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Gardens Give Guatemalan Families a Fresh Start
by Christine Bolaños
Posted on Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Recently planted raised gardens at the homes of some of the families of Chimaltenango could give a fresh start to not only the families but their community. The gardens include an assortment of vegetables such as spinach, celery, cilantro, lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, radishes, broccoli and beets. The pilot project was made possible by Orphan Outreach and its auxiliary organization Women for Orphans Worldwide team.

“A team of WOW short-term missionaries and Orphan Outreach wanted to pursue a project for the families that would benefit and improve their lives,” says Heydi Sanchez with Niñez Con Futuros (Guatemalan NGO).  She along with Dan Ucherek led the pilot project in Chimaltenango.

The raised gardens---one of which was planted on the roof of the Community Care Center---are being tested out at some of the homes of families at the garbage dump, given the endearing name of "the ravine" because of its geographic similarity to a ravine. There, workers pick up recyclable items from the culvert of trash. The families’ participation in Orphan Outreach’s Community Care Center helps strengthen them in these highly vulnerable communities.

CCC garden

The gardens are the latest expansion of Orphan Outreach’s programs. If all goes well, there are plans to plant more gardens in other homes to help families become more self-sustaining when it comes to food and nutrition, and possibly give them the opportunity to sell crops for a profit.

“We selected three families who were willing to tend to the gardens and bring the crops to full bloom,” Heydi says. “They also needed to be willing to open their doors to us so we could see the progress and determine the viability of the project.”

Tending to the garden will take time and patience but the rewards are worthy.

“People will not only consume what they’re cultivating but also obtain an economic stream,” explains Heydi. “We’ve worked with people who sometimes don’t have anything to eat. When we see veggies ready to be cut I certainly think that impacts them greatly. All they have to do is spread the seeds and at one point they’ll have enough to eat for a day or for a week.”

She said the program coordinators also aim to teach families how to eat healthy.

“Many times, people think eating an immediate soup is better than herbs,” Heydi says. “So, we’re trying to change their mentality at a low cost. We want them to take advantage of their home space.”

Eventually, she said the program would like to expand to ingenious ways of farming such as growing food on walls of homes, tires and old containers.

The gardens varied in size depending on size of each home. The largest home had as many as five garden beds.

The project has been a demanding but worthwhile labor of love. Dan says it started with the planning stage and then purchasing all the tools, seeds and other items. After the WOW volunteers had been on the ground for a few days it was time to start planting the garden … all in one day.


Dana Blankenship and her daughter Ellery Marshall were among the group of volunteers who worked on the gardens. The women have traveled to Guatemala four years and during that time have made new friends while helping with everything from installing stoves in Chimaltenango homes to decorating and painting the inside of the Community Care Center.

“We wanted to do something sustainable and we’re not afraid of hard, physical work,” Dana shares.

Split up into teams of three, the volunteers started nearly from scratch. Dana says the teams were given wood, gravel that needed to be mixed as well as the ingredients that would make the fertilizer.

“We were stirring everything up and weaving that in with the gravel and the dirt,” explains Dana.

Untitled design

Other team members simultaneously prepared the garden beds. Many of the volunteers were first-time gardeners and with no instruction manual they had to learn as they went along.

After about four hours the gardens were installed and the mother-daughter duo said seeing the smiles on the faces of the family members of the home they were assigned to made it all worth it. “They were so happy when we finished the garden,” Dana says. The families would bring water and let them hold cute babies while the women took breaks from their work.

After the teams were done installing the gardens at the home they reunited at the Community Care Center’s roof. The mission was to install six garden beds on the roofs that same afternoon all before a storm came in.

“Everyone was literally soaking wet (in sweat), dehydrated and sunburned but we thought, ‘Ok, we can do this if we work like crazy,’” Dana recalls. The duo says the CCC gardens were installed in about one-and-a-half hours. “People came together and worked selflessly,” they said.


Dana hopes the families will be able to eventually turn the gardens into a business, “so that families and moms can stay with their children in their home and turn it into a money-making enterprise in a safe way.”

In doing so, Ellery says the community will be strengthened.


One month after her garden was built and planted, Ana Rosalba and her family testify to the transformation that is already taking place. “This garden has helped my family in so many ways. Now I don’t have to go to store to get the healthy food items that I need. I have already harvested radishes and cilantro from my garden. With these items I have made a radish salad and a soup with cilantro. Also I will be able to sell cilantro and celery because I have so much of it. Thank you for giving my family this opportunity!"

“The people there are astonishing,” Dana says. “They’ve taught me so much about gratitude and happiness and what it really means to need and how to be grateful for what you have. I think I’ve fallen in love with the people and the country.”


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