Partnerships Build Friendship and Community

Aug 06, 2018


volunteers in GuatemalaThis summer, Randolph-Macon College Chaplain Kendra Grimes, along with Dr. Ray Martin, a licensed civil engineer, Kerstin Mayes '20 and Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church (DMUMC) volunteers, traveled to Xeabaj II, a village in Guatemala. They were there to collaborate with village residents and carry out a plan that R-MC students had created during January Term (J-term) 2018.

Students in Professor James McLeskey Jr.'s course, Engineering for Developing Areas, journeyed to Xeabaj II in January to survey a community soccer field that had severely eroded due to rainwater runoff. After creating a topographical map of the area, the students created a plan to help mitigate the erosion.

Grimes and Martin, a member of DMUMC, were also on that trip. Martin planned the itinerary and served a key leadership role during the J-term sojourn, which was supported by DMUMC and by the Highland Support Project, a Richmond non-profit that supports women’s cooperatives that create opportunities for Mayan women.

Community Gathering Place
"The soccer field was created in 2015 by hand by local volunteers who excavated material from the sides of a valley and filled in the central portion and lower end of the valley to form the field," explains Martin. "Rainwater runoff from about 15 acres of farmland above the field was originally planned to drain around the soccer field—but the ditch hadn't been properly excavated, and runoff water drained across the field, instead of around the ditch, causing two large erosion holes." The huge holes would have eventually eroded the entire field, which is the community's main gathering place.

Reusing Resources
The students' plan called for the construction of a drainage ditch and a gravity retaining wall comprised of hundreds of used tires filled with compacted soil—a design that allows reuse of a resource (tires) that is an environmental problem.

"The plan also reduced the cost of remediation and was an approach that the local community could construct," says Martin. "Students designed the gravity retaining wall and lining using geology and civil engineering principles (geotechnical, structural hydrology and hydraulics), and, with the help of volunteers, the plan was implemented over four days. Thanks to volunteers, the Xeabaj II community—at an elevation of 10,000 feet—now has a soccer field that should last for many years."

Grimes adds, "The children and adults of the community find such joy on that field. We will always treasure being a part of preserving the space they worked so hard to create." 

A Community with Heart
Mayes, an English major and education minor who had never been on a mission trip, was deeply affected by the residents' "heart for community, their sweet spirits, and the fact that they were happy as could be with what little they had." Despite the physical challenges of the trip—"getting dirt in our eyes, having aching backs, and being exhausted each day"—she is happy that she made the trip.

A member of the Yellow Jacket soccer team, she says, "When I heard that we were going to be fixing a soccer field, I thought it was a call from God," she says. "This trip allowed me to escape myself and fall into the hands of service for others. It was a blessing."

Long-term Partnerships
Grimes, who has traveled to Guatemala eight times, says the project illustrates the power of commitment and community.

"Randolph-Macon College has had a partnership with Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church for many, many years—one that includes the participation of countless students and alumni," she says. "This latest collaboration shows that wondrous things happen when people come together and work toward the common goal of serving others. Our engineering physics students had the knowledge to design the ditch and retaining wall; the church funded and supported the project with volunteers; and the community members in Xeabaj II did much of the back-breaking work side by side with our team."