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Family trip to Guatemala inspires students to act

Eighth-grader Molly Callahan staffs a fund-raising booth at Carlisle’s transfer station. Eighth-grader Molly Callahan staffs a fund-raising booth at Carlisle’s transfer station. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Nancy Shohet West
Globe Correspondent / December 23, 2010

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A year ago, Sandy and Peter Nash were busy packing up their Carlisle household.

Shortly after Christmas, they began an eight-month stay in the central highlands region of Guatemala, achieving a longtime dream to immerse their children — Whitney, then 10, and Gardner, then 13 — in a culture dramatically different from their own.

The children attended school, but they also joined their parents in providing local aid wherever they could. The Nashes helped build a house for a family of eight, participated in food distribution for a local charity, and helped care for malnourished children at a residential treatment center.

Sandy Nash says that when the time came to return home, she expected they all would have had their fill of Central America. But Gardner, now an eighth-grader at the Carlisle Public School, had other ideas.

Gardner recruited five classmates — two other boys and three girls — for a service trip to Guatemala, with February school vacation in mind.

Their parents told them they would need to pay their own passage, and also raise money for the charities they would be working with once they arrive.

The youths wrote a fund-raising letter, sold coffee to residents at their town’s transfer station to bring visibility to their undertaking, and made it clear to their families that they wanted donations toward the trip in place of any birthday, Christmas, or Hanukkah gifts.

They’re almost all the way to their financial goal, and they’re preparing for their trip. They’ll be joined by the rest of the Nash family and another parent.

On the agenda for the 10-day trip is a visit to the God’s Child Project, a center that cares for and educates impoverished children and mothers; a day helping with food distribution at a shelter for homeless families; collection and distribution of water-purifying filters for area villagers; and a day playing with babies and children at the same treatment center where the Nashes had volunteered during their previous stay.

Of course, Sandy Nash said, she realizes that young teens who travel that far for a charitable mission deserve to have some fun as well. Most of the trip, however, will be dedicated to working and learning. They’ll visit rural villages, travel to the Pacaya volcano to witness the damage it wrought during last spring’s eruption, do the March to the Cross in Antigua, and explore an ancient Mayan city.

Thirteen-year-old Lindsay Ryder said she can hardly wait for departure day.

“When Gardner got back from living there, he told us about how 95 percent of the water in the villages is contaminated,’’ she said recently. “I found it very upsetting to think that we have clean water whenever we want it and they don’t.

“He also told us about a volcano that erupted while they were there and how much damage it did to the nearby villages. I’m so glad there’s a way for us to go there and help.’’

giving spirit

Some volunteer because of challenges they themselves have faced. Others look out on the world and see a need they can fill. But whether providing aid to rural villages in Guatemala or bringing a smile to a sick child close to home, these local teenagers are making a difference.