Guatemala Outtatown

January: Lasting Impact

It’s been nearly a year now since Altona increased their population by 1%, all with a vision from Build a Village to welcome five Syrian families into Altona—that’s 45 people. Build a Village was started by Ray Loewen, the owner of a car dealership in southern Manitoba, after his daughter Kristen returned from her year on Outtatown 15 years ago. Since 2001, Build a Village has helped support over 30 new comer families in their transition to Altona.

Build a Village is a non-profit organization that began because one person shared their story. Just days before Kristen was to leave for Guatemala, a devastating earthquake hit El Salvador. Although Guatemala was not impacted to the same extent as El Salvador, Kristen’s overall experience on Outtatown and her accounts of generosity in a country plagued by poverty inspired her father to make a difference. Build a Village has since been a part of building over 400 houses in El Salvador, in partnership with both Mennonite Central Committee and Habitat for Humanity. These partnerships demonstrate the power of collaboration and have caused Build a Village to grow. 

After hearing stories of generosity and hospitality from Guatemala, Ray wanted to make an impact on his home community of Altona. In the past 10 years increased support for local refugees has brought over 200 people (30 families) into the small town. In the last year alone, Altona has helped provide not just a house to live in, but a place to call home for five refugee families from Syria. They are no longer refugees—they are part of the diversity that makes up Altona.

Build a Village is a testimony of the impact Outtatown can make. All it takes is one voice with a story of resilience to build community and hope for many. Take time this Christmas to remind yourself of the ways you’ve been impacted by the generosity of others and how you might impact others with your own generosity.

  – Amelia Warkentin