Guatemala Project - 6 Months Later

Guatemala Project - 6 Months Later

I remember writing this blog post the week after I got back from Guatemala. I was certain I had at least two more posts in me, and that I’d be sharing more about the experience in no time! It’s funny how life happens and time gets away from us…

In mid-July, EMI staff had completed their review of the plans, calculations and report. At that point, I agreed to give a lunch-time presentation about the project trip at my office. I finally gave that presentation two weeks ago (it went really well BTW)! And now, here we are, six months later… and I’m finallllly sharing more about this experience with family and friends. Phew! Six months, how did that happen?!

As a refresher, I thought I’d share some basic information about the project: when, where, who, why, etc. I then have links to both the plans and report along with information about next steps! And finally, I have some photos toward the bottom with little snippets about the trip.

Trip Date

March 17-25, 2018

Location + History

The project is located in San Juan Cotzal, Guatemala. It’s approximately 7 hours north of the Capital in a mountainous region. Cotzal is a Mayan Town, and is one of the 3 points that make of the Ixil Triangle. This was the center of a 30 year civil war that ended in 1996 where 200,000 people were killed. Most of the people I met on this trip lost some family in the war, and parts of this region are still recovering from the devastation of the war. The community to this day has remained pretty isolated form the rest of the world. The people in Cotzal have maintained their traditional culture. Most of the men are farmers and most of the women are weavers. They speak Ixil as their primary language, and they speak Spanish as their secondary language.

Project Team

From left to right, we had Katy (civil engineer form Tennessee), Phil (structural engineer from Iowa), Alex (civil engineer from Nicaragua), Randy (project manager from Washington works full-time for EMI), Sam (architect from Texas), Sam (project manager from North Carolina, works full-time for EMI), Christi (architect from Florida), Mike (electrical engineer from Wisconsin), Me (civil engineer from Illinois), Robert (architect from the UK), and Miguel (electrical engineer from Texas).

Partner Ministry

For this project trip, EMI partnered with WIND (who was essentially our “client” for the week). WIND has been working within this region for over 11 years. In this area of Guatemala only about 30% of children graduate from the 6th grade. Most children need to drop out of school and start working as soon as possible to help with the family income. This has been the pattern for generations, and now, thanks to WIND, families are beginning to recognize the importance of education and how that plays a direct role in breaking the cycle of poverty.

WIND has partnered with a school in Cotzal called Colegio Horeb. This school was founded by a woman named Tabita in 2007. At the end of the first year they were open, they had 21 students. Today there are more than 300 students that go to this school! Horeb currently provides education up to the 8th grade. They rent space in town in a poorly maintained building (pictured below). And they’re now at capacity.

Scope of Work

The scope of this project includes the concept design of new buildings and facilities for a pre-school, primary school, middle school and high school. It will include teaching and administration spaces, support and service spaces, and other community spaces such as an auditorium, chapel, and small medical clinic. The site is approximately 3 acres in size, and will serve 600 students when completed.

Plans + Report

Since coming back from Guatemala, the plans, calculations, and report have gone through a QAQC process with EMI staff. The final plans and report were recently handed over to WIND. Click on the cover sheet below to open the complete plan set, and click the cover page below to open the concept report.

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Site Video

Next Steps

  • WIND has hired an architect who lives in Guatemala City to start detailing some of the design and start working through phasing.

  • WIND recently received a pledged donation of $50,000 over the next 5 years along with other monthly pledges.

  • Students and families in Cotzal are saving and raising money on their own for the project.

  • WIND is already working with a local construction company who has generously offered to only charge for gas and labor wages for excavation and site preparation.


Below are some chronological photos from the trip that will hopefully tell some more of the story about our time there.

Getting from Antigua to Cotzal took about 7 hours. On our way up into the mountains we had to stop at one point to let our bus cool down, which allowed for some fun photo opportunities.

My roomies for the week! (Katy to the left and Christi to the right.) I had a lot of of laughs with these girls, a lot of sweet conversations, and have certainly made some friends for life.

The first day we arrived in Cotzal we met the kids at the school. They welcomed us with sweet dance and presentation to show us how coffee is farmed. At the end they thanked us for coming by giving us all a bag of coffee to take home!

Here are the architects doing some site planning at the project site.

This is me, measuring water dropping in a test hole to come up with the sanitary percolation rate (in order to size the septic tank and soak pits).

Here’s the team working away.

Here are two of our architects (Christi and Rob) fighting with their architectural rulers over which units are better: imperial vs. metric. Christi is from the U.S. and Rob is from the U.K.

Here we are working into the night.

Here’s our team talking to a classroom of students about our careers. The teachers asked us to encourage students to stay in school as long a possible. It was really encouraging to hear them talk about how much they like school and hear what their interests and goals are.

Here’s a picture of Tabita (school director) and Rich (WIND) on the final day of the presentation.

The presentation was fully in Spanish. On our team of 11 people, 9 spoke fluent Spanish. Unfortunately I was not one of them. I gave my part of the presentation in English, and Alex (the civil engineer from Nicaragua) translated for me.

The presentation on the last day is really powerful. Even though I’m not fluent in Spanish, I could still feel the emotion in the room and see everyone’s reactions to everything. There wasn’t a dry eye in sight. We thought at the end people would have a lot of questions, but instead people took turns standing up and giving tearful thanks to the team. This is one of those moments that stood out to me on my first trip and again on this trip… it’s unlikely in my industry that a client would ever cry and thank a design team for understanding their vision for a project. And that’s ok, I would never expect that… but it’s just a really cool thing to experience. For the people of Cotzal, this was never just about a school. This isn’t just a building. This project will really have a huge impact on the community for generations to come. It’s a sign of hope for them.

After the presentation we headed back to Antigua. We had about 1/2 a day to explore the city and have one final dinner together before we all flew home the next day.

I bought this painting from an artist on the street in Antigua.

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this blog post, hello again, and thank you for reading! I’ll wrap up with probably stating the obvious… these project trips are life changing. Every good thing that pours out of me is a direct result of my involvement with EMI over the years. These experiences have helped me realize that God did not put me on this earth to just consume resources, take up space, and work for a paycheck only to pour back into myself. I’ve come to realize that everything I learn and all of the skills I develop while working in the corporate world, are not just meant to be utilized on projects here in the U.S. I believe I’m meant to use those skills to serve others and provide value on projects like this.

In the last couple of months I’ve started leading the EMI Chicago Network group, which is kind of like a small group for architecture and engineering professionals who have served and continue to serve with EMI. It’s been so awesome to connect with like-minded people in the industry who look at their work and the world around them in a similar way. If you’ve made it to the end of this and are in the AEC industry and want to get connected, please don’t hesitate to reach out:

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