Niños de Guatemala
Today I went on a tour to see the work of an organization called Niños de Guatemala (www.ninosdeguatemala.org), located in the nearby town of Ciudad Vieja. For a small donation ($13) they offer a 3 hour tour of the town where they showcase their 2 biggest trades (remodeling American school buses into the local "chicken" buses & making wooden coffins), a walk through the local slums, and a visit to the school they built for impoverished children.
We went to and from the town by chicken bus and when we arrived we saw a funeral passing by. The funeral was a crowd of people walking down the street singing and carrying a coffin. Only the coffin was very small; it must have been a child. Chicken Buses Whats a chicken bus?
A chicken bus is an old American yellow school bus that has received a fancy paint job and some renovations and is used as a "public" bus here in Guatemala. In fact they are used all over Latin America. Why is it called a chicken bus?
Well, theyre not. Guatemalans simply call them buses. Gringos call them chicken buses for 2 reasons - you are like to
Chicken Bus Body Shop
6 buses getting make overs, 2 crash victims others being refurbished from the US (and 1 from Korea)
find someone carrying a live chicken on the bus & the drivers are so aggressive that they often play a game of chicken with other drivers. What do they do in this local shop?
When they first get a bus they usually get a paint job (to whatever color the owner prefers, they strip the seats and add bigger seats (because the American standard 2 per seat isnt nearly large enough so they put bigger seats (with smaller asiles) to fit 3 or more per seat. They add roof racks for luggage - racks both on top of the bus and inside the bus for overhead storage. They modify the doors and entrances so they open quicker. How does the chicken bus business work?
This was probably the most interesting thing I learned. All bus service in Guatemala is privately owned. Bus companies typically have a fleet of chicken buses that provide regular service within a certain area and run established routes. The drivers are timed in how long it takes to get to place to place and are fined if they are late (thus the aggressive driving). They set goals for how much money they need to
Body work in action
This bus comes from Louisville, KY. It still has the USDOT inspection number on the side! It will soon get a fancy paint job.
make in a day (therefore they pack the buses to the seams). Typically there is a driver and a money guy riding the bus. The money guy monkeys around the bus collecting fairs, helping people secure large luggage on top of the bus (usually while its moving), and frequently shouts "GUATE! GUATE! GUATE" (for buses going to Guatemala City) to recruit as many riders as possible. The Coffin Business
We visited one of many coffin shops in Ciudad Vieja where they use pine wood to create decorative coffins. This shop employs 5 or 6 full time workers and a handful of kids who are doing an apprenticeship after school. They produce 12-16 coffins a week (complete with a paint job, fabric interior, and a glass backed door to see the body during the wake. They sell the coffins to funeral homes in Guatemala City. They sell their coffins for the equivalent of $200-300 USD. The Slums
We walked through the slums which is a litter filled dirt road with shanty houses made out of sheet metal, plastic bags, and anything else they can find. This is where the families of the children who attend the school usually live.
The coffin workshop
not exactly a cheery place to work
Its sad but its the truth. Most families here cant even afford to send the kids to public school. Public school is technically free - but the cost of uniforms, books, and supplies is often more than they can afford. Therefore children typically dont go to school and are sent out to work on the streets to earn whatever they can. Niños de Guatemala
The school was built in 2006 and currently has 130 students in grades 1-5. They employ 10 local Guatemalans and rely heavily on help from volunteers and sponsorship dollars from abroad. In turn they take kids who otherwise wouldnt have an opportunity to go to school and give them education, creative activities, tool training, personal hygene education, and even feed them 2 meals a day.
I was definitely overwhelmed just by seeing the children, talking to the staff and volunteers. This truly is a great organization. If you would like to learn more, visit their website at www.ninosdeguatemala.org by all means get involved if you so choose.
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