NAES Principal Russell Joins Educators and Employees from Across North America Recently Returned from a Trip to Guatemala to Build a School Out of Recycled Plastic Bottles

Lifetouch, the leader in professional photography for schools and families, completed its last Lifetouch Memory Mission trip with another visit to Guatemala where 40 educators, and company employees, from across the country volunteered to help build a sustainable school out of plastic bottles from January 17-24, 2024.

Since 2000 the Lifetouch Memory Mission has been serving children, families, and communities around the world. The philanthropic initiative has enabled company employees and national education partners to travel worldwide to provide intensive volunteer services. Over the twenty years, trips have included helping to rebuild a village in war-torn Kosovo, repairing homes in Appalachia, establishing a children’s center in Jamaica, and constructing a bridge in the land of the Navajo in Arizona. Memory Mission volunteers have also built schools across Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This year’s trip was to the community of Xepatan in the state of Chimaltenango and included building three new bottle classrooms that are now added to eleven classrooms serving more than 335 students.

Gwyn Russell, principal of New Albany Elementary School, participated in the Lifetime Memory Mission Trip and represented NAESP’s National Distinguished Principals.

“I’m grateful that Lifetouch had the vision and commitment to launch the Lifetouch Memory Mission and continue it for more than twenty years,” said Jan Haeg, Community Relations Manager at Lifetouch. “The Memory Mission has positively impacted thousands of lives – especially the lives of the more than 600 volunteers who have gone through life-changing experiences while helping communities in need throughout the world.”

A Partnership with Hug It Forward For Sustainable Building

Lifetouch once again partnered with Guatemala-based “Hug It Forward” and the local community to build a school consisting of “bottle classrooms.” Hug It Forward has been building educational infrastructures using plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash or eco-bricks since 2009. Bottle classrooms are built using the established method of post-and-beam construction. The foundations, columns, and beams are made from concrete reinforced with iron rebar. Instead of cinder blocks, the eco-bricks are used to fill the wall. The schools are expected to last 100 years.

“This trip was phenomenal in so many ways. Everyone was fully present and ready to serve, learn, and be inspired,” Haeg said.  “While it was bittersweet because it was our last Mission Trip, it was so impactful because of the lives that we have positively influenced.”

 First-Ever Personal Portrait Day for Students

In addition to building the school, volunteers also delivered personal portraits to the community’s K-6th grade school children. The photos, which were the first-ever portraits taken within this community, were delivered in person on the last day of the mission trip.

24 Years of Memory Mission Service Included:

  • Nine destinations around the world
  • 6,000 days of service
  • More than 100,000 volunteer hours
  • More than 600 volunteers from 49 states and five Canadian Provinces
  • Delivery of more than 6,000 students and family portraits