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Healing through service trip to Guatemala.

Our Guatemala Trip: Day 1

As Told by Kokua’s Program Director, Justin Swenson

Wow! What an adventure; and we haven’t even arrived yet! I showed up to the treatment center last night at 9:50pm to a buzz of excitement. Mike, James, Isaiah, and Brandon were pacing around the courtyard all smiles and giddy with laughter.

I checked in with all four of the boys to see if they needed help with the clothes they had packed. Mike expressed some anxiety and headed back inside to check his bag one more time. James laughed as he told me that Mike had gone through his bag six times since they had come downstairs an hour ago. James’ laughter quickly faded as he followed Mike in to check his bag one more time, as well.

Before long, Ken showed up and we headed south towards the Denver airport. The check-in process went smoothly until Isaiah was stopped at security. He was sad to give up the oversized toiletries packed in his carry-on; however, he recovered quickly, and we were once again on our way. Brandon smiled more during our walk through the airport than he has the entire time he has been at Kokua. Our flight then departed on time at 1:30am and we were on our way!

The flight to Miami was uneventful. Although the flight went through the night, it was difficult for most everyone to sleep. We all took advantage of the nearly 4-hour layover in Miami and slept on the floor. After a little rest, the group’s enthusiasm and excited returned and we headed to our next flight.

The short eternity it took for everyone to get seated was frustrating, especially given how tired we all still were. But when the flight attendants handed out coffee, the world started to make sense once again.

We were finally nearing the end of our flight to Guatemala City. Unfortunately, there were clouds between us and the land below, so we were unable to get an idea of what it looked like down below. Similar to what I guessed the rest of our little group was feeling, I felt a mix of excitement and anticipation for the adventure that laid ahead of us.

We landed in Guatemala City around 11:45 and it took us about an hour to get through customs and gather our luggage. We found our driver with no problem and we were off to Panajachel. The traffic in the city was terrible. It took us over an hour to make our way to the less populated area. At the edge of the city, our driver took us to McDonald’s (yes, you read that right, McDonald’s), as he was under strict orders from his boss to take us to an American fast food restaurant.

Over the next four hours, we drove through breathtaking countryside, small towns, medium cities and everything in-between. Mike, James, and I took as many photos as we could in a moving vehicle. All of the boys mentioned many times how amazing Guatemala looked. One of the medium size towns was bustling with so much activity, as the narrow cobblestone streets were filled with people, vendors, and three-wheeled taxis. It was like a scene out of a James Bond movie.

Shortly after arriving at Cultiva, we walked around the town of Panajachel. It was even more amazing than the towns we had seen earlier in the day. By the way, the Cultiva Casa is pretty amazing, too. All the boys had been doing great and each one of them volunteered to write an update such as this one every day throughout the week. Each one will be a little different, which I hope gives all of you a glimpse into the experience we are having here.

Ken Huey

Upon graduating from Purdue with a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Huey worked as a therapist, Clinical Director, and Business Development Director in residential treatment. Dr. Huey was always drawn to the large population of adoptees in residential treatment (he is adopted himself). He ultimately became convinced that this population needed specialty care and in November of 2006, Dr. Huey founded Calo. Calo grew to a 200 plus employee organization with about the same numbers of teen clients served each year. He sold Calo and retired in June of 2015. He came out of retirement in 2017 and founded Kokua Recovery, trauma-informed residential drug and alcohol treatment with sites in Colorado.

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