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Students Join in "Common Hope" To Aid in Mission to Guatemala

Candace Braun

A group of four area teens and three Princeton mothers recently embarked on a 10-day mission trip to Guatemala, where they volunteered their services to families in need of assistance.

Those who participated in the trip, which took place this month, included Beth Van Hoeven, and her son, Aaron Maltby, 17, of Princeton High School; Christina Jones, 17, of PHS, and her mother, Nancy Jones; Ellen Clarke, 16, of Lawrenceville Prep School; and Leah Munnelly, 17, of Garden City, N.Y.

The trip was spearheaded by Ms. Van Hoeven, through the organization Common Hope, which helps improve the living standards of families and communities in the towns surrounding Antigua, Guatemala. The organization does this by providing education, health care, and housing to those in need.

Common Hope currently has sponsors for approximately 2,000 children, said Ms. Van Hoeven. Sponsors provide $60 a month, which helps pay for schooling (education is not free there), school supplies, medication, and food.

"You can't underestimate the support a sponsorship gives a child," said Ms. Van Hoeven, adding that the relationship between a sponsor and a child often motivates him or her to stay in school.

Ms. Jones, one of the Princeton volunteers, and her daughter, Christina, sponsor a Guatemalan girl they were able to meet while they were on the trip. Since their return, Ms. Jones is looking to sponsor another child through an area Girl Scout Troop.

One of the missions of Common Hope is to educate children on the importance of education, as well as the importance of being careful and responsible when it comes to sex, as many Guatemalans have large families and start rather young, said Ms. Van Hoeven.

"It's hard for kids to finish sixth grade in Guatemala," she said, noting that most children don't even dream of graduating from high school.

Subhead: On a Mission

The group stayed in Antigua, near 14 pueblos, or small villages, where Guatemalans reside. The women and students would go in pairs with volunteers of Common Hope, to make house calls at various residences. Because families don't have phones, they must live within walking or bus riding distance of the Common Hope facilities in order to take advantage of its services, said Ms. Van Hoeven.

The volunteers stayed at Common Hope's facility, which was equipped with a medical clinic, a social workers' office, and a school. At night the entire facility would shut down, except for the dormitory-type area where the group was staying.

During three of their days in Antigua, the group worked on building a home for a Guatemalan family. The structure was built to be movable, and consisted of slabs, which they made by mixing and pouring cement.

Families are able to earn a 12-by-16 foot home through 375 hours of "sweat equity" with Common Hope, which can be obtained by cleaning grounds, doing on-site construction, and helping build a home for another family in need.

During their trip, the students also had the opportunity to share their talents with the Guatemala natives. Aaron, a pianist, was able to share his musical talent with some of the women of the village, and Ellen, a seamstress who sews some of her own clothing, taught the women how to make skirts and curtains for their homes.

"[Common Hope's] goal is to make these families self-sufficient," said Ms. Van Hoeven.

On one of their last days in Antigua, the group brought out disposable cameras and taught some of the Guatemalans how to photograph one another, as well as the land in which they live.

"They had a hard time seeing the beauty because they live in it," said Ms. Van Hoeven, describing Guatemala as "one of the most beautiful places on earth."

Subhead: A Missionary At Heart

A volunteer with various missions over the years, Ms. Van Hoeven first got involved with work similar to what Common Hope does when she went with her father on a trip as a teenager.

"It's impossible to go to that country and not go back ... it made a huge impression on me," she said.

Her most recent trip to the country was over Christmas in 2004, when she volunteered there for five weeks with her two daughters, who enrolled in a Spanish school during their stay.

"The more I was there, the more impressed I was with the work they did," she said. "This organization is just reaching out in so many ways."

Recruiting for her recent trip with students was more difficult this time, because of recent terrorist incidents around the world, she said.

It didn't help that the government in Guatemala is corrupt, and that there are daily incidents of violence in and around the cities. Having gone to the country in the past, however, Ms. Van Hoeven knew that Common Hope took precautions to ensure the safety of volunteers, including telling tourists to stay off certain roads at the times of day when robberies typically occur.

"I was confident that we'd be fine," she said, comparing the danger in Guatemale comparable to walking around New York City alone at night.

Ms. Van Hoeven said she hopes to lead another mission trip in a few years, following the success of this summer's journey.

"Common Hope believes education can bring hope and opportunity," said Ms. Van Hoeven, noting the impact that the trip had on her own teenaged son.

"Helping people was very gratifying" said Aaron, admitting that upon arrival the students were shocked by what they saw, but the trip was a great learning experience, and one that he feels his fellow classmates should consider taking in the future.

For more information on Common Hope or to learn how to become a sponsor, visit www.commonhope.org, or contact Beth Van Hoeven at (609) 924-2548, or send an email to bvanhoev@msn.com.



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