment and story intertwine with each other to deliver us our identity. But as Walt Whitman said “i am large, i contain multitudes”. Thus the seekers among us harbor a restless urge to let our stories be blown open from time to time, so as to let in new and jostling multitudes. to step into the unknown and not know how it ends….to welcome the realization that I AM NOT WHO I THINK I AM. at all.

who am i? let’s see, I have some 5K in my bank account. I am a starving artist type. I am a have-not-so-much. I would be lower class, if not for the social status exemption allotted to creatives (who tend to hold a more extra-societal position). still. in a world where money equals autonomy and power, i self-identify as weak and voiceless, a lowly have-not. i rent. i sing. no retirement fund. no portfolio. But things shift considerably once we start moving ourselves through space, don’t they. Our outgoing perspective on the landscape changes (obviously!) but, more importantly, the landscape shines a mirror back at us and shifts us with it. And so i am well out of atlanta, identity in tact, until i find myself flying over a dimly lit landscape in a big machine passing over corrugated metal roofed shacks inhabited by people who will never fly in an airplane. who will be born and die below me in the singular spots of their predetermined destiny. and i feel weird. an unknown sensation. it could best be described as i kinda feel like “the man” (i never feel like the man!). i haven’t even landed yet. but this plane and its physical ‘passing over’ becomes glaringly symbolic of my enormous privilege of birth. i can’t but identify with it. i will touch down here this week. and then i will leave again. that type of freedom is staggering. i am a very much a “have” in the lottery of options and mobility. and i feel like a different me…. From above it appears a city block is on fire. but no it’s the earth heaving lava! i’ve never seen this before. excitement intoxication. i’m an explorer-adventurer (bolder than my usual self)…. What i also don’t know yet is that in two day time i’ll be killing a scorpion (and an 8-eyed spider) in self-defense. Me? no way. That person has got to be someone much braver than me. no damsel in distress (my multitudes include a warrior princess!!). (incidentally, my fellow volunteers don’t even KNOW how proudly i’ll wear my nickname “Scorpion queen” from that day on). so yeah, from the start this trip redefines me. But that was just the start….

I live in a culture where being a loud self-advocating extrovert is a virtue. this works great for loud self-advocating extroverts. But for the rest of us it doesn’t work so well because, if we act accordingly, it just feels forced and inauthentic. but as i ride the winding bus out of guatemala city with my new future friends, i notice right away that i feel incredibly comfortable with this group of 20-some strangers. i already feel safe. safe to be me. like it is even perfectly ok for me to be quiet here at the outset of the trip as i avert car sickness by looking out the window and take in the visual novelty of this place. what i came to realize later is that i was about to enter a judgment-free zone completely devoid of egos. this is so precious and rare. it made me think of that primate study of stanford prof robert sapolski. by some fluke all the alpha males got killed off and it drastically changed the culture of the monkey troop forever. violence went down. mutual grooming and support became the norm. So maybe there is some kind of utopia that can exist! If the environment is rightly calibrated, i believe humans are capable of great equality and great cooperation. i believe this more so since having gone on this trip. in that sense, the experience was a hugely inspiring gift and i suspect those of us that were part of it all shared this revelation in our own way.

we are wired for the quest for happiness, but we are dreadfully misguided about what makes us happy. we think if we build our own self-sufficient empire with its myriad of comforts and luxuries, we will have it made — but we don’t notice what goes missing. we don’t realize that isolation and wastefulness are toxic to our souls. our consumer culture contributes so heavily to global warming and the direct suffering of others. a baby born in america will use 20 times the resources of a baby born in africa. you would think that american baby is one lucky duck, but i don’t think so. i think this imbalance poisons us all. we just don’t realize it. until we find ourselves incredibly (incredibly!) dirty, shifting buckets of earth along a human assembly line atop a stunning mountain in central america where we are working WITH people to build a structure FOR people, one they really NEED. And suddenly we feel aligned and light and almost GIDDY with joy and we think to ourselves “hm. interesting. make a note of this”. So there is is. the recipe for happiness is a two word concept — reciprocal kindness. nothing more. the end. :)

oh wait. not quite the end. i just remembered i wanted to expound on gratitude and self image some more. i think gratitude is related to, or even synonymous with, affection. which seems a bit odd at first, but gratitude is a kind of affection-engendering energy and it is a two way street and it spawns not servitude or indebtedness, but just plain affection. when hillary sat with me all night long last summer when i was in the hospital with lyme disease, she became one of my people. i will never forget it and never stop loving her for it frankly. because that’s the kind of thing only your family tends to do for you. i barely knew hillary at the time. but when we decide to help one another simply because we are human kin, we all benefit from the giving and receiving. i have been on both ends, giving and receiving, and they are not all that different in terms of the affection that is created. it’s the same stream of caring and there is no shame in it. it’s a positive feedback loop that engenders love. love is not the same as respect. you can be well-respected for your individual accomplishments without ever helping anyone or being helped, but i think for love to be able to arise you need to be on the giving and receiving end of help. because that is where we say to one another “i’ve got your back” and that is kind of what love is. and so there is no shame in asking for help. i was struck by tita’s self-image around this. it still seemed like she feels ashamed or embarrassed about receiving help and maybe holds on to an idea that she is weak and lowly and a kind of charity case, but that is so NOT how i saw her. i felt honored and privileged to contribute to a patch of ground below her strong and capable feet. i thought to myself “man, if only she could see herself as i see her”. because i think of her as badass. i have such respect for her. a respect she may not have for herself. but that doesn’t matter. i see a savvy strong and beautiful woman who got herself out of an abusive relationship (strength!!) found a way to survive with 3 small children (strength!), sold her clothes (!), looked for organizations that aid people (badass, innovative) and eventually found SOMOS, all while hanging on to her children and securing them a better life. I’m not sure i could ever pull off that kind of a feat. it’s positively badass!! i see her as incredibly strong and i can’t believe she would have a blind spot to her own super-heroism. this makes me think of the ways in which society can sadly screw up our self image with enough negative reinforcement, but also of the way in which our friends can restore that image and see us more clearly than we do ourselves sometimes.

Antje & Martyn, practicing before the evening’s festivites