Saturday, November 21, 2015

$45,000. Humbled and Happy. Thank You!!!

Milton (driver); Paul Carrick, Founder CAUSE Canada; Jon Carrick, CAUSE Director Micro-credit; Jorge Sandoval, CAUSE Canada Country Director; and Old Guys Andrew Lawson, Bernie Potvin, Adam Weaver, Ross Weaver and Ann Potvin (below...well someone had to take the picture!)
 All involved in the Old Guys in Action 2015 Ride Across Guatemala for Mothers and Babies and thrilled that as of this week you generous people have contributed $45,000...$5,000 over our original support the great work of CAUSE Canada in the highlands of Guatemala. With the 6.5 times matching by the Canadian government this is close to $300,000 and it will go a long way to making a difference to indigenous families in this region. Thank you so much!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

We're not done yet!! Reflections on Guatemala Land, People and Purpose

Lots more pictures can be found at

Although the trip is over, memories remain. Plus - we haven't quite reached our $40,000 goal, so here goes one more post from Old Guy Andrew Lawson:

Reflections on Guatemala Land, People and Purpose

Land: Privilege to transverse in Central America by bicycle from high 12500 metres near the Mexican border (where thin air causes one at times to struggle with sufficient oxygen intake) to sea level near El Salvador (where the thick humid 32 feels like 39 and sweat pours from every outlet).

Dramatic elevation shifts provide scarily fast downhill stretches followed by impossibly steep granny-gear up hills, punctuated with 29 volcanoes and 17 significant Mayan ruins.

People: The most populous Central American country at over 16 million clinging to hillsides; exporting coffee, bananas, and vegetables from rich volcanic soil. 60% Spanish speaking of Conquistador European descent and 40% Indigenous Mayan people speaking their own dialect. Historic conquest and prejudice hold some similarities to Canada's indigenous peoples. General impression of Guatemalans as being poor but friendly with a ready smile.

Purpose: two fold ~ personal desire to engage in physical challenge and adventure in a meaningful way and ~ draw attention and funding to a need we can tangibly impact: namely, Maternal Health and Child Survival.
5X as many babies die before age one than in Canada. 10X as many Moms die from pregnancy related causes than in Canada. 50% give birth at home without help from a skilled attendant.
CAUSE Canada has been making a difference among the most vulnerable sector with contributions
multiplied by our tax dollars at 6.5 times. Opportunity to donate through CAUSE Canada website and specify OGIA special project.

Moving steadily toward our goal of $40,000 translating into excess of $300,000. Every bit helps. Thank you for generosity already expressed. 


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Day 10: Healthy "Choices"?

Lots more pictures can be found at

Besides viewing work that CAUSE has already accomplished in Guatemala (see Day 10 blog), we visited community health units to start the needs assessment of requirements for CAUSE’s new initiative through the matching grant from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development. This project – to improve maternal and child health – is the project that many of you have contributed to through your generous donations to CAUSE ( when you specify the “Old Guys Guatemala” project.
Bev with one of the midwives. 
As we surveyed the health units, we saw that maternal and child health care was sadly lacking. Cause’s program, over 4 years, has the potential to make a huge difference. Communities that were lucky enough to have a concrete building for a health centre had one to three small, cold rooms and were equipped with a rope hanging from the ceiling with which babies were weighed. They also had posters addressing health concerns such as how to properly wash and feed the babies. The irony is that for many, there is no running water and very little in the way of food. The health units also have no running water or bathrooms inside. Only one of the units we saw had a pila (outdoor sink) with a tap – albeit with no handle. There was a pair of pliers kept on the pila to turn the water on and off.
Health posters in the sparsely equipped clinic
 The units also had limited supplies, such as: stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, and some immunization materials. Each health centre had a nurse assigned to it, as well as a non-accredited facilitator, often without medical training. It appears the nurses were hired as auxiliary nurses (assuming less accreditation required than a nurse-and less pay).

One unit we saw was fortunate to have a full-fledged nurse – although she was paid as an auxiliary nurse. She was very knowledgeable, but somewhat discouraged with the work to be done and lack of supplies and help with which to do it. Like her colleagues in other communities, she had a wide swath of area to cover and only her feet with which to get her there. We asked her how long it took her to get to her farthest designated community, and she said just over one hour – if she walks fast – carrying supplies – and then an hour plus back after a long hard day of visit made all the more difficult by the high incidence of malnourishment.
As Ross mentioned in the Day 6 post, the nurses are able to get to each community about once a month. This leaves the health unit either locked up or with the un-trained facilitator in charge. In the case of the baby who died that Ross told you about, it appears that the facilitator made a judgement call that a trained nurse would not have made – with sad consequences.
The challenges for CAUSE are many. Bev Carrick wisely wants to work with health units and nurses that are already in place – thus not duplicating services. This means forming or building on relationships with governments, NGOs, the communities and the nurses, facilitators and local midwives. This requires skill, knowledge and diplomacy – something CAUSE clearly has mastered. I would say that Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has picked the right organization for this task – CAUSE for the Cause! I want to be on the list of those come back in 4 years and see the results of CAUSE’s work!



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Day 9: Sow ... Much Great Work

Lots more pictures can be found at

It is day 9 of the Old Guys in Action’s sojourn in Guatemala.  While they have been adding up the miles – and elevations – I have had the privilege of accompanying Bev Carrick (co-founder of CAUSE Canada) to get a glimpse of the foundation CAUSE had laid over its more than 30 years of work in Guatemala.

As we bumped along the roads and stark moor-like landscapes in the highlands, I noticed that every homestead had a pila (an outdoor concrete structure that is their only sink) and one or two water storage tanks. Many communities also had large concrete cisterns. All were thanks to CAUSE Canada.
A pila made possible by CAUSE Canada
Another contribution CAUSE has made to the people of Guatemala is their micro-credit program. Small loans of about 90 – 180 dollars Canadian, empower women and their families to hope for a better future.
We visited Martina who had borrowed $88.00. This small loan made it possible to buy a sow that provided a litter of 13 piglets. With the proceeds, Martina was able to provide her family nutritious meals, shoes, and a laptop and university education for her daughter. At the time of our visit, the sow was pregnant – an investment that keeps on giving.
We also visited a young woman who received a loan of about $175.00 Canadian. She purchased a sow that produced piglets. This enterprising young lady tallied up for us her costs versus expenses. Within 3 months she had doubled her return on investment! This was an ambitious young lady! Besides her pig venture, she worked as a secretary at a university, was studying to become and auditor, and had a goal of starting a pharmacy in town! Here is evidence of the tremendous hope and ambition inspired by these small loans.

For more information on this amazing micro-credit program, check out

And there will be more on CAUSE’s amazing work in Guatemala tomorrow. Now, off to buy some local pineapple jelly at a tienda (a little locally owned groceteria).



Monday, October 5, 2015

Day 8: And we're Done!

Lots more pictures can be found at

We got up and on the bikes early to avoid the heat of the day. The plan: head out of Monterrico for 17.5 km towards La Puerto San Jose...return...for a total of 35km to complete our overall goal of 300 km. 

Old Guys Ross, Andrew and Bernie at the end of the Ride!
And that's what we did...but knowing the end to the ride was near, we stopped more frequently than usual to 'smell the roses' and witness the sights and sounds of early morning in coastal Guatemala. We chatted with a lovely young shop-tender, visited the open air butcher shop, walked into fields of huge gourds that are turned into loofahs for spas, visited with a grandmother sitting with her 9 month old granddaughter and waded through a sea of cows being driven down the road.
Andy with loofa gourds
Beautiful tienda girl 
Outdoor meat counter

And then, after posing for picture by the Pacific Ocean, we were done. After breakfast we said goodbye to our driver, Milton, and to the gracious and talented Jorge Sandoval, CAUSE Canada's Guatemala Country Director...and spent the rest of the day with CAUSE Canada Founder (Paul Carrick) and Executive Director (Bev Carrick). We have so much respect for them and their work among the poor and disadvantaged in a number of countries...including Guatemala, where they have had a major influence for over 35 years. We heard many incredible stories about their work, but one hit close to home for our driver in particular. Bev and Paul's first project in Guatemala some 35 years ago was to drill a well to provide clean water to a village on the outskirts of Guatemala City were the population, babies in particular, were getting sick and even dying because of the dirty water being used. Our diver, Milton, grew up in that very village and knows the sight of the well...including the plaque at the well giving credit to the Canadians who installed the well. Milton is 35 years old and may have died without that project.
Ross, Andrew, Jon Carrick, Bernie with Milton our driver
 Our ride was to support another great initiative, one focused on mothers and their babies in the highlands of Guatemala. We have no doubts whatever that this project, like the water project of 35 years ago, will save the lives of many babies like Milton in the years to come. 
Thanks so much for your support! (And there is still time to give. Go to We'll have a few more retrospective post about the trip in coming days. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Day 7: Lo Que No Mata En Gorda (what doesn't kill you makes you fat)

Lots more pictures can be found at

The local expression is a bit like the English "What doesn't kill you makes you better". That's a bit how we felt after riding the 100 km from Antigua to Monterico today. The first km or two was the same teeth shaking cobblestone from yesterday...but then we dropped 3500 feet over 35 km on smooth, paved road. It was a total hoot to draft each other, slingshotting faster and faster, passing trucks and motorcycles along the way. 

But while the final 1500 foot drop from Esquintla to the coastal town of Monterico helped us in accomplishing the task, the temperature rose steadily through the day to a high of over 35 degrees. It was hot...but we made it! And there was a very cool surprise to meet us at the end of the road. We loaded the truck with the bikes, then Jorje drove the pickup onto a ramp and onto a wooden ferry powered by a 25 HP outboard engine. We took off down the estuary on a 9 km trip through the mangroves to a landing site where we rode the bikes down the gang plank and onto the Tarmac to our hotel for the night, a very tough day...but another great one.

So...were done, right? Not quite. Adding up all the legs, we are still short 35 km of our 300 km goal. So the plan is to get on the bikes at 6:30 and finish it off. More tomorrow!


Bernardo, Pablo, Aroz, Adam on car ferry
We're not in Todos Santos Todo!

Black beach at Monterico

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Day 6: Death and Life

Lots more pictures can be found at

We woke up in Panajachel to news of a major mud slide in Guatemala City...25 dead and hundreds missing. We had seen evidence of mud and rock slides all though our travels here, so the news was not entirely surprising...but it was entirely sad. Through the day we saw response from local communities in the form of collection of food, clothing and other necessities to help the victims.

Ann and Bev joined us in Panajachel after a brief trip to the mountain area of Comitancillo. While there assessing the maternal newborn child health requirements they were called to the home of a very poor family with nine children that were reported to be severely malnourished. Just before they arrive the youngest of the children died. Much of their time there was spent consoling the family. The incident underlined the need for the very program CAUSE Canada will be implementing.

Docks at Panajachel on Lake Atitlan
Panajachel is a beautiful and colourful town on the edge of lake Atitlan surrounded by steep hills and volcanos. Strolling through the colourful marketplace we were greeted by a parade of dancers and musicians dressed in masks and wild costumes. Their dance was a traditional parody of the historical interactions between indigenous peoples and the Spanish conquistadors. Check out our Facebook page to get sense of this fascinating event.

Overlooking Panajachel and Lake Atitlan
Street drama in Pana
The villain
Goofy nut vendor

It was a short day of cycling. We drove to a spot just 15 km from Antigua and sped along a busy, mainly downhill, pothole-paved road towards the old city. En route, traffic was being diverted from the main street of a outlying village. While cars were turned away, they removed the barriers for us cyclists. A few blocks on we ran into the cause of the detour. A marching band competition was in progress and we were literally in the midst of it as we carefully walked our bikes through the crowds and performers in six separate bands. We even joined the parade one point, dancing in step to the music. Our efforts were rewarded with wild applause from the spectators. 

A few kilometres on we rolled onto the beautiful cobblestone roads of Antigua...beautiful to the eye...but very tough on cyclists with no suspension. Tomorrow will be a much tougher day on the bikes.

We cycled into and through a marching band competition just outside Antigua!

Day 5. Pills, thrills, near spills and never-ending hills

Lots more pictures can be found at
The route: drive from Huehuetenango to Chiantla; cycle through Aquacaten, Sacapulas to near top of never-ending hill; drive to Panajachel. Total cycling: 62 Km over 6 hours.

The Pills: One of our group developed some rather dramatic stomach problems halfway through Day 4 and had a very rough afternoon and evening of high fever and frequent visits to the bano. Fortunately, with a little help for Loparamide and Azithromicin pills all systems were "go" (well, stopped actually) by the next morning. 

The Thrills: The cycle day started out with a 10 KM, 3100 ft descent along a spectacular wooded canyon. Adrenalin: High. Effort: Low. Cycle speed: Excessive.

The Near Spills. 100% correlated to the aforementioned excessive speed, one of our group (not to be specifically named...but someone who has a lot of experience with motorcycle racing) came too "hot" into one hairpin corner that led onto to a narrow bridge. To avoid going off the bridge breaks were forcefully applied. The bike swerved, front and rear tires skidded, but fortunately the bike stayed upright and enough sped was "scrubbed" that bike and rider were not pitched into the raging river below. Unfortunately, at the same moment a pickup truck was just coming onto the bridge as well...from the other direction. The rider narrowly missed having "Toyota" permanently imprinted in his forehead. Five or six km down the road, to show he had learned from this experience, the same rider  skidded through a very similar hairpin corner but excluded the drama related to the oncoming truck.

The Never-ending Hills. We got a hot tip from our waitress at lunch in Sapacula. "Don't go straight. Go left at the corner. You just have to climb one hill, then it is all downhill for the next 40 km to your destination". The thought of some easy downhills and getting to Panajachel early was too tempting to resist. But for the next 2 hours and 18 km, we wondered if we hadn't tipped her enough and if this was the server's revenge. In the hot afternoon sun, struggling to move in our lowest "granny" gear, we sweated, strained and prayed that each 'next corner' would reveal the top of the pass. It never did. With the threat of having to drive in the dark to Panajachel we were forced to pack it in. And just as well we did. The end of the hill was still another 5 tough kilometres down the road. 

Along the way we stopped at a local school where Bernie joined in on an outside basketball game and Aroz played hand slap games with the kids. Another wonderful, memorable day in a stunningly beautiful country!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Day 4. What goes up must go down (thankfully)

Lots more pictures can be found at

Porfilio's grand daughter
Ross and Rosita

Bernie...speeding again!
Yesterday was magnificent but a really tough workout. We decided today should be a lot less demanding to give our bodies a bit of a break. The plan: say goodbye to our friends in Todos Santos, drive back to the Alto Plano, cycle down to Chiantla and drive over to Huehuetenango.

The dirt road route off the Alto Plano went for 20 km...and dropped 5000 feet! Paul Carrick, Founder of CAUSE Canada joined Old Guys Andrew, Bernie and Ross (known as Andreas, Bernardo and Aros [Spanish for rice...they aren't familiar with the name Ross and get a kick out of calling me "Rice"] on today's ride. Paul is a very fast mountain biker and left the rest of us in the (thankfully) dry dust on a consistent basis. Scenery was spectacular! Locals extremely friendly and the cycling tremendous.

Paul Carrick, Founder
CAUSE Canada


Day 3. The doorway to Heaven

Lots more pictures can be found at

The main purpose of this Ride for Mothers and Babies is to raise awareness and support for a program CAUSE Canada is implementing to address unacceptably high levels of maternal and newborn child mortality in Guatemala and Honduras. We were therefore very keen to get a feel for the issues and CAUSE Canada's approach to addressing them.   

Bev Carrick, Executive Director CAUSE
Canada with health promotors and mayor
of Todos Santos

Clinic patient
Good advice...wash your hands!
Mom's happy. Baby...not so much
En route to today's ride start point we visited one of the over 40 maternal newborn child health clinics in Guatemala that will play a big part in the CAUSE Canada program. In this region there are six primary clinics. Each primary clinic has 7-12 smaller satellite clinics. The system has challenges.
Challenge 1: There is only one auxiliary nurse and one assistant per region. At best there is only one visit per satellite clinic per month.
Challenge 2: Even the primary clinics are under equipped. The only visible equipment in the primary clinic we saw today was a single scale for weighing babies...and a few chairs.
Challenge 3: The government provides an enriched powder supplement for mothers attending the clinics...but there is not enough to go around.
Challenge 4: To be entitled to a supplement ration, the child has to be demonstrably malnourished. But by the time the child is malnourished however, significant permanent developmental issues have already impacted the child.
While the health promoters we saw in action today were clearly dedicated and doing what the could with what they had, they in fact need more equipment, more, better trained staff, more supplement supply and need to address maternal child health before the child is at risk. These are key elements of the CAUSE model that will be implemented with Canadian government and your support.

Why the malnourishment? The reasons outlined by Bev Carrick as we traveled in the truck together: it is a very poor region that is cold, remote and has inadequate supplies of fresh water. Babies die of hypothermia, dehydration, low caloric-low nutrition diets (the only crop that can grow in this area is potatoes). And they die from birthing complications because they are diagnosed too late, don't have money (or enough time) to travel to major cities when complications arise. If my own twins were born in this wife and both kids would not have survived. There is much that can and will be done through the CAUSE Canada program and It is a privilege to partner with them.

Ross at the Gates of Heaven
Andrew with head in clouds
Stubborn as a Bernie
Speaking of privileges: today's route was a spectacular trail that starts at a place called La Puerto de Cielo (gateway to heaven). The dirt trail begins at 12,000 feet and drops to 7000 feet before rising and returning to Todos Santos at 8,000 feet. The difficult 40 km route is surrounded by cloud-shrouded mountains, comprised of steep technical downhills and steep technical uphill segments. This must be one of the most beautiful mountain bike trails on the planet. The fact that we were drenched by pouring rain for half the distance did only a little to dampen the appreciation for this wonderful masterpiece of nature. Checkout the pictures posted to the Old Guys in Action Facebook page for stunning images of the scenery, the region's gracious inhabitants, and us soggy passers by. 
Very proud of his farm

So colourful!
Hand slap game...gets 'em every time!

What's next? The team splits up for a few days. The cyclists make their way back to HueHue and from there to Panajachel, Antigua and the Pacific coast. Bev Carrick and Ann Potvin move on to the Comitancillo region, another focal area of the maternal newborn child health project. You'll be hearing from both groups in the coming days.