The Buena Vista Series is a five part blog documenting my service trip to Buena Vista, Guatemala, during spring break of 2017 with the humanitarian organization World Sports United. Along with six other amazing volunteers, and now friends for life, Mauricio & Milena Ruiz, Cameron Grassmyer, Hayden Cruise, Eddy Jimenez, and Andrew Quintana, we spent five days in the mountainous village serving it’s community in conjunction with the Buena Vista Sports Academy. Our journey had no specific campaign, only to operate as ambassadors for the WSU foundation and continue to build relationships with the Buena Vista Sports Academy and its community. Reflecting back on our short adventure, it continues to bring a smile to my face, so I hope my depictions can be entertaining as much as they are enlightening. Although there is a continued influx of support from charitable organizations, churches, and independent personnel from around the world, the Buena Vista community is fighting an uphill struggle against poverty and the subsequent issues that proceed; malnutrition, lack of education, child labor, domestic violence, and addiction. The academy is a faith based ministry ran by two families, the Johnson’s & the Leiva’s. Their mission is to create progressive and noble change in the confined culture of Buena Vista. Their work has now been operating close to nine years, and only now are they beginning to see the favorable change that they have been working so hard toward. However, their endeavor is far from finished.
Wow. What an experience day one was. An extremely busy and tiring day, so it truly set the tone for what would be an non-stop, fun-filled, friendship-building five days. The origin of our trip was Orlando airport where we meet as a group before flying onto Miami where we would then connect to Guatemala City.
My teammate from Jacksonville University, Cam, & I were, surprisingly, the first to arrive at the airport, where we would meet the rest of our group; World Sports United’s founders, Mauricio Ruiz & his wife Milena, as well as the final three members of our group Hayden Cruise, Eddy ‘Waldy’ Jimenez and Andrew ‘Q’ Quintana. From the first introductions you could tell this was a great group; so many laughs from the outset – again, starting as we meant to go on!
From the beginning there was an aura of excitement from everyone, even a little hint of anxiousness from myself as I’d never done anything remotely similar to this before. After arriving in Guatemala City airport after two pretty smooth plane trips we were met by our driver who would take us onto our final destination, Buena Vista, the village that we would be serving for the next several days. As we met our driver he told us to where to wait before collecting the bus and heading back to us ten minutes later. We were only a group of seven so you can imagine our surprise when he pulled up in a stereotypical yellow American school bus that would probably be able to seat fifty passengers.
It is only 15-20 mile from the Capital city to the village of Buena Vista high up in the mountains, but the inner city traffic, long winding switch-back roads, and sometime challenging driving maneuvers needed to facilitate two buses to get through the tightest of corners, all proving to be a bumpy but impressive ride! As we passed through the town of Magdalena, we met our hosts at the bottom of Buena Vista who would then take us further up the mountain to Buena Vista in the back of their pick-up. Our hosts and co-founders of the Buena Vista Sports Academy, Brock Johnson and Mynor Leiva, accompanied by two of the academy boys, Jake and teammate Geovany, were full of smiles; an emotion that was ever present through the trip from the four of them!
A few hundred meters up the steepest of roads led us to the academy’s facility and the house that we would call home for the following five days. We were taken back, it was awesome! The facilities, the view, the hospitality. We couldn’t of imagined anything like this. Outside the compound we were in a third world environment, in it – facilities to create, develop, and inspire. The view is something I had never experienced before. Words cannot do it justice, and honestly, nor can photographs.
As the day progressed, we began with a tour; classrooms, weight room, locker rooms and showers, a kitchen and dining facility; the latter two were extremely prevalent due to the fact that the majority of boys in the academy, if not all, before joining the academy had never had a shower before. The kitchen and dining room, for some, provided the only meal that the boys would eat each day.
The classroom was an exceptionally enjoyable part of the facility for me to observe. My passion for education, especially when coupled with sports, made me more confident than ever that I was in the right place. The education portion of the academy, ran by Brock’s & Mynor’s wives, Carrie & Walda, respectively, would teach the boys how to read and write, and also supplement and tutor those fortunate enough to already go to school. A common, reoccurring theme in the village that we would see over the course of the trip was the lack of education. That lack of education would prove more often than not to be a pivotal factor in the absence of improvement within the Buena Vista community.
Following our tour was our orientation led by Brock, his wife Carrie, and Mynor; they progressed through the do’s and don’ts, the protocols, the dangers, and the background story of the academy. Our hosts then began to divulge the why. Why Buena Vista? Why a soccer academy? Why just for boys?
Brock told us his family’s story; of how they left Jacksonville for Guatemala to serve it’s people; How they met the Leiva’s by chance; How they lived in Magdalena for a short period; How they envisioned a sports academy with an indoor field, classrooms, locker rooms, all with the hope to make positive change within the mountainous communities; and how Mynor initially shot him down, and then retracted and bought whole-heartedly into the project. So they moved to Buena Vista. To begin with the goal wasn’t specific, but, after a while of leading a Christian ministry with the goal to create drastic change within the community, it was soon apparent that they were getting nowhere, fast. Particularly with the parents and elder generations of the community. One day Brock and Mynor decided they needed to focus of the boys of the Buena Vista community. The problems were evident; domestic violence, alcoholism, addiction, rape, all committed by the male elders. The elder males were the problem. The boys were not the problem, they were the solution. The boys are the ones who could be educated, taught how to love, taught how to be good sons, good brothers, good husbands, good fathers. These boys would be the ones to break the cycle of problems in the Buena Vista community.
After orientation we were invited to meet Las Rinas. The first girls team that the academy has start; the thought-child of academy graduate Allan Marroquin. Less than two hours into our trip and I was already sheading a tear or two. We were told of Allan’s story, a life filled of trials and tribulations, unfathomable to the world and society which I live in. He had progressed through them all, with the guidance from the academy and began changing the norm. Beforehand, and probably still, a female soccer team is unheard of. Many in the Buena Vista community perceive soccer as a sin for girls. The men perceive females in Buena Vista as objects, the children as workers, but Allan, with no external explicit influence came up with the idea for a female team. He recognized that the females were not the problem, if anything they were the ones who kept this village moving. They deserved an opportunity to enjoy playing the game of soccer, afforded the opportunity to be educated and held as equals to their male counterparts. Allan Marroquin pioneered this; he is now he is their coach. An inspirational young man with the courage to be different, to lead, to be a positive influence. Allan will be ever present in my forthcoming blog entries; a mountain of a man, standing a only 5’4”.
Dinner was next! What we’d all been looking forward to, and head chef, Señora Johanna, had not disappointed… Burritos! I think we had agreed they conquered the prominence of Chipotle in terms of taste and authenticity… we were buzzin! Post refueling, it was time for introductions, from both us and from the seis Rhino’s. These six young men were boys from the academy who had shown the most growth, the utmost need, and the greatest potential. These boys had moved into the academy’s grounds, left their homes and moved in with the Johnson family. Quique, Geovany, Denilson, Robin, Darwin, and Allan. The introductions were translated by Brock, shadowed by a short synopsis of the lad as a player by head coach Mynor. It was quickly apparent the scale of the problem within the Buena Vista community after hearing each individual story. They followed the same patterns; grew up in a household ravished by poverty, with multiple siblings, fathers who were alcoholics and abusive, mothers who were subjected to labor in order to provide for the family, and all too often victims of domestic violence and rape. Soccer was the outlet for these boys. Their love. The academy enabled them not only to pursue their love, but use it as a vehicle for positive change; it taught them discipline, integrity, how to love, and faith. Their lessons were taught through a connect between soccer and the teachings of the Bible, and it was incredible to hear the tales of how these boys had turned their lives around and now wanted to be the next leaders of Buena Vista, that would lead graceful and noble lives. Our hearts were touched. It was our turn next, our turn to introduce ourselves to our hosts and the Rhinos. Due to the lack of Spanish from a select few of us, translations were needed. As a fluent Spanish speaker Waldy began, with Brock translating into English. I was next, Waldy graciously proceeded to translate for me, not the first time during this trip a few laughs would be shared during the translation for me (stay tuned for part four where Mynor and myself have a little hiccup!), next Q, Hayden, Cam, Milena, and Coach Mau. Each second during those introductions I had this strange feeling of contentment; I was surrounded by people, all from different walks of life, all with the same yearning to make a difference in the world, it was something special. This aura was something that I’d never experienced before, but it would be omnipresent throughout our entire time in Buena Vista.
Concluding the evening and the first day we were told of Sunday’s plans, A run to El Tablón… a run, QUE!? El Tablón was the next village over. We would embark on this adventure with the boys of the academy. Not quite what we had envisioned, but we embraced it, however, we may have underestimated what we getting ourselves in for…
To be continued.