For eight days in mid-August 2009, possibly the largest gathering of LDS singles united in humanitarian service in a foreign country at one time met in Guatemala to engage in a multi-faceted project serving the Maya Q’eqchi’ in the remote Polochic Valley.
Nearly 90 single adults from around the world served on sustainable, village-determined projects in the areas of education, health and economic development on this inaugural expedition for the organization called Singular Humanitarian experience (SHe).
SHe partnered with CHOICE Humanitarian, a non-profit organization with more than 20 years of experience in combating poverty by focusing on sustainable village development in Guatemala, and was supported by LDS Humanitarian Services.
Under CHOICE’s guidance and based on their ongoing, village-directed plans, SHe volunteers made significant progress in building the area’s first middle school and library, conducted teacher development training for the area’s 34 teachers, held the first-ever formal training for 14 mid-wives and trained 30 rural health promoters.
SHe assembled a robust team of medical and dental professionals who rotated through six villages where nearly 6,000 Mayan Q’eqchi’ live. At the clinic, SHe volunteers attended to nearly 1,000 patient consultations, distributed more than 1,000 adult and children’s multi-vitamin packs, treated 10 people in need of critical care and 60 children for scabies, cleaned more than 75 people’s teeth and performed more than 100 tooth extractions.
Additionally, SHe participants conducted sanitation, nutrition and dental workshops for more than 300 villagers, began construction on a school kitchen, health clinic and community water system, taught budgeting and personal finance to more than 175 women, trained more than 150 from 11 villages on agricultural techniques, and consulted with 12 village leaders on improving economic opportunities in their villages.
“At the end of 2008, SHe was just an idea to bring together singles who want to make a difference in the world – and we have been ecstatic to see all of the work and effort come to fruition on our first expedition,” said SHe founder, Tyler Delange. “It was so inspiring to not only be there with so many wonderful participants that had given of their time, talents and energy to provide significant and sustainable assistance but also for what we learned and experienced together with the beautiful, humble and loving Q’eqchi’ people in this remote, underserved area of Guatemala.”
Newly formed ten months ago by friends in the Washington D.C. area, SHe volunteer committees have worked to recruit participants, organize pre-trip plans, plan and conduct in-country workshops and projects as well as fundraise. SHe volunteers are principally but not exclusively LDS singles who are interested in providing meaningful service as well as traveling abroad and experiencing new cultures.
“We were thrilled to partner with this group of young dynamic LDS leaders who have the wisdom to see that the needs in the world extend beyond our back yard. Their commitment and dedication are truly admirable,” said Leah Barker, CEO of CHOICE Humanitarian.
As an integral part of the experience, local villagers worked side by side with SHe volunteers every day, held arrival and farewell celebrations, and enjoyed social and cultural events such as soccer games, a cross-cultural talent show and a day-in-the-life afternoon experience.
Nearly half of the per-person expedition fee directly benefited the local Q’eqchi’ people through funding the building, repair and post-SHe sustainable development projects. To supplement that direct benefit, SHe collectively raised over $6,500 for needed supplies through fundraising “SHevents” including a Black & White “mocktail” party, 5K fun run, live benefit concert and personal fundraising efforts and donations.
Many SHe volunteers filled their extra luggage with donations from self-initiated campaigns for everything from medical supplies to school supplies and sports equipment. Donations benefited more than 800 elementary students at the areas’ eight multi-grade elementary schools and health outposts with meager medication and supplies.
LDS Humanitarian Services has committed significant funds to provide necessary equipment and supplies to the area’s health clinics and the soon-to-be-completed secondary school.
“This proved to be an unforgettable experience for all involved as we served together with the Q’eqchi’,” said SHe founder, Ashley Dabb. “We hope that SHe participants will be inspired to either join possible future SHe expeditions or pursue similar projects to give meaningful service around the world.”
Due to the overwhelming success of this first expedition, SHe plans to obtain non-profit organization status, expand to create local chapters in cities with large concentrations of LDS singles and will be partnering with CHOICE Humanitarian in 2010 to return to the Polochic Valley in Guatemala July 10-19 and to Nepal September 25-October 6.
For more detailed information, please visit: www.singularhumanitarian.org and www.choicehumanitarian.org.