In the “land of eternal spring,” the people of Guatemala are being taught “how to fish.” This summer Family Humanitarian experience, known as FHe, will carry out its first expedition to the remote Polochic Region. FHe provides families and singles over 40 the opportunity to work alongside villagers to present them an opportunity to become self-sufficient and also share in the spiritual experiences that come through service.
The story behind the launch of FHe is also spiritual. In 2010, Tyler DeLange, an emergency medicine physician in the Washington, D.C., area, had the strong impression that an organization should be established that would allow families to serve together in developing countries throughout the world. David and Michaela Shirley of Texas also felt the urgency that they needed to dedicate their time to humanitarian service. They read an article in the Deseret News about Singular Humanitarian experience, known as SHe, international humanitarian service projects for Mormon singles, and in Novermber 2010 contacted DeLange, who told them about his vision.
“I think we all felt strongly that this wasn’t just happenstance that there was a need to provide a venue for LDS families to serve internationally together and to come closer with other LDS families," said DeLange by phone. "We could create a venue that would connect us with our brothers and sisters in other countries to help them to further their community and the community goals and to connect us globally as members of The Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).”
Steven and Rachel von Niederhausern were also contacted and in January 2011, they, along with the Shirleys, DeLange and his then-fiancÉ, Sarah Wright, organized FHe (pronounced Fee). Through the efforts of the volunteers and the determination of the people of Guatemala, the goal of empowering people will be achieved.
“Yes we can give them materials, but what happens a year after when those materials are gone and they are waiting for more?” asked Tyler DeLange. “That doesn’t help them to become self-sufficient. We decided that what we can most give them (were) two things: training and hope.”
Training includes programs in the areas of medicine, dentistry, business development, teacher development and select building projects. Hope comes as the people of Guatemala are taught skills they can use to support their community. DeLange noted the villagers are thirsty for knowledge. They are so excited to be given the opportunity to learn new skills that they keep the momentum going and it gives them hope for the future.
Michaela Shirley said hope is essential. “I think for people in developing countries, or even for us, if you don’t have hope you really don’t move forward.”
Providing that hope will be people of all ages. Rachel and Steven von Niederhausern and their daughter Ava, who turns 8 this month, will be among the group who will travel to Guatemala this summer.
“It is my dream come true,” said Rachel von Niederhausern about Ava being able to join. Ava is excited to go on the trip and looks forward to camping out and playing games with the local children. Spanish and Q’eqchi (pronounced Kek-chee) are spoken in the Polochic Region. Ava is currently learning Spanish words so she will be able to communicate with new friends she will meet in Guatemala.
The event will be a family opportunity as children can work alongside their parents in various projects such as helping with the building project through shoveling dirt and moving materials and even teaching other children about brushing and flossing teeth. Ava and her classmates will even help write some curriculum that will be used to teach the children of the Polochic Region. Rachel hopes Ava will gain a deeper love for service and for the people in Guatemala.
In additional to serving the people of Guatemala, the expedition will also be a time for bonding with family members and experiencing the Christ-like attribute of charity.
“When you serve together your love for each other grows and you can feel God’s love,” Rachel von Niederhausern observed.
“When you forget yourself and focus on meeting the needs of others, it brings true joy and happiness,” Steven von Niederhausern added.
“With your family or with your friends, even with strangers you can’t help but bond by serving side by side,” said Tyler DeLange. “I don’t think there is a better way for a family to come closer together than in serving side by side in one of these expeditions.”
David Shirley agreed that families become closer through serving together. “It focuses their attention back on charity, which, is of course the pure love of Christ. I think it also carries into the generations of those families as they have their own families it will carry on that tradition of trying to do charitable acts for their fellow men.”
The work that will be done will last generations as community leaders will take the knowledge gained and use it to improve the lives of villagers.
“The greatest gift you can give is teaching them leadership skills to develop and empower their communities,” said Steven von Niederhausern. “We don’t go and give handouts. We teach them basic principles and let them grow and develop according to their needs.”
Michaela Shirley agreed. “That is what I hope we are able to give — to be able to provide them opportunities to reach their potential and to enjoy some of the blessing that our Heavenly Father gives to us.”
Those who are going for the first time can expect “rugged camping,” but Rachel von Niederhausern is quick to point out that the food is excellent and you are well taken care of. But more important are the people who are quick to return love.
“Just be prepared to see people that are so happy and to feel like there are deeper things that you can reach out and find. " Sarah Wright DeLange said. “You are there for a few days and by the time you leave you genuinely have a love and appreciation and respect for them and it really is life changing. It changes who you are.”
The FHe Guatemala 2012 expedition will be June 30-July 8. Registration will close March 1 or when all expedition spots, approximately 50 volunteers, are filled. For more information visit familyhumanitarian.org.