The Guatemala Initiative


Backstory had the opportunity earlier this year to travel to Guatemala and shoot for eight days for Providence Health International (PHI).

PHI sent a team of Providence and Swedish employees to the village of Chioya, in northern Guatemala, to help install modular cook stoves, and Backstory Films accompanied them to capture the story of their work and their connections to the local people.  The people of Chioya are Mayan-descendants and were shy but also very warm and welcoming.  They live very simple lives, depending largely on their own small plots of land for subsistence farming.  Most live in one- or two-room homes with dirt floors and no running water.  The Chioya traditionally have cooked over unvented, open flame inside their humble abodes.

It didn’t take long to see and hear the effects of living in smoke-filled, cabin-sized  homes, as we saw clouds of thick smoke billowing out any opening and heard the raspy coughs of children and infants. Respiratory ailments are prevalent in the village, especially among the women and the young, as they tend to spend the most time inside.  In fact, the most common cause of death among children in Guatemala is respiratory illness.

The trip was organized and facilitated by Medical Teams International (MTI), headquartered in Portland, Oregon, with several employees and volunteers in the area around Chioya.  MTI spent part of the first day teaching the Providence-Swedish team to build the cast cement and iron stoves, which are very well designed for quick installation and efficient use.

But this was much more than a story about stoves.  The team quickly developed relationships with and connections to the beautiful people of Chioya.  It was both inspiring and humbling to watch and capture the transformations on camera.

Backstory’s crew consisted of myself, Kevin Smith, as producer-director, Karel Bauer as dp (and invaluable translator and communicator, as Karel speaks fluent Spanish), and Jim Sander as audio engineer.  I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to work with, both professionally and personally.  Dan Larson, of Roam Editorial, did a sensitive, thoughtful job cutting the piece and Nick Denke of Electric Muses once again worked his magic in creating the custom music score.

Karel, Jim and I also shot for a few days in Antigua and Reu, Guatemala covering another aspect of PHI’s work: traveling surgical teams.  Through an NGO in Antigua, Faith in Practice, teams of surgeons, nurses and technicians travel to Guatemala to provide desperately needed surgeries for the impoverished souls of that country.

Our work is Guatemala was an amazing experience and I can only hope the resulting video inspires others inside Providence, Swedish and anywhere else to get involved, use their gifts and make life a little better for others.

Please check out the video below.