Clowning around across cultures

UCC takes a trip down south

The clown smiled slyly and said, “Uno, dos, tres!” He pulled the red handkerchief out of his hands where, seconds before, it had not been. The children were wide-eyed with joy and shouted, “Otra vez, otra vez!” (Translation: Another time, or do it again!)

Perhaps you are imagining this scene at a kid’s birthday party, or a state fair, or maybe an amateur comedy club. But what I am describing to you happened in a village in Guatemala in early November. It was the highlight of the week, or maybe the month, for the local children. They don’t have a lot of toys, if any, and so when the “gringos” are in town to build a house or a community center, that’s where you’ll find the kids.
This particular clown is connected with an organization called Porch de Salomon in Panajachel, Guatemala. The town sits on Lake Atitlan (deemed “the most beautiful lake in the world”), centered in the region known as the highlands. Although there is tourism in the area, and westerners can find almost anything they are looking for in Panajachel (“Pana”), there is still extreme poverty in the neighboring villages. Guatemala also has the highest childhood malnutrition rate in Central America. Porch de Salomon has been working in and around Pana for over nine years to try to help the situation by building homes and offering medical clinics and other support like clean water filters and school sponsorship. Oh, yeah, and doing magic tricks for kids!
And so, this fall, a small group from Union Congregational Church (UCC) here in Crested Butte journeyed to Guatemala to be a part of this effort. We schlepped concrete. We hauled medical supplies. We sifted gravel and sand. We tried our best to speak Spanish. And we assisted the clown by entertaining children. Mostly what we did was build relationships—and this was our most important task. All of the experts around the globe believe that the primary way of bringing about peace, and tackling major problems like poverty and violence, is by building relationships. If “us and them” can become “we,” perhaps the struggles will be looked at differently.
As UCC continues to nurture a friendship with the Guatemalans, both groups will benefit. The Guatemalans will get some basic needs met, as well as be comforted by knowing there are Americans who care deeply about them. And UCC folks get a chance to share some of what we have, as well as shift our worldview to being more broad and diverse. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to pull that red handkerchief out of thin air, but I do know that a smile needs no translation!

If you’d like to know more about the UCC’s partnership in Guatemala, or perhaps go on a future trip, please call Rev. Kelly Jo Clark, (970) 209-1613.

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