-This is a guest post written by our dear friend Brady Clarke. Brady and his wife Christine are currently living in Costa Rica but lived in our neighborhood close to our home back in Rossland. We recently had them out for a visit and I invited Brady to write something for the blog. Here’s to keeping good friend-ships afloat! Thanks Brady!
"Cocooooooo!" 1-year-old Rosalinda yells out of the tuk-tuk at the Guatemalan man selling coconuts on the corner as we race through the narrow streets of San Juan village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Owen tells me it's one of her first words and that she and the coconut sellers yell it back to each other all the time.
I met Owen, Christina, and their 5 kids the day after moving to Rossland, BC, during the first year of the COVID Pandemic. Just before the world changed, we had just sold our home, our belongings and had resigned from our jobs in Tofino, BC, and we're planning on moving our family to Costa Rica. Suddenly borders were closed, and international travel halted. Our plans had to change abruptly. We found ourselves with new jobs and a rental home at Red Mountain in Rossland. We were nervous for our kids to meet new friends. Lucky for us, we moved in across the street from the Dargatz family. I remember sitting down to dinner with my 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son and my daughter Macy seeing the Dargatz kids outside and yelling, "Kieran, kids!!! And they're your age!" They were out the door before anyone had taken a bite of dinner.
Shortly after, Owen and Christina invited us to an outdoor bbq even though Christina was to give birth to her 5th child (Columbia aka Rosalinda) the next day. Our kids became fast friends ever since, riding bikes, building forts (both tree and snow), shooting slingshots, skiing/snowboarding, fishing, and getting into all sorts of the best kind of mischief around the neighborhood. Our family was sad to see them go, but we promised to connect with them in Central America once we had moved as well.
Six months later, we moved to Costa Rica and adjusted to a new life. We needed to renew our Costa Rican visas and had decided to visit the Dargatz family in Guatemala. Truth be told, I had never had much interest in visiting Guatemala, but I was excited to see familiar faces and have our kids reconnect with some friends from home. I've followed Owen's blog, laughed and been inspired by his writing, and had a lot of respect for what they were doing as a family. Despite the inherent challenges, my wife and I had identified them as a family genuinely living their values. I found their passion for creating positive change in their new home noble, and I had read along, hoping and wishing them success. It wasn't until I saw firsthand what they were doing that I felt compelled to help with their cause. That is why I'm sharing our experience.
We spent a week walking the streets of San Juan, their adopted home, usually with at least 5 or 6 kids in tow, sometimes all 7. Owen and I doing our best to have meaningful conversations without too many interruptions. Impossible to do with 7 kids from ages 1-12. That said, we had time on our hands, and our conversations spanned many topics. Everything from the financial challenges of running a truly grassroots organization in a country where you're not a resident to navigating relationships when there is perceived inequality (fundamental or not), complex social dynamics, and local family politics. However, what stood out most to me was how well-loved Owen and his family were in the small town. A street vendor would greet Owen with a huge smile and engage in conversation; women selling tamales would fawn over Katie, Faye, and Rosalinda.
The boys were known by most of the local shopkeepers and tuk-tuk drivers. It was clear that the locals recognized the huge hearts and the integrity of this family of Canadians just trying to do well and inspire change.
We spent a morning having breakfast in Maria's cafe. It's a ramshackle but really cool two-table building not much different from our kid's tree fort back in Rossland. It was bittersweet, as Owen had shared the intense challenges and losses that Maria's family had faced in the last year. We sat sipping the fantastic coffee that she roasted on-site and stared out at an incredible view of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes. Meanwhile, the construction crew next door broke rocks, by hand, to build another competing coffee shop right in front of Maria's. Their plans block her view of the lake and essentially kill her opportunity to support herself and her daughter. Tears were shed. Owen is trying desperately to help get Maria's coffee to the world and raise enough funds to support her and his Kid's Club project. Her Ninos Para Un Mejor San Juan (Kids for a Better San Juan) Coffee was the best I tried in a country known for its world-class coffee. I hope we can figure out a way to export her beans in significant enough volume to support her. The ripple effect that her success would have on Maria and her community would be incredible.
We joined the Dargatz's project, The Giving Experiment's Kid's Club, on our last morning. A weekly gathering where local kids get together, share a meal and clean the shoreline. The club’s committee, a handful of local kids, the Dargatz family, and our family headed down to the shore of the lake to pick up trash. A German tourist who had met the family and was inspired came and also joined in, promising to share the project on social media. While the garbage collection is a crucial component (a reason to gather and do something positive), it was really the kids' collaboration and sharing a nourishing meal that was truly heartwarming.
Christina had planned and prepared a Christmas decoration project that the kids could make and take home. I had wanted my kids to participate in the Giving Experiment to contribute in some small way to something positive and to the community and family that hosted us, and I was grateful for the opportunity.
This is truly a grassroots project with a shoestring budget and beautiful intentions. What Christina and Owen are doing is the best they can for their family and community. I know that for whatever support they receive, they are truly grateful.
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