In the words of our founder, Tobie Spears…
Almost nine years ago, I was at a conference when one speaker mentioned she’d spent time living abroad in Guatemala. I sat in the audience and wondered where that country was located. I spoke with her after the conference and she gave me the contact information for the director of a private school in Guatemala. After emailing him, he offered me a position teaching English. So, my family and I rented out our home and after months of preparation, my husband Darrin and I loaded our daughters into our 2006 Ford Taurus and drove the 2780 miles to Guatemala from Utah. On the way, we spent twelve days exploring wonderful sights with our girls, who were five and nine years old at the time. We visited Lake Powell in Utah, The Grand Canyon in Arizona, Roswell and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and The Alamo in Texas.
As we were crossing the Mexican border, the border patrol asked to completely empty our car so they could search it. We then spent the next few hours packing all our earthly belongings carefully back into the trunk. We spent several days driving through Mexico with the highlight being the night we excitedly ran into volunteering at a clinic with a dynamic Guatemalan-American woman named DeAnn Ponciano. We told her about our family living nearby, and she invited us to spend a week at her lake house. She piled us into her van with her kids, her kids’ friends, her neighbors, and her nephew, and we started our 8-hour road trip at 4:00 a.m. She opened her home to us and we had a glorious time exploring the lake, the magic of the river, and seeing new areas of Guatemala.
While at the lake house, DeAnn told the locals Darrin was putting together a medical clinic for anyone in need of medical attention and countless people came. Darrin led our group of volunteers as we worked for twelve straight hours helping anyone with any ailment. On our 8-hour car ride back to Guatemala City, I peppered DeAnn with questions and scenarios of how to create a humanitarian tour for Individuals to experience life in a developing country. For twenty years, she had been helping Guatemalan students traveling to the states to live with a host family, practice English, and have an American Thanksgiving, and I wanted to do what she has done “student and teacher with a brand-new backpack. They contained pounds of food such as beans, rice, pasta, peanut butter, sugar, hot tea, hot cereal, and a bottle of oil. We also included a pair of socks, a scarf, a hat, warm gloves, a jump rope, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a big box of coco-rice cereal to top it off.
Days before my sister and I landed in Guatemala City DeAnn had filled her entire garage with thousands of pounds of food and picked up 200 backpacks making sure she got us the best price. After we arrived DeAnn spent days driving us around to pick up the additional needed items. We filled her van multiple times and then spent days organizing and placing each item into all the backpacks and loading them into 3 vehicles.
We left her home in the pitch black before 5:00 a.m. so we could make the 2-hour drive and arrive on time to distribute all the backpacks. I planned for us to arrive two hours early, so we had time to organize the items before the students and their families arrived. To our surprise, as we pulled into the school. My family and I have slept in every bedroom in her home, have eaten meals with her family, and enjoyed her back patio as though it were our home. She makes sure we always feel welcome and wanted. She has become the friend of a lifetime, and I am eternally grateful our paths crossed in a small remote village in Guatemala. My life has forever been changed.
TOBIE SPEARS graduated from the University of Utah with degrees in Sociology and Political Science and a Certificate in Criminology. She is lucky enough to have one awesome husband, two amazing daughters, and three crazy cats. Tobie fell in love with traveling when she was 17 and backpacked through Europe and drove from Utah to Canada with her two best friends. After college, she started traveling with her husband and daughters and in 2002 they spent 3 months backpacking through central Mexico. In 2013 they drove from Utah to Guatemala where they lived, worked, and volunteered for 3 months. Tobie stays busy working as a birth and postpartum doula and running Guatemalan Humanitarian Tours.