Recent tragedies in Guatemala hit close to home for a group of volunteers from Vermillion.
Participants in "Sharing the Dream in Guatemala," a multi-faceted non-profit organization and store based in Vermillion, are travelling to the country this week to offer friendship and support, in cleaning homes and rebuilding lives following a volcanic eruption and tropical storm that happened within days of each other nearly three weeks ago.
The natural disaster combination has created a mess of volcanic ash, water and mud, causing devastating mudslides.
While dozens of people were killed, more were left without electricity, food and water.
"We're going to see roads and bridges that are gone. Homes that are gone," said Diane Nesselhuf, founder of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala. "When you're in a country with a lot of poor people, they're the brunt of who gets hit with a natural disaster."
Nesselhuf, along with her husband Ed, the Hazen and Lisa Bye family, and Mike Girlinghouse are participating in the Sharing the Dream trip.
Nesselhuf's connection to the country came after she and Ed adopted their daughter, Ana, 24 years ago from a Guatemalan orphanage. At that time, Guatemala was engaged in civil war, and hundreds of children were suffering because of poor economic conditions.
"I thought people shouldn't have to put their children in an orphanage just because they couldn't afford them," Nesselhuf said.
Inspired to do something about Guatemala's orphaned children, she formed Sharing the Dream in Guatemala, a project that started as a way to form relationships with the people of Guatemala by visiting the country regularly.
For the last 15 years, Nesselhuf and her husband have travelled there two to three times a year, and along the way, have brought an estimated 300-400 people with them.
"A lot of times people ask, 'What do you do there?'" Nesselhuf said. "It's really hard to explain that it's more of a learning trip."
Volunteers in Sharing the Dream in Guatemala visit homes, schools and churches. They talk about work, school, marriage, dating and daily life — topics that affect people, whether they live in Guatemala or the United States.
"It's sharing what we're about as people," Nesselhuf said.
Years of conversation and friendship have built trust between the two cultures.
Today, Sharing the Dream has volunteers working full time in Guatemala. But Sharing the Dream doesn't stay in one place — the group visits people in the highlands, jungle, near lakes and other areas.
The Nesselhuf's other adopted child, Miguel, helps efforts in Guatemala full time by working with scholarships, computer availablity and the elder center.
Some Sharing the Dream in Guatemala volunteers currently working in the country, however, were affected directly by the volcanic eruption and tropical storm. In one group, 16 out of 30 female volunteers' homes were completely destroyed.
On this trip, Nesselhuf and the seven other participants will be delivering food, clothing and tools to those families and other groups affected.
"When I start whining about how I have to drive 45 minutes to work, I think of my friends in Guatemala who walk two hours to get water," Nesselhuf said.
"It's a really healthy thing to say, 'Maybe my life isn't so important,'" Nesselhuf added.
This trip will be quite special because five of the participants are from the Hazen and Lisa Bye family. Their three children, who range from middle school-aged to college-aged, are going, too.
The family got the idea to go after their oldest daughter, Sara, 19, decided she wanted to be part of Sharing the Dream.
"I wanted to experience something that's not my life," Sara Bye said.
"All three of my kids were going to go and I wanted to do it, too. The timing was right, so we decided we're all going to go," Lisa Bye added.
Efforts by hundreds of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala volunteers, like the Bye family, and Guatemalan people have made a big difference for families in the Central American country.
Through the years, Nesselhuf collected crafts from low-income Guatemalan artisans and sold them to friends and relatives in the United Sates. Then, she sent the profits back to the artisans in Guatemala who made them.
That small effort by Nesselhuf extended into the Sharing the Dream in Guatemala store, located at 10 W. Main St. in Vermillion. The store promotes fair trade with cooperatives and small businesses in Guatemala by giving back more than 90 percent of the profits made off the artisans' goods.
The partnership also creates sustainable markets and independence, two elements that Nesselhuf thought were necessary in her project.
Nesselhuf believes in working with the people instead of for the people.
"It's about sharing and learning. It takes more time," Nesselhuf said. "We're now working with groups so they learn about marketing and design, so they can market their products to others places, not just to us."
The Sharing the Dream in Guatemala efforts have helped the Guatemalan people send their children to school. The organization has helped provide educational scholarships and maintain a school for more than 200 students. In addition, Sharing the Dream in Guatemala has implemented a center for elderly people, medical care for 65 elderly people, workshops for contributing artisans and weaving centers with equipment for artisans.
For more information about Sharing the Dream in Guatemala, go to www.sharingthedream.org.