Jan Townsend’s retirement has seen the focus of her efforts directed far from her home in the Canadian Rockies.

In 2001, Townsend’s marriage ended and she experienced health concerns. The deeply devout woman searched for a valuable way to contribute her time. Townsend found her inspiration during her first trip to Guatemala.

“The poverty there was so tremendous,” recalls Townsend. “Seeing children who were not receiving an education , seeing women who were suffering from domestic abuse and poverty.”

“Such humble people who had nothing but appreciated life.”

Upon her return to Canada, Townsend established the Hearts & Hands Foundation.

Since 2004, Townsend has been heading teams of volunteers travelling to Guatemala to work with the impoverished Mayan aboriginals. The group installs stoves made of stones in homes where meals had been prepared over open fires.

The charitable foundation has built schools and created scholarships to allow Mayan children the opportunity to receive an education.

“The system in Guatemala is so bad,” explained Townsend. “It is 17th from the bottom in the world in quality of education.”

“I work in the rural communities where even the ministry of education puts very little money, very little material, very little into the education.”

Bonnie Nelson, a retired Calgary school teacher, has accompanied Townsend on three trips to Guatemala. “Every time I go I’m more inspired.

The Hearts and Hands Foundation has developed books so the Mayan children can learn to read in their own language before transitioning to Spanish.

For all she does for the Mayan people of Guatemala, Jan Townsend is this week’s Inspiring Albertan.

With files from CTV's Darrel Janz