For decades, Rotary clubs in Marysville, south Everett and other areas have helped build schools, other projects and friendships in Guatemala. Through the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, volunteers work in the Central American country’s rugged villages. One local dentist has turned those trips into family affairs.
“I decided it would be a good experience for my kids,” said Peterson, who helped build a school during a 10-day trip last month.
His oldest son, Michael, came along on Peterson’s first Guatemala trip. Now 25, Michael Peterson was a Snohomish High School junior that year. “It was transformative for him,” said Dr. Peterson, who later took son Marshall, 21, and daughter Nicole Peterson Daniels, now almost 22 and married.
This year’s journey was special in several ways.
After volunteers finished building a three-room schoolhouse in the Guatemalan village of Canton Maya Jaguar, the dentist was in for a surprise. Villagers uncovered a plaque on the school. “En Honor A Familia Kelly Y Kristi Peterson,” it said, along with the month and year, “Marzo 2018.” The school was dedicated in his family’s honor Peterson’s youngest son, Matthew, was in Guatemala for the first time in March. So was the dentist’s wife, Kristi. Matthew Peterson, 18, is a senior at Snohomish High. “This is the last kid,” Dr. Peterson said. “And my wife, because she didn’t have any more children at home, was able to come, too.”
It was a first for Kristi Peterson, who has heard from her husband and older kids about the remote mountain villages in northwest Guatemala, near the Mexican border. Also along was a niece, Kaitlyn Peterson from Utah, and Michael Peterson’s fiance, Lisa Rodney. Both of them are students at Southern Virginia University, where daughter Nicole also went to college.
Larry Jubie, 70, also belongs to the Marysville Rotary. He has shared construction skills during 19 trips to Guatemala. “This was the most difficult place we ever had to get to,” Jubie said of Canton Maya Jaguar. His 75-year-old brother, Harv Jubie, was there, too, on his 20th Guatemalan journey.
After flying into Guatemala City, the travelers spend 14 hours on a bus to the town of Santa Cruz Barillas, where the Everett-based Hands for Peacemaking Foundation has a mission house. There, they load up trucks for several more hours of travel “on roads I would best describe as a dried riverbed,” Dr. Peterson said.
The last part of this year’s trip was an hour-plus hike uphill to the mile-high village. There, the people’s huts have dirt floors. There are no flush toilets — they dug two latrines outside the school they built. And their team installed more than 50 stoves in the huts.
Hands for Peacemaking was founded in 1985 by Dr. Leeon Aller, a Snohomish family practice physician. Before he died in 2008, Aller and his wife, Virginia, had made 48 trips to Guatemala, helping people who subsist on little more than corn tortillas. The foundation is supported by Rotary groups here, in Mount Vernon and in Quincy, and by churches and individual donors.
Kristi Peterson said she’d love to go back, even after taking cold showers and sleeping under bug tents in a rustic building. “It wasn’t a vacation,” the dentist’s wife said.
“I had seen all the pictures. I thought I understood what it was going to be like,” she said. “”When you actually get out there, you see it and feel it.”
While her husband was building the school, she and Matthew were part of a team that installed stoves and chimneys in the homes. There were fun times, she said, “teaching kids how to jump rope and throw a Frisbee — they had never seen a Frisbee.”
The Peterson family, who live in Snohomish, belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Matthew plans to attend Brigham Young University-Idaho, but first will serve his church through a two-year mission. He’s awaiting word of his destination.
Years ago, his dad went to Japan on a mission. His siblings also have served. Michael Peterson’s church mission was in Santiago, Chile. Marshall was in Argentina, and Nicole returned to Guatemala after being there with Hands for Peacemaking.
Matthew, who plays trombone in the Snohomish High band, said Guatemala opened his eyes to poverty and the joy of serving others. “I had a huge change in perspective,” he said. “That week in Guatemala has gotten me all hyped up about what service can be.”
He’ll never forget seeing the eyes of children as they peeked into huts while he helped install stoves. “I got to have a really good experience with these people. It was much more than installing stoves. They could have turned the wrench on their own,” he said.
“The hardest thing on that trip wasn’t building the school or installing furnaces,” the teen added. “It was leaving the village, and having them chase after the truck as we left.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out about the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation at: www.handsforpeacemaking.org/