Making a Difference for Impoverished in Guatemala

by Matthew N. Potter


The fingers of sunlight pushed their way through the omnipresent haze of wood smoke and diesel exhaust as our plane made its way to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  Flying just above the hills of the city, we could see the immense sprawl of the largest city in Central America. With 7 million souls trying to eke out a living in the same spot where the Mayans were charting stars and making calendars more than 2,000 years ago, Guatemala City is constantly moving and constantly growing.

    My wife Sherry and I recently made the trip to Guatemala with a two-pronged mission. We would be taking part in a mission awareness trip with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, where we would meet two of the people we sponsor through the foundation: a 79-year-old woman named Julianna and a 10-year-old boy named

The second part would he to visit members of the Rotary Club of Chiquimula, Guatemala, with whom the Rotary Club of Cheyenne is working on several water projects. But this is a column on investment advice, isn't it? Absolutely. I'll get to that part soon.

     The mission awareness trip is a unique experience, It's not a mission where we build a house or dig a ditch. Instead, We join other sponsors who have traveled from all parts of the U.S. to meet their sponsored friends and see for themselves what CFCA has accomplished in some of the poorest places in the world. It then becomes their mission to carry that back to the U.S. to share with other sponsors.

     Vacations can conjure up images of beaches, cruise ships, exotic food and fancy hotels. Our experience was quite a bit different: simple accommodations and simple food. We visited homes with dirt floors and scrap lumber sides. We traveled by minibus and pickup truck to destinations that most of us work real hard to avoid.

     Much of Central America lacks clean water, sanitary facilities and enough food to meet the needs of those who call it home. An education is not guaranteed, and those who are able to get it often end up quitting school prematurely so they can help earn money for their family.  There is much work to be done, and it does not include sipping rum punches underneath a cabana.

     The second portion of the trip was in support of the Rotary Club's water projects. Almost two years ago, our club began working in conjunction with the Rotary Clubs of Chiquimula; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Broomfield, Colo.; exploring the possibility of providing safe and accessible drinking water to the small community of El Carrizal in the municipality of El Carrizal.  The 1,470 residents of El Carrizal had been getting their water directly from a river and had to walk several miles to get it.

     The decision was that the project was completely viable, and the clubs decided to invest a total of $15,000 to bring potable water to the residents of El Carrizal.  Fast forward to April 27. The marimba band is playing traditional music, the ladies of El Carrizal have prepared a feast, the mayor makes a speech, and we celebrate the new well and distribution system. 

     Smiles, handshakes, hugs and sincere gratitude are shared by everyone. The people of El Carrizal are very poor and were not able to contribute any money to the project.   However, in a town meeting they had several months ago, they drafted a document pledging their support, and all the adults signed it.

     That support came, in part, by their digging a trench for the pipeline from the well to the, storage tank. This trench was a mile long, 2 1/2 feet deep, and through some very rocky ground. They did it with shovels, picks and hoes over a 20-day period.

     Now the investment advice. Sherry and I invest money each month in the lives of our sponsored friends and the people of El Carrizal. Our return on investment is immeasurable and off-the-charts fabulous - a smile from Adonaitis as we play soccer; a hug from Julianna; tears of joy in the eyes of the people of El Carrizal.  The wood smoke and diesel exhaust of Guatemala City, as'noxious as they are, did nothing to suppress the joy we experienced being with the people of that beautiful country.

     Sometimes we just can't quantify the returns on our investments.


Matthew N. Potter is a certified financial planner a certified investment management analyst and a branch manager with Raymond James Financial Services. Contact him at 307-638-9332 or .