I arrived in Guatemala City on Monday, May 28th and was picked up by Raymundo from Duke Energy. We drove to the Duke offices where I was welcomed by Silvia Cuevas who oversees Duke’s community and public relations. We immediately went to see Director of Energy Brian Kanell Garcia, who we briefed on the proposed project in order to get the government’s support. He seemed to like what he heard. From there it was off to meet Gabriela Garcia Quinn who runs Glasswing International in Guatemala, an NGO that is primarily focused on rural health care. My interest in learning more about Glasswing was to explore them as a partner for the distribution of our lanterns and chargers. She expressed real interest in partnering with us, and in fact, decided to go with us to visit the very remote community of Quixalito in the Alta Verapaz state.
We departed early the next morning for the six hour drive to Coban. We stayed the night near Coban so we could get up early for our 6AM departure for Quixalito. Not a lot of sleep as there was an albino peacock outside my window that seemed determined that I not sleep more than 15 minutes before he let loose with his screeches!
We left the hotel and drove another hour and a half, parked, and then began the hike to the community of Quixalito, where 242 people live in 46 homes. It was a very hot climb up a very steep path lined with rather sharp, slippery rocks. I was sweating like crazy when we arrived – and I thought I was in shape! I’m sure they had questions about this gringo arriving soaking wet!
Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent the need for light and cell phone chargers. A community meeting was quickly arranged in the school. The first thing I noticed in the school was the rack of manual typewriters, many of them missing keys and in poor condition. The teacher explained that he uses them to teach keyboarding skills, so that if his students ever are explosed to technology, they will be accustomed to typing.
We asked the residents how much time and money they currently spend on energy – candles, kerosene, wood, and how much time it took them to walk to a charger for their cell phones. This helps us to price the units so that they are affordable. We visited a typical house to see layout and how solar panels and lanterns could operate in them. We learned that many children were afraid to venture out at night to the outhouse, and as a result were punished for wetting the bed. We learned that it took residents two hours each way to walk to the cell phone charger. We learned that they currently spend $1 a day (when they have it) to burn candles – and each candle just lasts 20 minutes.
So I’m now back in the States, making plans for how GBF can operate in Guatemala. We can’t do it all, but we can changes lives, one light at a time.