Jim Harpell stood atop a house he was building in a small mountain village in Guatemala.
The retired teacher looked to the next house over, able to see past the rotting cornstalk walls into the interior.
The floor was made of mud and there was no furniture inside, only a bag of rice and a makeshift stove.
At night, when temperatures dipped to around 6 C, the kids would curl up on the floor in pieces of carpet they took from a nearby dump to keep warm.
“Where are our priorities that we spend $1,200 on a new phone we don’t need when that money could help these kids?” he thought to himself angrily while staring down at the house.
At that moment, he knew he would return to Guatemala to help more families in need.
Now, to raise money to fund the building of a new house for a Guatemalan family, Harpell is holding two fundraiser dinners today (Monday) at The Food Muster in Truro.
Cooking meals from his old restaurant, Calico Café, Harpell will be holding a lunch and supper dinner throughout the day.
“We will have a few different mains such as quiche and lasagna, as well as an assortment of desserts too,” he said.
“I held one of these dinners before at Ella’s Jamaican Kitchen, and 90 per cent of people who stopped by were old patrons of my restaurant. People came in to eat, but they also spent time there to socialize as well.”
While the last dinner went well, raising $800 toward the house, the cost of building one of the homes is anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000.
The house is being built not only for a family in need, but in memory of two very special people in Harpell’s life.
“I grew up in a foster home, and I want to build the house in memory of my foster parents,” he said.
“If I can’t make up the money needed before I leave in May, I will add the rest of the funds myself. I am determined, and I have already made arrangements that one of the houses we build will be in the name of my foster parents.”
Each house that is built features a plaque that pays respect to whoever sponsored the building of the home, or is used to dedicate the home to lost loved ones.
Harpell first travelled to Guatemala in 2015 after he was asked to work with teachers at a new school in Antigua.
After training the teachers and experiencing how the children lived in the small village, he returned in 2016 but this time as part of the building crew.
“Once we trained the teachers during my first trip, most of them were continuing on their own for the next year,” said Harpell.
“While working with them, I knew that others were out there building homes, and I just wanted to be part of that and see life as it was lived by the kids coming to that school.”
During that trip, they built eight homes in two weeks, but on his next trip he hopes to do the same in a week.
“The amazing thing to me to witness was, in a village where only one family is getting a new home, the joy and happiness the rest of the village showed for that family. The whole village celebrated,” he said.
Harpell is preparing for his third trip, which will take place over a week in May of 2019.
This time he will share the experience with his daughter, and hopes his fundraiser dinner will allow him to build a house in memory of his parents.
If You Go
Guatemala Fundraiser dinner
Monday, Oct. 23 – The Food Muster
Lunch – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Supper – 5 to 7 p.m.
All proceeds go to building house for family in Guatemala.
Reservations must be made by Saturday, Oct. 21.
To reserve a spot, call Jim Harpell at 902-673-3012