The Sanchez Family (bottom left) with members of Teenagers, Inc. (from left) Director Marianne Dwyer, Lex Zollo, Ryan Siess, Pete Shields, Marybeth Smart and Edgar, a Guatemalan worker for Asociacion Nuestros Ahihados pose for a photo inside the Sanchez family’s newly completed home last year in Guatemala. (Photo courtesy of Teenagers, Inc.)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Teenagers Inc. invites the community to come celebrate Carnaval Guatemala from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, April 26, in Seven Dolors Church, 1200 E. Willow Grove Ave. in Wyndmoor. The fundraiser will benefit Teenagers Inc.’s annual service trip to Guatemala.

“Our goal is to raise about half the cost of the trip,” said Marianne Dwyer, director of Teenagers Inc. in Chestnut Hill. “This year we are concentrating our efforts into four fundraisers, the largest being Carnaval Guatemala.”

Participants can enjoy live music, food, beer and wine at the event. Raffle tickets will be available for purchase on baskets that were donated. Teens are asking for camperships for the summer sport camp that they are involved with to be auctioned off.

There will be a live auction on Diamond Club Phillies tickets and opening day of the Pro-Golf Tour. Live music will be provided by the Protractors, a local Philadelphia band.

“In Guatemala, Carnaval is one of the biggest celebrations of the year,” Dwyer said.

Carnaval in Guatemala is both the beginning of Lent and in some villages Semanas Santas or Holy Week. Every town and village hosts processions where images of their patron saint are carried and paraded through the streets.

Many of Guatemala’s towns have a representative “Cofradia,” elected people that are responsible for the religious icons of saints for each respective village and are put in charge of organizing some of the weeks’ events. The celebration is a melding of Catholicism, Mayan and Moorish traditions.

Dwyer said people sing traditional songs and “wear elaborate costumes that would be likened to the Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia.”

“Elaborate carpets called ‘Alfombras’ are woven from flowers, plants and sawdust or pine straw and laid along all the streets,” Dwyer said. “This is most famous in Antigua, Guatemala, where we reside while on our service trip.”

This is the fourth year Teenagers Inc. will volunteer with God’s Child Project, an ecumenical not-for-profit organization serving the Antigua region and its slums. This summer 28 teenagers and five adults participate in the service project. They will build homes, work at a homeless shelter, care for malnourished children and deliver much-needed medical, educational and personal supplies.

Dwyer said Guatemala has the fourth highest malnutrition rate in the world. She said many people live in poverty without clean running water or bathrooms. Many families live off a few tortillas a day and, if they can afford it, rice. The situation continues to grow worse because of natural disasters like mudslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes – the most recent being in November 2012.

“Last week an entire village of Mayans were intoxicated by an illegal pesticide that was sprayed on broccoli and sold to them,” Dwyer said. “So far 10 have died and many are severely sick. In this case the Guatemalan Congresswoman Regina Guzman made a desperate call to Asociacion Nuetros Ahijados which is the organization we volunteer with. She asked that we bring IV solutions, medicine, diapers, formula, baby food and breakfast for the sick villagers.”

“Without the contributions that are made through fundraising, our trip to Guatemala would not have been complete,” said Nick Crossan, a student at Springfield High School. “Simple supplies and household items that we take for granted as Americans, such as flip-flops, antibiotics, over-the-counter pain medicines, blankets, hats, baby wipes, are so easy to bring and extremely helpful for the impoverished people of Guatemala and families that we build for.

“Volunteering at the Dream Center run by the project is essential to the growth and health of many young children and struggling parents,” Crossan said. “Guatemala needs aid from anyone who can assist through donating money or supplies to help these beautiful people survive and flourish.”

He added that his perspective on his responsibilities and needs have changed dramatically since his trip to Guatemala.

“I feel privileged to have access to food, water, clothes and shelter everyday – basic needs that I had taken for granted before this Teenagers Inc. service trip,” Crossan said.

Dwyer said fundraising not only helps the volunteers to pay the cost of $1,750 a person, but it “melds the 33 volunteers as a team since they represent about 15 different educational institutions in the public, private and parochial sectors – unlike a school trip where all know each other and are comfortable with each other.”

The cost of the trip also includes a charge for home-building supplies for the five homes the volunteers will construct by hand – without electrical equipment.

Dwyer said for many teenagers the trip is life changing.

“Going to Guatemala and Asociacion Nuestros Ahijados changed my life forever,” said Matt George, who will be returning to Guatemala for the third time. “It gave me another outlook on the issues around our world. Our service to the people of Guatemala could not compare to what I left that beautiful country with. It warmed my heart and made me appreciate the things granted to me in my life.”

“To go abroad and to explore the wider world is important,” said Liu Volpe, of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. “To go abroad and to explore and do meaningful work for the wider world is even more important.

“We go armed with supplies and enthusiastic spirits ready to change the world, but we leave with happy hearts and a love so great that it remains inside of you and reflects on the people we come home to. Coming back from the trip, I found that my priorities had changed. My idea of hardship and ‘a tough life’ transformed significantly.”

For more information call Marianne Dwyer at 215-242-4976 or Barb Diaz at 215-828-7843. To purchase tickets online go to and click donate. The deadline for tickets is April 21.

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