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Volunteers at Work in Alta Verapaz: Molly McHugh

by User Not Found | Jan 15, 2014

When mother-­‐daughter pair Mary and Molly McHugh travel together they don’t choose all-­‐inclusive resorts; they grab their backpacks and plan adventures. Molly’s college graduation gift from her mom was a backpacking trip through Europe with one stipulation—they would go together. When Mary planned a trip with Medical Teams International and invited Molly to join, she was up for the challenge. The McHughs formed a part of the 16-­‐ member Holmgren work team, constructing fuel-­‐efficient ventilated stoves for families in Chitepey.

The family members soon found that working alongside one another in service provided a different perspective than vacation-­‐ oriented travel. For Molly, building stoves in Chitepey offered a new entrance into her mom’s life. “Getting to know your mom as the woman she is outside of being your mother is pretty incredible,” she said. “Spending time with them [parents] in situations where you get to see them in roles outside of being your mom provide valuable insight into who they are. And also where you come from. I am so thankful to share as amazing an experience [as] the week in Guatemala was with my mom.”

Although Molly had no previous experience with MTI, the organization’s mission and focus resonated with her strongly, and the group’s all-­‐team meeting prior to departure helped deepen her understanding of MTI’s objectives in San Juan Chamelco. Still, only upon arrival in Guatemala did Molly’s nervousness settle. “The community was so welcoming and open to us on the first day that I immediately realized my nervousness and fear prior to coming on the trip had been for naught,” she said. “I know the welcome we received from the community was a direct result of the relationship MTI has built there.”

Over the course of four days in Chitepey, the Holmgren Team constructed 28 fuel-­‐ efficient ventilated stoves benefitting 127 individuals. They also installed an industrial size stove in the aldea’s newly inaugurated community kitchen. Team members had opportunity to visit with families, learn about how MTI collaborates with other local organizations, and meet with local midwives and Mother Counselors to discuss the community’s health needs.


During her time in Guatemala, Molly McHugh experienced the double blessing of giving and learning. She expressed her satisfaction regarding the change the new stoves will produce in the community’s health, but she also commented on how the trip impacted her after her return to the US. “Going to Guatemala made me realize I am content with what I have” Molly said. “I do not need more stuff or Molly McHugh (right) and fellow volunteers from Washington complete their first fuel-­‐efficient ventilated stove. Molly McHugh (left) with her mother Mary McHugh in Chitepey, Alta Verapaz. better stuff. I may not have the monetary resources to give to organizations helping those less fortunate but I do have time and that is something I definitely can make a point of giving.”

While some US volunteers find the change of pace and cultural differences in Guatemala a difficult adjustment, McHugh was grateful for the pace and environment. “I learned to slow down and not be so goal oriented. It is better to enjoy the present, the companionship of those you’re with, and not be so worried about meeting deadlines or quotas. I learned to be incredible thankful for what I have.”

Family bonds as well as a sense of one’s place in the global community are strengthened through international service learning. MTI’s volunteer-­‐powered service projects in Alta Verapaz continue to promote the health of San Juan Chamelco while offering both Guatemalan’s and US volunteers an opportunity for rich intercultural exchange.

 Story and photographs by Brittn Grey, Guatemala ETV