by Joanna Cook

The 2nd English Immersion Camp was held the last week of June 2015 in Lemoa, Guatemala for students taking English at the John Wesley School.  Why a language immersion camp?  Since the regular English classes in rural Guatemala at are few and far between, an immersion camp can provide a real boost for increased progress in speaking English.



The English Immersion Camp is truly about relationships – and contributing in an area we know really well: speaking English!  It’s about connecting with the students and increasing their confidence in speaking English, which is always a big step for any foreign language learner.  This year was especially neat in that several teachers from the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiché took an active part in the camp, experience helping with the snacks and meals, assisting with the organization of the camp, joining the small group activities, and working on their English, too.

Our group of 20 volunteers came from across Colorado: Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland, Conifer, Colorado Springs and the greater Denver area.  The team ranged in age from teens to 80s, so we were a very diverse group that worked very well together.



Around 56 students from John Wesley School arrived around 9:00 AM each morning on a bus from Santa Cruz del Quiché.  They moved into their four teams with a different color arm band and name tag for each team.  The English learning came both through formal English classes and informally through sports, games, and performance classes held the last session of the day.  The formal English classes covered vocabulary and grammar related to four different topics: daily activities, town places & people, shopping, and outdoor activities.  The four lead teachers presented the material and all the assistant teachers worked in small groups of 4-5 students using drills, exercises, games, etc. to reinforce the material.  This small group work was a critical part of the learning because it provided more individual attention and allowed trust and friendships to develop.  The performance groups acted out a skit, performed a country line dance, played music on recorders, and sang a couple group songs.  Each day ended around 3:00 PM with a circle activity before they got on their bus.



Friday, the last day of camp, was important because family members joined us for lunch and a program.  The program consisted of the four performance groups, with explanations given in Spanish so that family members could understand and enjoy it.  At the end of the program each student received an achievement certificate, a bi-lingual book and a camp bookmark.  They were really excited on Friday and enjoyed performing for their families.  Many of the children came with their bi-lingual book and asked the volunteers to sign it.



Busy days, lots of learning, lots of fun, and great interaction with the children!  It was so encouraging to see the increased confidence in speaking English.  It was a demonstration of how learning can be fun – and because of the fun, more learning occurs!

Although the English Immersion Camp was the focus of the trip, other important things happened.  Many volunteers got to visit with their sponsored students and families. Meeting face-to-face and talking (through a translator) you really have a sense of getting closer to your student.  Those hugs sure say a lot as well!  One afternoon we also got to visit the John Wesley School (shown around by the students) and another afternoon we visited a home construction site that was in progress and met the family that will be living there.

Mary Sue with her sponsored student.

Mary Sue with her sponsored student.

Experiencing the culture is another important part of a Pura Vida trip.  Interacting with merchants, staying in a lovely hotel, visiting the huge market in Chichicastenango, attending a worship service at a local church, visiting a Macadamia Farm on the way to Antigua, and visiting sites in Antigua.   The week went so quickly and Sunday morning we headed to the Guatemala City airport for our return home, full of joy and love for these wonderful children who provided a life-changing experience for all of us – the learning was a two-way street!


More photos here…

by Mark Ely

At Pura Vida one of our longstanding goals is for local Guatemalans to run our programs as much as possible.  Sebastiana is a great example of that coming to fruition.

One of our earliest scholarship students, Sebastiana is now the scholarship program leader for Lemoa.  She is also our program tutor, traveling to our 8 villages to help students who are falling behind in the studies.  In her spare time, she is studying at a local university on a Pura Vida scholarship.

Sebastiana was selected for a Pura Vida scholarship from the graduating class of 6th graders in Lemoa public school in 2003.  Since then she has thrived academically, finishing High School with excellent grades and a concentration in teaching.  She recently completed her associates degree in Mathematics and Physics, and currently teaches math at the John Wesley School.  She is working towards a bachelors degree, which she hopes to complete in 2015.

Tutoring in Pocohil

Tutoring in Pocohil

She has taken on ground-breaking responsibilities in our scholarship program.  She is the first female among our 8 scholarship program leaders, and also the youngest.  She is in charge of distributing funds and letters to the 52 active scholarship students in Lemoa.  She also recently coordinated our annual milk distribution in Lemoa, which resulted in a more much more organized and fair distribution.

Leading the milk distribution in Lemoa

Leading the milk distribution in Lemoa

There are now 24 university students on Pura Vida scholarships — an all-time high.  We hope to leverage the skills of these students in the running of our existing programs and the development of new ones.  Sebastiana may be the first of many.

Heavy rains caused a landslide just north of Chichicastenango that finally took out a portion of the highway that had been hanging by a thread for the last few years:


Damage to RN-15

Travel from Chichi in the direction of Santa Cruz del Quiche is currently possible via the following detour:


Detour (click for larger image)

By Dave Money

Hopefully you’ve heard about the wonderful work accomplished by more than 100 Pura Vida volunteers on “the Cornstalk School” in Lemoa. More formally known as Escuela Caserio El Rosario, this primary school consisted of several classrooms with dirt floors and walls and roofs covered only in dried cornstalks, along with a single two-room cinder block building.  Five separate groups of volunteers, starting from bare dirt, substantially completed a new four-room cinder block school house for the 100+ students who, along with their dedicated teachers and administrators, were warm and welcoming, and appreciative of the volunteers’ work.

Escuela Caserio Rosario, Lemoa

The 4 new classrooms at Escuela Caserio Rosario, Lemoa

I wouldn’t have thought that anything could match the sense of fulfillment that I’ve experienced during this and other Pura Vida mission trips to the western highlands of Guatemala — until now.  During our time there in March, we were thrilled to experience a celebration concert given by the John Wesley School Band with its two new directors and 70+ new band instruments, including trumpets, trombones, drums, and a variety of percussion instruments.  The school has only had a band for 2 years, and many of the students’ instruments were rudimentary at best (think “cheese grater”….).  Professional instruction was not generally available.

The new band program is the culmination of a vision that Dr. James Ramsey developed during a prior Pura Vida work trip to Lemoa.  Among other professional capacities relating to music composition and performance, Dr. Jim serves as Director of Music and Arts Ministries at St. Luke’s UMC in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.  Calling on his extensive work in music education, Dr. Jim believed that a more robust band experience could have a positive and lasting effect on the hearts, minds and souls of the JWS band members, their fellow students, and their families.  With generous help from many Pura Vida supporters and others, the JWS is now able to offer its students the opportunity of learning to play a wide variety of high-quality band instruments under the direction of professionally-trained instructors.  This type of educational opportunity is rare in this part of Guatemala—if not the entire country.

Outdoor rehearsal with JWS students

Outdoor rehearsal with JWS students

During our trip in March Dr. Jim, ably assisted by St. Luke’s musician-members Dave Rhodes, Ed Coryell, and Gloria Olsen conducted 3 half-day rehearsals with over  50 students eagerly wielding their new instruments—with no sheet music—in an open field or warehouse building near the school.  On Wednesday of that week, in a touching ceremony at the school attended by local church officials and several Pura Vida volunteers, we presented the instruments to the JWS students and administrators–along with the love and best wishes of their friends in America.  The band then lit up the crowd with a rousing rendition—from memory–of “La Bamba” and “Miren que Bueno.”  At its conclusion, the students—crowded around all three levels of the school building—enthusiastically chanted in English: “More of that! More of that!”  They were rewarded with an encore. 

Performance at the John Wesley School

Performance at the John Wesley School

It was a heart-warming and humbling experience that none of us who were privileged to witness will ever forget.

You’ll be hearing more about the new John Wesley School Band Program.  The program will need additional support to continue and grow.   If you’d like to be a part of this wonderful work now, you can make an online donation now (type “JWS Band” in the details field).

In closing, I’d like to share the lyrics of a song written by Dr. Jim in collaboration with several Pura Vida volunteers during that special March trip.  Sung to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from  The Wizard of Oz, the song beautifully expresses the way that working among the gentle and loving people of Guatemala has touched our hearts.  The title of the song comes from the picture below, which was taken by long-time Pura Vida volunteer Allison Bradbury inside the church in Chontala with its colorful cloth ceiling hangings. Backlit against the door of the church are Dr. Jim and a student sponsored by Allison.

"Under the Rainbow" in Chontala

“Under the Rainbow” in Chontala

“Somewhere Under the Rainbow”

Lyrics by Dr. James Ramsey

Verse 1:

Driving down this bumpy road
Feeling sun’s sweet warming glow
Happy faces can be found
Little shoes that run and hide
and wonder why we’re by their side
love is all around

Somewhere under the rainbow, children play
and the dream that you dare to dream
why oh why can’t they?
Verse 2:

Building lives with sweat and tears
Giving joy that sheds their fear
What future can we bring?
Some day I wish we all could see
the beauty in each soul we meet
I hear their voices sing.


Somewhere under the rainbow, you can see
Angels giving so they can dream
what they want to be…

[ Watch video of song as performed in Chichicastenango by Jim Ramsey and Matt Cummings ]

by Ray Miller

Five months ago I arrived in Santa Cruz del Quiché to begin a ten month term as a volunteer teaching English at the John Wesley.  So far the experience to date has been marvelous, frustrating, happy, boring, exciting, exhausting and every other adjective of which you might conceive.

Teaching seven different levels (3rd through 9th grades) has proven to be a challenge.  Classes contain between 30 and 43 students; some have proven difficult and others absolutely wonderful.  Most students want to learn.  A few (mostly teenagers) have lots of other concerns at this time in their lives.  But hugs from girls; special handshakes with the boys; smiles when I see students on the streets or in the park; an unexpected “Good morning, how are you?” feeds my spirit. 

Ray teaching English at the JWS

Ray teaching English at the JWS

I have found the teachers, almost without exception, to be very supportive.  It is exciting to find students who will actually attempt some bit of conversation in English (mostly elementary school students).  It has been rewarding to find students who want to come in for 30 minutes to an hour before or after classes to work on their English.  A class for adults which I have started has also been a joy.  Not only adults but some of their children attend one hour a week at 6 P.M. on Wednesdays.

Life in Quiché has opened my eyes more fully to what life is really like for people here.  It is a struggle for many.  Seeing people bringing in firewood for cooking on the backs of horses or donkeys; men and women carrying impossible loads of merchandise to sell in the market; vendors sitting there day after day with few if any customers; riding buses filled with more people that they can hold.  All of these are part of my experience.

In the family with whom I live it takes three workers to make it a go and even with that it is difficult.  Other than TV and cell phones there are very few luxuries.  But the blessing is the wonderful, caring relationships that exist.  Lesther, 28, is someone in whom I have seen the most incredible unconditional love, especially for his 9 year old sister and his mother and father as well as me.  He challenges my life and shines on my failings.

Ray with a few of his sponsored students

Ray with a few of his sponsored students

Even though there are five months more to go until November 3 when I return to the U. S., I am already finding the days and weeks starting to fly by.  Will I return next year?  Maybe, maybe not.  It is too far away to make that decision.  But I will carry memories of people, events, fiestas, struggle and much more with me.  Without a doubt I am the one who has benefitted most from being here.

Ray Miller is a retired pastor of the United Methodist Church.  He is currently a long-term volunteer with Pura Vida at the John Wesley School.