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Mike Benedek on Building Change in Caserío Sector Los Castro

(PHOTO: Team Dayā’s Mike “the Bricklayer” Benedek takes five in front of bags of cement.)

My trip to Guatemala with Team Dayā began some years ago when I first met Jay Sears at an IAB Leadership Summit cocktail party in Palm Springs, California. I joined Team Dayā during covid-19 with the goal of raising $10,000 towards a Senegal school build and am proud to have raised over $31,000 to date thanks to generous donations from old friends, new friends, family, and from my own company Datonics’ ad-tech giveback initiative with agencies and brands.

I describe my motivation for joining, my personal connection to education, and my experience on that April 2022 Senegal school build in a past post. Needless to say I was hooked, and I remain hooked. I traveled to Senegal to give of myself but received so much more back in return – and Guatemala was no different!

The flight to Guatemala City from JFK was scheduled for 4.5 hours and ended up taking 12+ hours due to weather delays. Upon landing, I made my way to the colonial city of Antigua (our meeting place for the 5-hour drive to the village) and enjoyed a short restorative hike and a dinner with our local school building partners.  

The following morning Jay Sears & Jordan Mitchell (see Jordan’s account) arrived and we were off to the races – learning about the village we would be building in, the history and culture of Guatemala (including some language training in Spanish as well as the Mayan language Quiché). We learned the village had no road or electricity as recently as 10 years ago and the current K-6 school was a wood board hut with a dirt floor and a single teacher.

The drive from Antigua to the remote mountain village took five hours over winding mountain roads with scenes of poverty interspersed with scenic valleys, hills and mountain tops. After a quick lunch (and last exposure to a flush toilet for five days) we met up with the translator who would be joining us and drove the final 45 minutes to the village. We arrived at an experience that can only be truly conceptualized if you were there.

The entire village came out to meet with us – children of all ages, women dressed in beautiful colorful attire with babies on their backs and men of all ages. There was a lot of music – the theme of this school building in Guatemala for me was the music and the bonds that music makes possible.  

Music played, the children danced, welcome speeches were made, and we became part of their family. We signed a covenant with the villagers (many of them signed with their fingerprints since they never learned to write) formalizing their commitment to complete the school and keep it accessible for all boys and girls. Later on, we even imprinted our handprints into bricks that were included in the school building foundation.

The family aspect of this experience cannot be overstated – Jay, Jordan, and I were placed with a host family. Mayk (pronounced “Mike”), Rosa and Mayk’s sister Juana and their daughters gave us a room in their house and made us feel at home, welcoming us like they knew us forever.

We set up our cots and spent some quality time with our hosts playing cards and Jenga. We were also entertained by the many animals that wandered around their yard and into our room – dogs, cats, chicken, ducks and more.

After dinner our family would start a small campfire and we all sat around and exchanged stories (using Google Translate), laughed and listened to music. This formula for a good time was repeated every night and we looked forward to it!

Mornings were spent on the worksite doing the manual labor required to build the school, hand-in-hand with the local villagers — men, women, and even some children who loaded rocks into wheelbarrows. The work was challenging but felt easier than in Senegal (where the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) since I knew what to expect.

I rotated mostly between loading rocks into wheelbarrows, digging holes that became the foundation for the school, mixing cement (that was hard!) and using a heavy tamper device to level the ground so it would be uniform. 

We used our break time to visit the current simple school house and meet the children, listening to their stories, their plans and how excited they were about the school we were all building together. During the afternoons we spent time with the local villagers doing varied activities to build bonds such as a hike to the local cemetery through a mountain trail and a lesson on tortilla making (and eating!).

As it is sometimes true that all good things must come to an end, it was soon time to say goodbye and the village organized an elaborate ceremony including many dances, music, speeches, and multiple pinatas with candy for the children. We gave speeches thanking the villagers for their partnership and explaining that while only three of us were in the community, we represented hundreds of generous donors who made the school a reality.

A highlight of the closing ceremony was an element we added to it – since our host was a fan of the band Santana and so were we, and since the children invited us to dance with them during their traditional dance, at the conclusion of our speeches we invited all of the children to join us in a village-wide conga line and we all danced together to Santana.

As I mentioned before, I came to give and represent our donors who have given generously, but I received so much in return. Senegal and Guatemala are now behind me, but the schools we built in both places will serve generations and the experiences will remain forever etched in my memory.

Next stop for me with Team Dayā – Malawi in 75 days! I can’t wait to get there and start building! Thanks to all the donors for making this miracle possible and to Jay for your inspiring vision and leadership!

Let’s Go Team Daya!

Holiday Fundraiser with Michael Wolff & Randall Rothenberg on Tuesday, December 8th, 6pm ET

Please join Team Dayā for its virtual holiday fundraiser featuring a fireside chat discussing Trump, Biden, the US elections and the transfer of power with journalist Michael Wolff, author of Fire & Fury and Siege, and IAB Executive Chair Randall Rothenberg. The event will be held Tuesday, December 8th, 2020 at 6pm ET.

After a brief Team Dayā welcome and update, Randall will conduct a fireside chat with Michael.

After registration, we are requesting each attendee make an online donation via the link that will be provided on the confirmation page. You can register on our eventbrite page.