Joanna Hansen has never been outside the U.S., so what she knows of the tiny village of Altamira, Guatemala, has come by way of friends and the stories she has read.
Stories of poverty. Stories of a lack of locally sourced drinking water. The more she heard, the more her conscience was stirred, the more she wanted to help. So Hansen made a decision: The best way to help with the clean water problem was to help raise money to build a deep-bore well.
But there was a hitch. There is a limit to what a person can achieve when you’re a 14-year-old teen with little in the way of capital or money for such a project.
“Jo (went) from being interested to being incredibly annoying,” her mom, Sarah Hansen, said. “(She said), ‘Mom, I think I really want to do this. I don’t know how to it, though, because I don’t have any money.'”
That’s when the help started coming in.
A network of friends and other sources chipped in to pay for the round-trip flight Hansen and her mom will take to the Central American nation this summer. To pay for the well, Kathy’s Pub has agreed to host a fundraising concert from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 9. Among the performers is Jimmi Langemo, a musician and childhood friend of Hansen’s dad, Jason.
“When he heard that Joanna, this kid that he’s known (since she was a baby), wanted to put in a well in a village in Guatemala, he was struck by that and decided (to help),'” Sarah Hansen said.
Most southeast Minnesota residents probably lack a frame of reference to appreciate Altamira’s poverty. Guatemala is a nation of extreme income inequality, and the village stands at the far end of that gap.
Hansen, one of 13 children, is home-schooled. Sarah Hansen says her daughter has always been interested in going on a mission trip and helping others. Hansen’s mom requires a half-hour of reading every day during the school day, and Hansen often dove into books about world travelers who serve abroad in medical or Christian missions.
Her passion to help was further fueled by the stories she heard from a Chatfield friend, Laurie Byrne, who has gone on such trips to Guatemala in the past and will be joining the Hansens on the trip this summer.
“I’ve always been interested in going on a mission trip, and this seemed like something I could do,” Hansen said. “I can’t really get out to Asia and Africa. That’s way more expensive, and I don’t know anybody who goes there. Altamira was something that was reachable for me.”
Altamira children don’t have access to clean water unless its trucked in by local mission groups. The lack of such water can lead to a cascade of negative consequences, including sickness and lost school days. A well could help break that cycle, she says.
The Guatemalan village has been the object of help from other missionary groups. A Pennsylvania-based church group is sending a team to build a bathroom facility for a school there, a year after it built a church and a pastor’s home.
The Hansens take off for Guatemala City on June 18 and will take a four-and-half hour bus ride from the capital to Altamira, a village of about 350 people located in the heel of the boot-shaped nation. They will be housed on the campus of Hope of Life, a charitable nonprofit that runs a village orphanage and a hospital. The goal is to raise the money in advance so construction on the well can be completed before the Hansens arrive at the village, leaving them with relatively unglamorous jobs of sifting sand for the concrete blocks and hauling the blocks.
World Health Mission, a charitable medical nonprofit, is assisting the Hansens with passport and travel arrangements, and the Hansens will be joining the Pennsylvania members while en route.
The cost of the well and round-trip flight will be about $19,000, and so far, the Hansens have raised about $8,000, Hansen said. They will leave June 18, and the trip will last about a week.
“We’ll definitely be hauling cinder block. We’ll definitely be painting structures,” Sarah Hansen said. “We’ll be there to finish the (well) project. The very concept of dedicating a well and dedicating these structures seems to be a big deal.”
If you go
What: Fundraising concert at Kathy’s Pub
When: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 9.
Live music will be provided by Jimmi Langemo, Nate Heinz, Jay Eclair, Charlie “Sugar Chuck” Lacey and Tim Scribner. All of the bands made it to the semi-finals at the International Blues Competition the last two years. Other musicians will be participating, too.
Money raised will allow Joanna Hensen, 14, of Racine and her mother, Sarah, to travel to Guatemala on a mission trip and cover the cost of building a deep-bore well for the village of Altamira.