Rough Living Conditions, Warm People in Guatemala

By D. Allan Kerr

A key component of the illegal immigration issue could be resolved if things were better for these folks back home – then they might not have to resort to such desperate measures to escape.

Last month my ​sweet wife, sisters-in-law, and favorite niece in the whole world spent a service week in Guatemala – one of the Third-World countries these refugees are fleeing.

The trip was planned thru a non-profit organization out of Ipswich, Massachusetts, called Partners In Development Inc., which also conducts similar programs in Haiti and Mississippi. In fact, my family’s group was originally slated to spend the week in Haiti before that trip was cancelled due to political unrest.

The Guatemala mission proved to be a profound experience for the Kerr women, but rather than describe it myself I thought the story might be better shared directly from the perspective of my 16-year-old niece, Madeline Kerr, a junior at Portland High School in Maine.


Kerr Chick Pic
Madeline and Robin Kerr, Partners In Development Field Director Maria Jose Yurrita Martinez, and Nicole and Kathleen Kerr in Ixtacapa, Guatemala, during their service week in the Central American country

With growing excitement, our team of eleven people climbed onto this tiny yellow bus with red leather seats.

Sergio, someone who by the end of the week would be a close friend, drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding his phone to his ear as he maneuvered through the busy crowded streets of Guatemala City.

I wasn’t expecting Guatemala City to be so modern. But that’s why we travel, to change our perspectives.

The drive was long; we twisted with the bus as we drove through the green sugar cane fields and black volcanic rocks.

There were small villages and crowded towns with rundown buildings and weathered, smiling people. Dogs ran loose all over the place, skinny and wild.

It’s definitely a different place.

We stayed at a motel with no hot water but comfortable beds. The water was unsafe to drink due to parasites. We had to be careful.

We stayed away from lettuce and food washed with water. There were papayas, which I found out I don’t like.

The sun was always shining and the heat was bearable. With lots of sunscreen we worked outside in the comfortable breeze. The bugs weren’t bad at all.

Our team was split into two groups: the medical team and the construction team. I was part of the construction team.

We got to paint a house for a family moving in soon. On the way there we got to ride in the back of a truck, something I’ve never done. On the busy, very crowded, and high-speed roads we traveled to the house.

Guatemala kids
Guatemalan boys goofing for the camera in front of the Partners In Development medical clinic in the mountain village of Xojola

In the afternoon we played with the local kids of the village where we stayed.

They were so well behaved and ready for anything we had for them. I was able to practice my limited knowledge of Spanish.

Serena (one of the teammates my age) and I worked well together figuring out what these kids were saying.

What really struck me was the graciousness of the people. We didn’t do much by my standards, but to them it seemed a lot.

Throughout the week we distributed little care packages with toothpaste, toothbrushes, lollipops, a snack, and arts-and-crafts materials.

When playing with the kids, some would fight over who got to hold my hand.

This is Rodolfo Emiliano Tzep, a 5-year-old Guatemalan boy who D. Allan Kerr’s wife informed him they are now sponsoring. Just $30 a month provides food for Rodolfo and his family of six, medical and dental care, new clothes and school shoes

It was an amazing experience playing with these kids who were so excited we were there for them.

There was a woman named Antonia who worked for the library in a small mountain village we visited.

She told us the library was a main community spot and was so grateful we were there to paint it.

By the end of each day we were covered in paint, but it was worth it seeing the smile on her face when we finished.

All the hard work we did was worth it when we got to see the faces of the people we impacted.

There was one family of about eight to ten people, who lived in this small compound house.

The kitchen was dark and cluttered with dishes. The sink was full of water for dishes, cooking, washing. We were to build a stove. It went in the corner next to a makeshift stove with no ventilation.

I was told by one of the doctors on our team that respiratory issues were among the problems they treated at the clinic.

I could see why when we walked into this small space used to take care of so many people.

The wood was charred black, with soft coals heating up a soup of some sort.

The door was open and there was a small window on the other side of the room, but other than that there was no ventilation.

Guatemala stove
Robin Kerr tests one of the new stoves the team installed in the homes of villagers during their week in Guatemala

We were able to easily put together this stove, which requires less wood to fuel and is designed to limit the amount of smoke.

For people who lived in such small and overcrowded homes, they were happy.

It was a shock to see them living in conditions we as Americans would think of as horrible. But I needed the experience, to understand we have a lot of benefits we take for granted.

I appreciate it more.

It means I can step into my life, as I enter adulthood, and look at what I have differently.

I have the privilege to be born in a first-world country. I’m lucky and not many people are this lucky. This is something we need to acknowledge and not take for granted.

– Madeline Kerr


I’ll conclude by noting my wife, Nicole, was so inspired by Antonia at the Boca Costa Library that she’s kicking off a campaign back in Kittery, Maine, to help raise some of the $1,900 required annually to keep it open.

Donations can be made thru the Partners In Development website at or the group‘s mailing address at 174 High St. #106, Ipswich, MA, 01938. Make sure to designate the payment by writing “BC LIBRARY” in the memo to ensure funds go there directly.

And as PID is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. Think of it as in investment for global security.

D. Allan Kerr isn’t nearly as selfless as the women in his family.

(March 9, 2019)

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