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Take Five: Meet Anne Parzick, CdM resident with a passion for helping Guatemalan kids

By AMY SENK

I was talking to a few friends of mine who are elementary school teachers in Corona del Mar, asking them about interesting people in the community, people I should interview for columns, people who are making a difference in the world in positive ways. One name kept coming up – Anne Parzick, a woman in town with two kids who has a passion for the Central American country of Guatemala and the families and kids who live there. For years, she’s been shipping or bringing them books and sports gear and toys, paying for tuition and offering support. I reached out to learn more.

Take Five Meet Anne Parzick

Photos courtesy of Anne Parzick

Anne Parzick

Q: When did you begin your love affair with Guatemala, and how did that morph into charitable work? 

A: We first went in the summer of 2014, when Calvin and Wade [her sons] were 6 and 8. We primarily went down there for language classes for the boys – Guatemala has the cheapest one-on-one language schools and also offers living with a family. They were too young for more than three hours a day, so I had to look around for ways to occupy them. We eventually hooked up with a local kids’ soccer coach and started going to some of their practices. I also met an American who had started a small program to sponsor local kids to attend school, since in Guatemala it costs money to attend school after sixth grade. Many families can’t afford it, which essentially sentences them to subsistence farming. We started sponsoring a student through this program, and I managed to talk some friends and family members into doing the same. I still do both today – sponsoring and recruiting sponsors. Every time I return, I visit my sponsored student as well as the students sponsored by my friends and family. I take pictures and videos to show them upon my return home and they love it. The next time we went, a year later, I brought down a huge duffel bag full of donated soccer equipment. After returning home, I found out about, through our dry cleaners, a company in Santa Ana that ships huge boxes via boat only to Guatemala, anywhere in Guatemala, for a reasonable price. So, I started shipping donations and also expanded to sending books, regular clothes and shoes, educational toys and games, etc. In 2017, I took the boys out of Harbor View when they were in third and fifth grade during Christmas break, and we spent the first half of the year in Guatemala; they attended local public school there. Spending so much time there, I got to know almost all of the coaches and teachers in the area, as well as many non-profits, both local and foreign, and I keep in touch with them year-round. We’ve been back a couple of times since then. Now that the boys are older, they’re starting to take some more initiative. When we were there last summer, we sponsored and participated in an open-water swim. We also brought some new equipment – a couple of backyard water polo goals, balls, caps, etc. and Calvin put on a water polo game in the lake after providing some basic training. Wade held a wrestling tournament, also after teaching them some moves. We also brought down with us a few sets of Spikeball, and the boys taught a big group of kids how to play. That was hilarious! It was such a blast for these poor kids who haven’t had in-person school in more than a year, and I think the boys felt good about having led and taught something. It was also nice for me.

Take Five Meet Parzick family

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The Parzick family (Back row L-R) Bob Parzick, Anne Parzick, Calvin Parzick and Wade Parzick (Front row L-R) Parzick’s sponsored student Jhennifer Johanna Chumil Quiacain, her little brother and her mother

Q: I’ve read that Guatemala has one of the strongest economies in Central America but a disproportionate poverty rate. Do you have any thoughts on what causes this situation or what the reality is in the places you’ve spent time?

A: I’m no expert on Central American politics, but corruption is always a safe bet as at least part of the answer. The indigenous Mayan highlands – which is where we go – have always gotten the shaft from the government. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the world, and it’s even higher if you restrict it to the Mayans. The poverty is staggering, especially farther into the outskirts of the towns we visit. Many of these families don’t even speak Spanish – several indigenous languages are spoken in the area – which prevents them from being able to do anything other than subsistence farming as a means of survival. They suffer from the effects of climate change – drought, brutal storms. To the Americans who are upset about Central Americans trying to come here for a better life: Should these people just simply watch as their families slowly starve to death? What would you do?

Take Five Meet Parzick with donations

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Parzick recently spent about six hours in Santa Ana, organizing and packing boxes of supplies to send to Guatemala. “It’s always exhausting but so exhilarating once I’m done,” she said. “While I pack, I make a list of everything I put in there, which I then translate and e-mail to my friend/contact/recipient in Guatemala so he can prep himself for what’s coming.” The boxes usually take six to seven weeks to arrive; once they showed up in a month, and another time it took 4.5 months.

Q: How do you go about collecting items and then delivering them?

A: My approach to collecting has been very haphazard, though I’m attempting to change that. For donations of sports gear and clothing, there are a handful of people here who regularly contact me to let me know that they have something for me, and sometimes I post on Facebook that I’m about to travel or send. For new equipment that my Guatemalan contacts have requested, I have an Amazon Wish List that I post on my Facebook page as I’m getting ready to send a box or travel. There are two angels here who simply donate money to me from time to time, which really helps with both sending the boxes and with getting a hold of items that I don’t get from Amazon. For delivering, I have several Guatemalan contacts – mostly coaches and teachers – to whom I send the boxes themselves or certain items in them. It’s a small community, so for the most part everyone knows each other, so it’s easy for me to label which items go to whom. This is better than my handing out items myself, because although I know a lot of people in the community, I don’t know who needs what the most – especially in the most needy outskirts. It’s very rewarding when we bring the donations with us when we travel there, because of course we get to see most of the distribution in person. To be honest, although I love being able to send and give needed items, I find the education sponsorship the most meaningful and rewarding. Education can be literally the difference between life or death for many of these families. There is one young man whose college tuition I sponsored last year whom I’m particularly proud of. Luis and his 10 siblings and parents owned several horses and would take tourists on horseback rides as a means of income, and he would often take my younger son, who was 8 or 9 years old at the time and had some challenges while we were there, out solo for hours. Well, during the pandemic, when tourism completely shut down, Luis’ family was forced to sell most of the horses and just grow vegetables to sell in the market. And they were just barely making it beforehand. I offered to pay for him to finish the college accounting courses that he had started but hadn’t been able to afford to finish and he took me up on it. Well, he has graduated and has been interviewing with accounting firms in the capital and I’m so proud of him. This education will change that family’s life.

Take Five Meet Parzick with kids books

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Along with sports gear, Parzick’s favorite donation to send or bring is books. She is pictured here with sons Calvin and Wade (left) after bringing a load of books to an after-school program in 2017

Q: How do you think your teenage sons have been impacted by the time your family has spent in Guatemala?

A: Sometimes I think not at all, lol. The most immediately noticeable impact is their language proficiency, but of course that’s the most superficial. Their exposure to a very different culture and a very different standard of living will stay with them – consciously or not – for the rest of their lives. When we lived there, there was no dishwasher, dryer, washing machine, or many other conveniences that we take for granted here. Water comes only three times a week – inconsistently at that – so they had to limit their showers, for instance. Attending a public school with very few resources was an eye-opener, too. Daily life there in general was an eye-opener. The town is small – and since most of the roads are cobblestone, there are hardly any cars – so I let the boys walk around by themselves at an early age. My younger son loved atole, a hot corn drink that the Mayans have been drinking for millennia, and he would often go by himself to the very crowded Sunday market to get his atole. My older son told me last year that he knows the town better than he knows Corona del Mar, because he walks everywhere there. Our trip last year had another impact on them: the boys teamed up with a local coach to hold a water polo event, a wrestling tournament and a Spikeball tournament. We had brought down the necessary equipment with us. I left the planning, coaching and production of the events completely to my boys and it was fun to see them take charge.

Take Five Meet Parzick basketball team

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Girls basketball team donation recipients

Q: I saw on your social media that you have worked in the past for FEMA and for the CDC. What work did you do with those agencies and what’s your next dream job?

A: I had assumed that after getting my master’s in Foreign Service from Georgetown, I’d go into the actual Foreign Service, but I was intrigued by the CDC and ended up there. I worked first in the Office of the Director and then in the International Emergency and Refugee Health Branch at the CDC’s Center for Environmental Health, which involved writing federal budget requests for various CDC programs and managing grants. I was lucky enough to spend a few months in Uganda with the CDC’s HIV/AIDS center there, also managing grants. After 9/11 and the subsequent bioterrorism attacks, I worked with a CDC E.R. doc to help our Pacific territories – Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, etc. – develop emergency response plans. After meeting my future husband and moving to San Francisco to be with him, I joined FEMA’s office there and continued helping these territories and Native American tribes develop their emergency response plans. That job was interesting until Hurricane Katrina. But by then I was pregnant with my older son and left FEMA soon after he was born, because I was no longer willing or able to travel for up to nine months to disaster-stricken western states or territories, all part of the FEMA contract. I’m not currently working, but I’ve toyed with the idea of going back – either rejoining the federal workforce or maybe going the NGO/non-profit route. Right now, I’m keeping busy with my family and the Guatemala work!

Take Five Meet Parzick duffel bag

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During Parzick’s trip in 2016, she and her son Calvin were invited to bring their huge duffel bag of donations to a school. The principal at the time (in the white shirt) now works with physically and cognitively disabled kids. Parzick has been working with him to send appropriate educational games and gear, since he gets literally zero resources from the government.

Take Five Meet Parzick jog a thon

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Youngsters don Harbor View Elementary School jog-a-thon T-shirts they received four or five years ago from Parzick

Editor’s Note: Currently, there is no formal organization or website for Anne Parzick’s Guatemala efforts, but anyone interested in donating items, funds, providing a small storage space, or sponsoring a student can message her on Facebook or Nextdoor.

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Amy Senk is a long-time resident of Corona del Mar and a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.