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CHIMAXYAT, Guatemala -- A Salt Lake-based company offered its top performers a different kind of incentive: an opportunity to perform service in a remote village in Guatemala.
Basically, as individuals, the employees worked very hard last year to qualify to travel thousands of miles to perform demanding physical labor. But, they say they can't imagine anything better.
The towering temples of the ancient Mayan civilization rise above Guatemala's northern rain forest. Abandoned centuries ago, it is a small group of their descendants we traveled to help.
Destination: Guatemala City. Employees of Salt Lake-based Beneficial Financial Group gathered from throughout the Western United States. They had earned this opportunity.
"[It's] not a vacation in any sense of the word. We're living in tents, riding buses for multiple hours to get here, and it's really an opportunity to serve instead of be served," said Kirby Brown, CFO for Beneficial Financial Group.
By bus, by boat and smaller buses, it took three days for our group of 41 to make our way into the central mountains to Chimaxyat. Greetings came from and for those who had traveled here last year. The villagers carried our luggage half a mile down the steep trail.
With a ceremony, the villagers showed off their finished school, which the Beneficial volunteers had started last year. "So far away, so remote, and our little efforts produce such a big thing and have such a big impact on the children for their school. No better feeling," said Rich Pinto, a Beneficial Financial adviser from Kailua, Hawaii.
Lloyd Kartchner, with Beneficial Insurance Sales in Cedar City, said, "We made a difference. That's why I'm back. Even if it's one person at a time, one village at a time, we gotta do what we can."
We set up camp and, led by CHOICE Humanitarian, created work details. Side-by-side, they labored, hauling bags of cement down a rocky mountain path, digging a foundation for a new kitchen for the school, making and pouring cement as a foundation for each family's wash basin.
Through an interpreter, Maria de los Angeles Chol told us, "I rejoice in this project because this sink is for me."
The Mayans call themselves "the people of the corn," and they eat it every day. But one member of the group, one of the volunteers, brought seed packets to plant other fruits and vegetables. That meant pounding stakes for a fence to protect newly-planted crops.
"I think if anybody gets an opportunity to serve, I think you realize what life is all about," said Sharon Ricks, with Beneficial Insurance Sales in Orem.
This service expedition was Chief Marketing Officer Mike Jensen's vision. "It was great to spend time with the people we work with every day, but the connections and the relationships that we established with the people of the village will be relationships that won't be forgotten," he said.
Harnessing energy from the sun and the newly-installed solar panel, they turned on a light in the jungle so the adults can have evening classes.
On our last night, the children gave us each pictures they had drawn. We gathered around a bonfire and one villager said, "This flame represents our hope. You are the light in our path to success."
If you are interested in helping or knowing more about this expedition, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org