Loan officers lend a hand in Guatemala

James MacPherson and a volunteer haul concrete to build a water sistern in Secanquin, Guatemala. Two St. George loan officers traveled to Guatemala to help build a small village's infrastructure. | Photo courtesy of Len Cercone

ST. GEORGE – When Matt Hickman and James MacPherson were informed that they would be rewarded for excellent performance as employees, they had little idea what was in store for them. They left Southern Utah on April 27 and during the beginning of their week-long trip, visited the capital and major cities along with 35 colleagues. But the highlight was yet to come: Spending four days in Secanquin.

Nestled high in the mountains of north central Guatemala, the village is so remote that it is not shown on most area maps. Of the estimated 200 who call it home, few speak English or even Spanish (their native tongue is the Mayan language Q’eqchi’) and have never seen foreigners. They suffer from extreme poverty and lack proper educational and medical facilities, needs that are being addressed by the Academy Mortgage Foundation.

Upon their arrival in Secanquin, Hickman, MacPherson and their group started working alongside the natives in an effort to better their living situation. Their main duties included digging trenches and laying pipe for a massive cistern that, when complete, will ferry water to the village. After being taught how to administer injections and extract teeth, they also assisted in providing dental care, as mouth and gum disease are common. The volunteers pulled a total of 550 teeth over a three-day period.

James MacPherson (left) and Matt Hickman in the Guatemalan jungle. | Photo courtesy of Len Cercone

Aside from lending a hand to the Secanquin residents, Academy Mortgage’s goal with the foundation is to encourage altruism among their employees, a value that seemed to have hit home for Hickman.

“(I learned that) there are greater things out there than myself,” he said. “Their culture is amazing and after living in someone else’s world, (you become) truly grateful for the little things in your life.”

Len Cercone, an advertising executive from the Boston-based Cercone Brown Company, accompanied the Academy Mortgage employees on their trip and said that the experience, while challenging, was very rewarding. And though he and the people of Secanquin are lingually and culturally worlds apart, he will never forget the connections he made with them.

“Everyday life in the community is hard, yet (the residents) are affectionate and happy people,” Cercone said. “They are wealthy in ways most can only imagine. Working side by side with them, there is no way to not have a fundamental change in perspective. I will forever have a benchmark for a new day.”

The foundation has plans to return to Secanquin in November with a new group of volunteers to continue construction of a schoolhouse. Overall, the village has received $120,000 in donations, $8,000 of which was contributed by Hickman and MacPherson’s branch. Projects for years to come are currently being organized and are expected to take place in other impoverished areas such as Africa. For information on how you can help, visit their website.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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