ST. GEORGE — A service trip to Guatemala during two weeks in July helped a Utah family learn, hope and heal while creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Aaron Olsen lives in the Little Valley area of St. George with his children: Easton, Adelin, Kaitlee and Daxton
“Earlier this year we had a unique family challenge that really changed the dynamic of my family,” Olsen said. “I thought there wouldn’t be a better place to heal and to change our perspective on what’s going on with our family than to head to Guatemala and help somebody that’s even less fortunate than we are.
“I talked to the children about it, and together we decided that we would make it happen,” he said. “And it has been one heck of a trip.”
Olsen extended an invitation to his sister-in-law’s family to join them. Stan and Amy Olson live in Bluffdale, Utah, with their children Niklas, Anna, Ella, Roman and Ethan.
“When Aaron extended the invitation to us, we were all over it,” Stan Olson said. “This has been an experience we’ve wanted for several years. We’ve served in our local communities where we’ve lived, but we’ve just not had the chance to break away like this. … We thought, ‘Why wait? Let’s just do it.’ And we’re so glad we did.”
The service trip was facilitated by The God’s Child Project, a nondenominational, nonprofit charity organization that serves children and families that live in intense poverty.
The organization provides essential care for thousands of children, widows, single mothers and families in Guatemala, El Salvador, India, Malawi and the United States.
The Olsen and Olson clans were joined by Travis and Morgan Hansen, a couple from Provo, Utah, related to the family through marriage.
Morgan Hansen said that participation with The God’s Child Project made the two-week service trip much more than just a vacation.
“I typically am not a huge fan of voluntourism … where sometimes you are going just to make yourself feel good. You go for a week, and that’s just kind of it,” she said. “But I’ve really had a good experience with The God’s Child Project. They are not only locally based, but are really, really focused on the long-term needs of the families of the people and of the community.”
She said the organization’s work in schools, food handouts, hospitals and building homes. is “leading up to an actually successful and effective charity organization.”
“The support of the organization is real and long-lasting, and I’ve really been impressed by that.”
The Olsen and Olson families completed service projects such as donating clothes and shoes brought from St. George families to local children, working at a hospital for malnourished children, handing out free food in the markets and building two family houses from the ground up and fully stocking them with water systems, clean burning stoves and bunkbeds.
Through it all, the children got to experience life in a completely different culture than their own.
“The people here are much nicer, or I’d say, more humble about pretty much everything,” Easton Olsen, a 16-year-old at Desert Hills High School, said. “It’s crazy how happy they are with how little they have.”
Adelin Olsen, a 13-year-old at Desert Hills Middle School, said that she enjoyed playing soccer (or, “futbol” as it’s known in that part of the world) and that she’ll remember what it was like serving food to families.
Roman Olson, a 10-year-old who really enjoyed the exotic animals that he’d never seen before, said his favorite project was building the house.
“I learned how grateful these people are.”
15-year-old Anna Olson said she immediately came to appreciate having paved roads in the U.S. once she got to Guatemala. The bathrooms were pretty strange too, she said, especially the part about throwing toilet paper in the trash rather than flushing it down.
She said her favorite part about the service project was meeting the children at the hospital and making them laugh.
“It was really cool to meet the girl at our house,” she said. “I learned that she likes drawing and swimming. I don’t speak Spanish, so we just passed a phone back and forth and used Google translate. Now we’re Instagram friends.”
For the Olsen father who had the original idea for the trip, there were many emotional highlights.
“To see the children interact with kids who literally don’t own shoes, that live on a dirt floor, that had never seen balloons before or had never tasted Gatorade,” he said. “To see my children bring those things to their house and distribute them. It made me realize how important it is to have friends and family, and that connectivity between communities and cultures begins and ends with children.”
“It was honestly overwhelming to experience,” he added. “I definitely cried a lot. It was hard, but beautiful.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.