This past week, Safe Passage welcomed 25 volunteers from the First Unitarian Church of Schenectady, NY to Guatemala City to put on the Quinceañera 2011. This group of 19 high-schoolers and six fearless chaperones had been meeting and preparing for almost a year leading up to this important week.  For

each of their meetings, subgroups prepared reports to educate the rest on topics such as:  Guatemalan politics, Mayan culture, and—most crucial to this week—the historical tradition of the Quinceañera.

            We have reported previously on the extensive preparations going on with the 21 girls on the ground in Guatemala City, but now it was time for these groups to come together.  They hit it off right away due in part to the fact that the majority of the group members were 15 or 16 year olds—the same age as their Guatemalan counterparts!

            An important tradition during the Quinceañera celebration is a candle passing ceremony during which each girl and her mother are invited up in front of the party and the mother passes the candle and a piece of advice onto her daughter.  Directly proceeding that, each girl is to invite her date (or cousin, mother, etc.) to dance the waltz with her. 

            On Tuesday, we held a workshop with the help of several staff members, one mother of a 2010 Quinceañera and the enthusiasm and participation of the team to help ease the nerves of the quinceañeras and their mothers as they prepared for these two traditions.  The most common advice given by mothers or grandmothers to their daughters on Saturday was “to keep studying”—an opportunity many of the mothers did not enjoy themselves as children and “Seguir adelante” (to keep moving forward). That same morning we welcomed a choreographer who had been working with the girls on Saturdays for the last two months to run a waltz workshop with the girls and the group.  That certainly led to a lot of laughs!!

            Wednesday and Thursday, the group volunteered in English classes, the Early Childhood Education Center, along with grounds work and assembling the monthly food bags.  Friday afternoon, we enlisted the help of each and every one of the 25 volunteers for about four hours as we mounted an intricately cut, traditional ceiling decoration donated by our driver, Jorge. Picture an enormous purple and pink paper snowflake hanging from the ceiling!

            Saturday was the big day.  Starting a little before 7:00 a.m. the girls arrived at Safe Passage to bathe and eat breakfast with the team and their moms. They spent the rest of the morning getting their hair, makeup and nails done at a local beauty school that donated their services while the group put the final touches on the event space.

            The girls looked like princesses and were treated as such for the day.  Each girl invited eight family members and enjoyed lunch and cake and lots of dancing.  There were many tears shed during the candle ceremony and it was time to leave before we knew it.  We even pleaded with the event location and DJ to give us one extra hour of their time.  As the sun began to set over the view of Guatemala City in the distance, the families walked down to the buses to take them back to their neighborhoods surrounding the dump.  I think team member Calvin’s reflection sums it up for all involved, “The experience will live with me for the rest of my life.”

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