In April 2022, a team of nine Lerch Bates employee-owners participated in the annual Common Hope Vision Team experience. Lerch Bates partners with Common Hope to spend a week in Guatemala building a home and serving the local community in Antigua, Guatemala. With a focus on our core value of Community, the team consisted of employee-owners from different departments and locations across the country.
“Spending this time with [my colleagues] was invaluable,” said Stephanie Wickman, senior consultant. “It’s really helped me to better understand what they do. They’re a really great group of people.”
Common Hope is a charitable organization dedicated to raising the people of Guatemala out of poverty through education. They believe the best way to achieve this is through a holistic approach improving access to education, healthcare, housing, and family development. After all, it’s hard to study in a home that’s not warm and dry.
The Vision Team Experience focused on building a home for a family affiliated with Common Hope. The recipients are a family of four with two parents and two high school-aged sons who were previously living in a one-room dwelling.
“The best way I can describe where they were living before,” said Adam Robinson, consultant, “is if you were to see it in the U.S., you’d call it a tool shed.” The Lerch Bates team built a two-room house for this family in four days. “It wasn’t a vacation by any means,” said Adam, “It was really hard work, but it was also really fulfilling.”
The construction leveraged a sort of modular wall panel design to simplify the framing and shorten the project timeline. The team assembled the wall panels on Monday. Tuesday was the first day at the home site where the ground had already been leveled and footings put in place. There they mixed concrete and poured the foundation. The wall panels were delivered and erected on Wednesday. Finally, Thursday was spent furnishing and finishing the house which was then turned over to the family on Friday. The turnover was hard in its own way, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting everyday life in Guatemala.
“The vaccination rate is only 43 percent,” said Stephanie, “So masks and social distancing were required everywhere.”
When they weren’t building, the team also got to learn about Guatemalan culture. One way was through “Day in the Life” sessions where local artisans taught trade skills like ceramics and weaving.
Common Hope also offers extra support to families through sponsorships, and volunteers have the opportunity to start sponsoring and meet the families when they visit Guatemala.
“I didn’t decide to sponsor anyone until I was there,” Stephanie said. “Once I could see where the money was going and the direct effect it had on not just the students, but their families as well, it really spoke to me and seemed completely worth-while.”
Wickman sponsored an 8-year-old girl with a 4-year-old brother being supported by a single mother.
“After looking at the pictures on the bulletin board, I knew I wanted to sponsor one of the little girls,” she said. “As a woman in the working world myself, I felt a connection to their struggle and wanted to help open up opportunities for them.”
In the evenings, the team was encouraged to reflect on what they had seen or done that day to highlight how harsh the living conditions in Guatemala are. There is a lot of pressure on children to find work and help support the family as early as possible. This limits access to education, leading to being stuck in low paying, lower skilled jobs, which then encourages the next generation to try to find work as early as possible again, feeding a self-perpetuating cycle of almost inescapable poverty.
“The economic disparity is really eye opening,” said Adam. “You’d pass by huge houses in guarded compounds with tiny shacks of people living in extreme poverty right next door.”
Another team member, Anil Nethisinghe reflected on his experience saying, “[I am] extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Common Hope and fellow Lerch Bates employee-owners to spend a week in Guatemala helping local communities in need and building a home for a family. The kind people of Guatemala and the strong sense of community I experienced have profoundly impacted me in a positive way.”
Lerch Bates is proud to partner with Common Hope as an organization that mutually benefits the community in Antigua and the employee-owners who participate. For more information on Common Hope or to plan a Vision Team experience of you own, visit www.commonhope.org.