A Message from Visitor Program Director Kristal Sawatzke
When I first joined Friends of San Lucas, I started to hear a lovely phrase over and over again – one that I eventually learned had a particularly special meaning to Mission history: Juntos Podemos. You might have heard this phrase over the years, too; it means Together, we can. When the Visitor Program initially paused in March 2020, the team was thinking it would be for a few weeks…maybe a few months (tops). No one expected it would be nearly two years before groups returned. After a great deal of careful consideration and planning, the Visitor Program slowly reopened on January 3, 2022. Without an end to Covid in sight, we pondered how it could be done safely and responsibly. The answer is: Juntos Podemos – Together, we can. If everyone plays their part (Mission staff and visitors alike), our hope is that the program can remain open – even if on a limited basis for the time being.
What is the Mission doing to keep visitors and community members safe?
- Being thoughtful with logistics. For example, spreading visitors out across multiple hotels, staggering mealtimes, and pivoting (as needed) when a positive Covid case pops up. In our first 10 days, we saw four positive Covid cases among visitors, so folks need to be prepared for the new (very possible) reality of a 5-10+ day extended stay.
- Developing Covid protocols and supporting visitors. Take a moment to review the Covid FAQs document for community updates and testing/isolation policies. When a visitor needs to isolate due to a positive test, the team is quick to secure accommodation, deliver meals, assist with testing resources, and coordinate transportation and care – as needed. Though all positive cases so far have been asymptomatic, it can still be a stressful experience. The message the team wants to share with visitors is: “we’ve got you.”
- Organizing educational/cultural activities and service projects only with vaccinated community members. Visitors can expect that their interaction will be primarily with Mission staff, with more limited access to other community members – to mitigate the risk of contracting and/or spreading Covid. Nearly all Mission staff have also received a booster!
- Limiting the number of visitors at the Mission for the foreseeable future. Historically, there have been moments with over 100 people at any given time. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it would be to social distance with that number of people! For now, visitors can expect a more intimate experience with their group, and, over time, the opportunity to connect with other visitors and community members will expand.
What can Visitors do to keep themselves and others safe?
- Follow protocols – to a T. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Get vaccinated and boosted. Travel directly to San Lucas from Guatemala City, instead of visiting another part of the country first. It can be easy to fall into old habits, especially when building community and connecting with others. Being thoughtful and diligent will keep more people healthy and safe. A mantra I like to remember is, ‘your mask is for me; my mask is for you.’ These protocols are to keep you and your neighbor as safe as possible.
- Bring enough Covid tests to cover their group…and then some. Testing resources are extremely limited in San Lucas. At minimum, we expect folks to bring enough at-home tests for their visit (and extras are encouraged, should they test positive). Any unused tests donated to the Mission would be warmly welcomed!
- Be flexible and go with the flow. There may be changes to activities, hotels, meals, and interactions with others – possibly right before or during your visit. Trust that those decisions are made with the best of intentions to keep the most people safe. The Visitor Program team wants you to have an incredibly meaningful, impactful, and memorable experience – while also balancing the health and safety of everyone involved.
Unless the U.S. State Department issues a ‘level 4: do not travel’ advisory, we plan to remain open. There are plenty of educational activities, service projects, and opportunities for cultural engagement still being offered in San Lucas. Visitors can hear from guest speakers on a variety of topics, witness coffee buying (during the buying season), participate in the ‘Day in the Life’ class at the Women’s Center, or help to build a house with the construction program – just to name a few! If you are interested in planning a visit or have a follow up question, please don’t hesitate to contact me at : email@example.com.
We are incredibly grateful for the thoughtfulness, care, and responsiveness of Mission staff as we navigate the challenges of reopening of the Visitor Program – and we are equally grateful to the visitors who are doing their part to keep themselves and others safe. Juntos Podemos – Together, we can!
So glad to see that you have reopened and are taking on the covid issues head on! Good fortune to you all….