Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Story

Opal House has changed my life forever.

Travel alone. Travel far and travel with intention. Let yourself become comfortable in your own solitude. Enjoy your own company. Allow new people to come into your life and be yourself, the friendships will find you. Treat everyone you meet like they have the secret to the universe because they all have something to offer. Listen, discuss, and ask questions. Smile bigger and laugh harder. Let yourself be open, raw, and real. Fall in love with the people you meet. Fall in love with YOURSELF. Embrace situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Learn a new language. Try new things, things that scare you, things that you don't think are possible. Don't give up on yourself, or others. Have faith, in someone, or something. Have faith in yourself. Because you are beautiful, and you should live a beautiful life, serving others. Search for true happiness, and don't stop until you find it. Travel to hidden pockets and stand in awe at the beauty you never imagined you would be able to see. Stop spending money on stupid things, save up, quit your job and TRAVEL. 

When is the last time you woke up, and didn't have a day completely filled with things to do? When is the last time you woke up and thought about someone other than yourself? When is the last time you put your own needs aside, and put someone else's ahead of your own?

If you are not truly happy. If you are searching for happiness every day, and can't seem to find is my advice for you. Stop filling every minute of your day. Take time to relax, enjoy the beautiful life you were blessed with. Take a second to think! We are all so busy running around, we don't even allow ourselves time to think sometimes! Take a step back and look at your life. Appreciate the people in your life. Be open to letting new people into your life. And then take a second to realize, if you are not happy, YOU have the power to change that. 

For those of you that know me, I am a pretty happy person. I am known for my smile, and genuine personality. Before Guatemala, I was living a happy life, and I was content. After my time in Guatemala, I have found something new. A new form of happiness. Being a teacher is a very rewarding job, and for that reason, I was loving my life and feeling happy most of the time in the U.S.! But to put my life on hold for three months, and to put these Guatemalan children above all things in my truly an example of serving others. Doing things for someone other than yourself, now that will show you true happiness. Buying a shirt for yourself will make you happy for a week. Getting your nails done might make you happy for a day. But serving others, serving those in need, giving your time/heart/energy to other is something that fills a spot in your heart that you might not know even exists.

I am by no means saying you have to leave the country, go to Guatemala, give money....none of that! You can serve people anywhere in the world. From your family, neighborhood, city, country, and abroad. Serving others is such a broad idea, and a lot of people get stuck in the thought that it means giving money. Until you actually see where that money is going, it means nothing. 

Give your time, give your talents, give your heart.  

Surprise Goodbye

Bittersweet Goodbye Party

After school yesterday, little did I know that Will, Diane and Jackeline had planned a surprise goodbye party for me. With the Tuesday afternoon class. I was busy spending time with my mom, soaking up some sun, and working on my video I really had no idea all the decorating was taking place. It wasn't until right before class, I walked to my room to grab something and I saw the patio all decorated. I was like...hmmm what is going on!?!? 

We start every afternoon class in the chapel singing songs, and praying. Will started the class by saying, "Today is Maren's last day with us (for the Tue class) and we are going to celebrate her today!" We then continued with the usual songs, and I just broke down. Being in the chapel, with the presence of God, the children, the music, AND my mom. I just lost it. I couldn't contain my emotions. I put one of the little girls on my lap and I just held her. Before I knew it, Jackeline was crying, and my mom! It was rather an emotional disaster, but so special. It was a moment I will never forget. It was just a taste of what Friday and Saturday goodbyes will be like. DREADING THIS....

We then went out to the patio and played relay races, obstacle courses, and a piƱata!! It really was special, and SO much fun. The crying stopped right away! My favorite part was the water balloon toss. I was with Jackeline, and first she got me pretty good all over my dress. BUT, then I was able to get her back, the balloon popped right on her face!! She was soaked. Then I played a round with my mom as well. We all got wet, and it was a beautiful warm day. 

We enjoyed a delicious chocolate cake, and remember the tradition? They tried to make me put my face in the cake...but we decided just my nose was sufficient! I am so grateful they all planned this and put in all the work and time to make this day special for me. It was special, and it was so memorable. 

Special Visitor

My Mom!

I spend my first week here in Guatemala with my dad. Then, about half way through my trip, my best friend was here in Guatemala for a weekend. NOW, my mother is here to spend my last week with me. I couldn't be more grateful to have the opportunity to actually share my trip with three people I love more than anything. This way when I tell stories and they see pictures, it all will be so clear and make sense to them. They are able to actually put themselves into my shoes and understand better everything that I experienced. My dad and Jessie are both very mom on the other a little more reserved! This will be an eye opening experience for her! Just like it has been for me as well!

Except now that I am comfortable, I can be like a tour guide!! 

When my dad was here, it was my very first week. I cried to see him leave, and I was scared and timid all week. Also, school hadn't started yet, so my dad didn't experience the children and my teaching. Now that is is the end of my journey, this place is my home. I am so comfortable, I know my way around, and I am proud to show off the beauty of the country and the people. I have so many fun things planned for us this week, it is going to fly by! I am going to make her do things that are right up her alley, but also push her to try new things and things that are a little uncomfortable at first. For example, I will be making her ride in the back of a Mayan Taxi, also known as a pick up truck stuffed with mayans standing in the back! 

I have to keep in mind how I felt at the beginning of my trip. And I remember like it was yesterday. I need to be patient with her, and ease her into the culture. I will also have to do a lot of translating since she does not speak any Spanish! 

Over the past 4-5 years my mom and I have gotten a lot closer. Apparently that is common when you go to college? I am certain that this trip is only going to strengthen our bond, just like it did with my dad and I. 

Well, I said I was going to ease my mom into the culture...but we only have one week together here! So, her first day here...she went in the Mayan Taxi! And I am so proud of her. She did awesome! The hardest part for her was just getting on and off! She was waving to people, and she agrees with is the best way to soak up the culture and enjoy the views! We took the taxi to a nearby town called San Lucas. There isn't much in San Lucas, but we wanted an adventure after school. Its about a 20-30 min ride there, and then we walked around and enjoyed the town. We went to a restaurant and shared a mini pizza, and then we got coconut ice cream...mmm super healthy I know!

I am so proud of everything I have accomplished over the past 3 months, and I am so proud of my students. They truly are inspiring. As my goodbye is getting closer, I am dreading it more and more. I am feeling very torn. Part of me is SO excited to get home to my family and friends, but part of my is SO sad to leave Opal House. I feel like I am so ready to come home, but after two weeks or so at home, I am going to want to come right back! I had my last two classes of English Monday and Tuesday. It was such an honor to share my class with my mom. And, my students are so proud of themselves. They know what they have accomplished. They should be proud, they really have come so far. It is beautiful to watch the growth of children, more than just academic growth. These children are only 3-6 yrs old but they are so mature, and responsible. 

Today we went walking around with my mom and the students. They were holding her hand, and trying to talk to her. It was so cute! These students love every and anyone. They are just the caring and loving people I have ever known. My mom got to really get a good look at the farm, and explore the beauty. Although it is quite a hike down and back up, she made it!

The Pre Teen Group

Conversations That Inspire

NEVER did I think I would teach a SEX talk to a group of pre-teen girls!! Let alone in Guatemala, in another language. All I have to say is wow. Just wow. What a meaningful and rewarding discussion. We all shared personal stories, stories about friends and loved ones. And we talked about the importance and opportunity to say no. We talked about the consequences, and how one decision can flip your life upside down. In this culture, it is so unbelievably common for young girls to get pregnant, and the man walks away. I was so impressed with how shy they were at first, and then they opened up and started sharing real life stories about their families. We all described what "real love" means to us. It was really powerful and interesting. Even though these girls are only about 11 years old. It is so much better to talk about these hard subjects NOW before they are living in the situation and they are feeling unprepared. 

Then, I also received a card from one of my preteen girls, "I will never forget the new things you have taught me over the past three months. You have been like a sister. Thank you for being honest and sharing your stories with us. Thank you for playing with us. I will never forget you. I don't want you to leave. God bless you." My heart melted. Saying goodbye to this group of girls is going to be the hardest. Today they all asked me to take a picture with them. They all wanted a group picture to remember me, and then they said, "can we all take one with you individually". I felt like a celebrity/model. But how special is that...these girls didn't ask for a gift, they asked for a picture. To them they didn't need a materialistic gift, they wanted a sentimental picture. Little do they know that next week I am going to be giving each of them a very special bracelet as well. 

My passion has always been with the little ones, teaching children ages 2-6 years old is my absolute favorite. My real teaching gifts shine, and my passion ignites. Its not that I don't like children that are older, it is just that my heart and my talent is really seen when I am around the little ones. They are able to show so much love, and they want love in return. The hugs, the constant reminders and compliments...are always appreciated! Yes, it can take a lot of patience at times, but in the end it is worth it! I really believe I was put on this earth to be a teacher and impact the lives of others. Whether I am in Guatemala or the United States, I am going to impact the lives of children for many more years to come. I am confident of that. 

At the beginning of my journey, I dreaded every Friday class. The girls were very immature, and I just felt uncomfortable. It was a different environment and age group that I was not used to. Now, I am not going to tell you that I want to teach 6th grade now...but I will tell you that I am actually starting to really enjoy our Friday class. I am actually part of the planning and carrying out of the lessons. In the beginning I would just attend, and observe Jackeline and the girls. Now, I am another mentor for these girls, and I am building relationships with them.  It really is a powerful feeling to be a mentor and role model for someone, especially when you understand how much they need that in their life. These girls treat me like I am a doll some times. They are constantly touching my hair, looking at my nails, playing with my earrings, asking me about my clothes, etc. Most of the time I don't mind at all, but some times I want to just say "OK ENOUGH!" I have already seen big changes in the class and in these girls since I have been here. This Friday after class, I felt so happy and so warm inside. 

Every week I try to think of something to help these girls feel more comfortable talking and participating in class. This week we incorporated an activity that I have done many times in my life. Jackeline and I put a bunch of random questions into a bowl. 

For example:

- Do you have a boyfriend? Why or why not?

- What do you like to do at home?

- Do you like to dance? Why?

- Do you like to sing?

- What makes a role model?

- What are your top three values?

- Why is it important to study?

- What does complete beauty mean?

- What is integrity mean to you?

This pushed the girls to think on the spot, and answer in front of the whole group. We all took turns passing the bowl and answering questions. I had my doubts, normally I hate games like this! I even participated and answered my questions in Spanish obviously...and it was a challenge! But, we all loved it! We were all a little nervous, and we laughed at some of the answers, and it was such a great activity for them!

Turns out, only one of the girls has a boyfriend. I started to ask her all sorts of questions about her boyfriend in front of the other girls, and she answered every single one. Then, they asked me if I had a boyfriend. I told them all about my relationship. The good and the bad, the hard times, and the amazing times. I want them to know that it isn't always butterflies and rainbows...relationships take a lot of work, trust, and faith. They were all listening to me so intently, and looking at me like my words were gold. I know I am making a difference in their life, and I love it!

For the first time in my life...I am actually inspired to do something like this in the United States. I do not want to teach upper level grades, I still want the little ones! But...I would love to have a similar group like this back home. A group to support teens, be a role model, answer those hard questions, be like a big sister to girls that need it in their life. It's something I will think about...but for the first time in my life...I am actually thinking about it! Something so different than I have ever enjoyed or done before! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Rhythm, Music, and ZUMBA!!!

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I love to dance!! Today with the Friday afternoon class, the group of pre-teen girls...I decided to teach them some ZUMBA dances!! These girls are always so shy, uptight, and self-conscious. Zumba is the perfect thing to loosen them up- and have some fun! There are a lot of people in Guatemala that feel dancing should be prohibited. Today our class was about dance, and how it is an amazing way to express yourself. And that is exactly what dance is for. We talked about how dance can be used in a negative way, such as using dancing to sell your body or get a man. We asked every girl, "Do you like to dance? Why? Do you think it is okay to dance?" Their responses were fascinating. But, coincidently...they all said they liked to dance! So then I concluded the discussion by saying....Well today I am going to teach you three dances! They all screamed and got sooo excited. Honestly, when I planned this, I was expecting maybe three of them to participate, and everyone else to watch. THEY ALL WANTED TO, and did! There were too many of us, we had to dance in two groups! Take a look at this video, it's amazing how positive the feedback was. I felt amazing afterwards. Words cannot describe. They told me I am like their big sister. My heart grew about 10 inches today. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Surgery Week!

Surgery Team 2014

This past week was surgery week! Every year, in February, a group of 15-20 doctors come to Opal House/Guatemala and perform surgeries for the children of Guatemala. This is the biggest week of the year for all! These doctors are Pediatrists, Orthopedists, X-Ray Techs, and some nurses. The main problems the people in Guatemala face are with their feet and their legs. They wear shoes with no support, and the roads are terrible here. They walk far distances, and usually with a lot of weight on their back. Or, the men are avocado farmers, and they fall from the trees or get an injury on the job. For the most part, whenever someone has an injury, treatment is avoided. Mostly because they can not afford it, or they are uneducated and don't understand how important it is. 


During the consult day, where ALL the patients came in to get a check up, and be assessed for surgery, Jackeline and I volunteered to help with this day! We were in charge of checking all 55 of the patients in, and filling out paperwork, and a spreadsheet in the computer. It was quite the task, but we did a great job and had quite an assembly going. I was grateful to meet the patients, and be part of this week. Knowing that during the actually surgery week, I would be busy helping out at the school. I had to fight back tears quite a few times. Here are some of the situations of these children....


* One baby without a femur. Completely missing the bone.

* One boy who is six years old but is the size of a 1-2 year old, with club feet who can barely walk.

* Many children with club feet who cannot walk correctly. 

* A girl who fell from a tree three years ago, who did not get treatment, and now can barely walk.

* Tumors bigger than golf balls in their legs and arms.

* One boy who has an infection so bad in his feet, and the only option is to remove his feet.



Needless to say, the doctors were very busy! They performed close to 40 big surgeries this week. Some children were able to walk for the first time this week. Some children were saved from amputations. It is truly amazing the work that took place. It was beautiful to see how grateful the families were, and some of them were borderline tears as well. 


It was such a pleasure to be around the doctors. Their personalities were so different, and they all had such a positive experience here. The week flew by, and was truly inspiring! 


I feel like a different Maren. I was so confident around all of the doctors who were strangers to me. We had 10 people living here with us at Opal House, and I was so outgoing and chatting it up with all of them daily! I even feel confident speaking Spanish with Jackeline in front of them. I can feel myself changing, I can feel myself growing, and becoming the confident care-free girl I want to be. I am loving these changes, and loving myself more and more every day. 


Zip Lining! 

With a group of five of the doctors, we all decided to go zip lining today in Panajachel! There were two options. The Basic Cables, of seven runs, or the EXTREME cables, with seven runs. They recommend starting with the basic to get a feel for it. BUT, of course we just decided to spend the money and go for the extreme cables. They are called extreme because the two longest runs are close to a half a mile long! I was surprisingly not very scared to do this, but instead, very excited. It only cost us $50 for seven runs! Quite the deal. These extreme cables are the longest in all of central america! Even longer than the runs in Costa Rica. 



Of course I get stuck on the LONGEST run, which was only our second run. After the first one, I thought wow this is easy! But then this second one, was more than twice the length. The reason I got stuck is because I didn't have enough weight/momentum to get my across. I was only a few yards short or something, but trust me that is enough to make you nervous. Usually you come flying all the way through till the person stops you on the ground. But no, I was hanging out on the wire, alone, and had to put my hands up on the cable and literally pull myself in. Talk about making your heart sink to your toes! 

What an amazing experience. It was a great hike, view, and thrill! I loved it! I don't regret doing the extreme cables for a second! They were worth it, and honestly not THAT scary. I felt very safe, as long as I made it safely to the other side! It was another great experience for my Spanish. I was chatting it up with our tour guide. AND, I was the translator for our group. It was an amazing weekend, and great experience.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Clowns! - Los Payasos

Last week, we had an amazing surprise for the students and families. There was a group of Italian clowns that visited Opal House and put on quite the show! There was a great turn out, and the children looked forward to this for weeks. The smiles on their faces were priceless. It was almost an hour long show, with a variety of small acts and different skits. Then, they even danced! It was a little different from most clowns I am used to seeing, with all the face make up, and balloon tying. It was unique, and such a fun opportunity for the children. 

Fun For Everyone!