Coulda, shoulda…did: Pam Israel's path to Guatemala

No birth certificate, no passport – but when Pam Israel was offered to take up a vacated slot on a Evergreen Habitat Global Village trip to Guatemala, she jumped!

It was a coincidence that only two days prior to the offer, Pam had been thinking she needed to do to step out of her comfort zone.

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and go, ‘Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda,'” Pam said. “I need to do something. I need to go somewhere.”

It was a quick turnaround for Pam, who had never been out of the country, had never stepped aboard a plane before in her life. The Evergreen team helped her gather the necessary credentials in just a few weeks and before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” Pam was on her way.

Pam’s itinerary:

Day 1 – FLIGHT2GUATEMALA:  “The flight was OK on takeoff, but I don’t really like the landing…the drop when the wheels hit the ground.” (Funny, for many that would be the BEST part: Made it!) 

GUATEMALA CITY ARRIVAL  11 PM – Check into hotel.

Day 2 – MEET THE FAMILY:  9 AM departure to Panajachel, Guatemala where all 12 volunteers met the family: Carlos, Clementa, Carina (7), Elvis (6) and Bryan (2). The family’s income comes from preparing and selling snacks to area hotels. Before building their Habitat home, this family of 5 shared one room in their father-in-law’s small home. Most of the families lived in houses with dirt floors. 

Day 3 – WEEKDAY SCHEDULE: Throughout the work week the crew was broken up into teams to take turns working on the house, bending and tying rebar, preparing and mixing concrete or building latrines for various families.

Day 4 CULTURAL DAY: – San Juan, Guatemala “We got to see the women’s coop where they actually weave and make material items to sell.” Pam got lessons on how to spin cotton into fabric. The group also visited interpreter and tour guide Fredy Perez’s coffee farm.

Day 5-6 TAMALES:  Besides the regular work day, the crew got the skinny on making on making tortillas and the traditional black bean paste (Frijoles Negros Volteados?)

“We took that paste and put it inside the tortillas and folded it and flattened it.”

Day 7: Day in Antigua


FAVORITE JOB: Bending the rebar

WORST JOB: Mixing the concrete

BEST BETS: Pam loved the “Mexican lasagna” made with beans, chicken and cheese. She said the white cheese seemed freshly made and totally yummy. Every meal was served with fresh fruit and fresh juices.

Mostly the team’s breakfast and dinner was prepared and served at their hotel (dinners alternated with dining out). Lunches were prepared by a Guatemalan woman who served them fresh tortillas and fresh tamales.

“There was a chicken in a spicy broth with rice, peas and carrots. I mean it was just a wonderful meal!”

The hot sauce.


BEST EXPERIENCES:  Getting to know the families. “They had 11 kids running around, and it was awesome to see that we’re not so much different – except for the fact that the kids were running around with machetes and playing with machetes!”

“…Watching [Clementa] pitch in with the mixing of the concrete and chopping of the blocks – and to see her husband actually appreciate the fact that she pitched in. Big hugs!


MOST UNEXPECTED:  Police officers with large weapons and guard towers.


THE TAKEAWAY:  “The Guatemalan people are so generous. It was a humbling experience.”  “We’re overly spoiled in the United States: We have electricity; we have plumbing.”

GOING? WHAT TO BRING: Bring plenty of clothes. “You get really dirty and we didn’t have any laundry facilities…You still have to go out with people at night.” You can also donate your clothes/work boots at the end of the week. “We left money for them to do the laundry.”

Bubbles and coloring things. “You can’t give things directly to the families, but little things…something you could play with the kids with.” “Josh [Townsley] did balloon animals.”


FINAL WRAP UP: “It was a really positive experience. It does open your eyes, you know. We think we have poverty here, but they’re still living with dirt floors.”






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