Global labor of love: Farmington School Board member travels to Guatemala with Allina Health
FARMINGTON — Guatemalan women dream daughters and sons will live well.
They dream children will receive an education and grow up to become healthy and happy in safe homes filled with energy.
Farmington School Board member Julie Singewald shares details of her third trip abroad to Antigua, Guatemala, where she traveled with teams of colleagues from Allina Health. The teams travel to this Third World country to make a difference in families' and women's lives as part of a global community service effort.
"When she dreams, magic happens — children go to school and families get nourished and houses become safe places filled with energy, and when she dreams we dream with her and transformation happens," Singewald said, reading from a notecard that serves as an inspiration for Guatemalan women and as a testament to their innermost wishes.
Singewald, 45, director of radiology and imaging services at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, said she was proud to travel alongside 22 colleagues on two teams to southern Guatemala Jan. 20-27.
"We work on what we can do to immediately make their lives better," Singewald said.
Having taken German and French in school, Singewald said she understands a few words in Spanish, but communication took place in a very nonverbal with locals. Warm smiles, laughs and hugs were the universal language shared repeatedly.
Two-thirds of trip is considered patient-care focused with EMTs, nurses and social workers all traveling to serve on Allina volunteer teams. This program challenges volunteers "To think about making a difference outside their own community and go from community to global," Singewald said.
Allina Health works alongside Common Hope, a Minnesota-based nonprofit whose main focus is to improve education and health care.
This year, Singewald packed her suitcase with 10 sets of crutches and the team brought medical supplies and non-prescription drugs. Volunteers also brought 2,100 bags of school supplies, all tightly shrink-wrapped to give to families with school-aged children. The school supplies give families hope and promise.
"It is amazing to watch since they do not have cars so they show up with a giant blanket, and if their neighbors are still working they pack up four to six school packages and wrap them up in a blanket and put them on their heads and walk back home," she said.
"It is like Christmas and the whole family comes and they are super excited with big smiles," Singewald said.
"Over the past few years, I have to say, the Guatemalan people really demonstrate gratitude because so many of them have nothing, and regularly they exercise gratitude for whatever they have," she said.
For a few years, Singewald has sponsored an 8-year-old girl named Glenda. Singewald has been able to visit her the last three years, in addition to corresponding with her via mail when she receives quarterly updates. Glenda lives with her parents and five siblings. She attends school three half-days a week and works in the fields the rest of the week.
Singewald recalls that at age 3 Glenda was somewhat shy and skittish to meet her. "We have interpreters and it was really cute because she told me she was really scared to meet me the first year," Singewald said. In their culture, a sponsor is considered to be like a godparent.
"This year, she was candid with me and said 'I have smiles for you,' "Singewald said, as she shared dozens of trip photos from her smartphone.
Teams employ elbow grease and build homes for families with prefab walls. The modest two-room houses encompass less than 200 square feet of living space with corrugated, metal roofs and an entrance to the yard from the kitchen.
"Within their footprint of land, they have a chicken coop nearby outside and inside the kitchen they have a wood-burning stove and shelves to keep things on and that is it," she said.
Singewald shopped for piles of books in Spanish to share with families and children. The group donated staples such as corn flour pasta, black beans, rice and cooking oil along with cleaning staples like laundry and hand soap.
One nonprofit group called Wakami focuses its efforts on empowering women to start businesses to support their families.
"What Wakami is allowing them to do is dream and actually achieve those dreams," she said.
Some women living in rural areas make handcrafted-beaded jewelry. Attached to each bracelet or necklace is a story of change written on a card. All proceeds go to the Guatemalan female entrepreneurs.
Showing a card, Singewald read aloud, "When she dreams, magic happens — children go to school and families get nourished and houses become safe places filled with energy. When she dreams, we dream with her and transformation happens."
"The dream is that all the women want a house and all the houses have a window and when you are in that house, you can look out and see a garden and nourish your family and kids can play and also go to school," Singewald said.
The jewelry and detailed beaded bags and accessories were sold at this year's Super Bowl in Minneapolis, although the largest market for the handmade goods is Japan.
Allina employees were shown thanks with a gratitude ceremony with candles in a circle at the end of the weeklong visit.
The trip is humbling, the friendships were rewarding and the work is affirming, Singewald said.
Singewald has completed two terms on Farmington School Board. Her current term ends in 2020 when her youngest daughter graduates. "It will be exciting to be a part of it for 12 years on School Board and I can hand my youngest her diploma," Singewald said.
"What I would say that I take away from a trip like this is that from a school board access is that we put a value on public education is valid all over the world, and education is definitely the vehicle for people to be more successful in life, and to understand it and appreciate what we can offer even as we face challenges."