Great Experiences in Guatemala

On my second trip to Guatemala, I once again was filled with gratitude and love for the people of Guatemala.

Molly Conway, Print Managing Editor

Hoping off the plane in Guatemala spring break of my junior year, first time out of the country, knowing no Spanish, I was anxious, to say the least as I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. But after we arrived at the convent we would be staying in and went on a walk around the village, I instantly fell in love with the people and the place. My trip to the breathtaking mountainous village of San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala was without a doubt not only one of the highlights of my junior year, but my entire high school experience. From the moment the bus pulled away from the convent last March, I was already counting down the days until I got to go back this spring break.

The day I had been waiting for finally arrived, and instead of walking on the plane anxious like last year, I was ecstatic to get there and spend time with and help the people of Guatemala again. There were 41 students that went on the trip this year and it once again amazed me how just a few simple hours of our time literally could help transform their lives, and between all of us just how many people we were able to help.

While we were there we built chicken coops, concrete stoves and concrete floors for the families. We also put on a carnival for handicapped children, spent time at an orphanage for mentally and psychically handicapped children and attended the village women’s group meeting where they showed us traditional Guatemalan dances and how traditional Guatemalan foods are made. And while we were working on all of these projects we talked to the families and played with the kids.

The concrete stoves we built for the families drastically improve their way of life as beforehand most of them cook their food over a few sticks sitting on brick. The stoves we built for the families are made from concrete, brick and cinder blocks with a duct that led the smoke outside. With their old way of cooking, the smoke stayed inside their house which caused entire families terrible lung disease.

Spending time in Guatemala really helped put my life into perspective and showed me just how much I have to be thankful for in my daily life. The people of Guatemala get their water from rivers that are beyond polluted with trash and stray animals so the water is filled with so much bacteria that Americans can’t even drink it without it making us really sick. I didn’t realize how much I used water for in my daily life until I couldn’t flush the toilet, brush my teeth normally or take a warm shower, which are all things I take for granted at home.

The people of Guatemala are some of the most hopeful, beautiful, joyful, loving and thankful people I have ever met. They live on dirt floors under pieces of corrugated metal and have literally nothing, but yet they are the happiest and most generous people. One of the things that amazes me the most about the Guatemalan people is how much happiness and joy the simple things bring them. Things that seem so little to us such as a thing of bubbles, chalk or stickers seriously make their days and put the biggest smiles on their faces. Simply blowing bubbles and watching them try and pop them as they float up into the sky never gets old to them as they think the bubbles are the coolest thing in the world because they have never seen anything like them before.

At the house I was at to start the chicken coop project, the little girl I played with, Elliel, lit up with excitement with the simple gift of a sticker. Elliel lined her arms with stickers and beamed with excitement as she ran from my arms to go show her mom. The next day, when another group of girls went back to add the roof to the chicken coop, Elliel ran and got the dusty stickers from under her bed and tried to give them to the girls that came back to help finish the chicken coop. Hearing about their encounter with Elliel later that night melted my heart because after seeing the joy that the stickers brought her and how much she treasured them to see her then turn around a day later and try and give them to others just shows how generous and loving the kids in Guatemala are and just how content they are with how little they have.

The Guatemalans don’t have mirrors or cameras and so they have no way of seeing themselves or capturing memories of them and their families. Seeing the pure joy in the mother’s eyes after taking a polaroid picture of them and giving it to them is something that I will never forget. After taking a family picture for the family we built the concrete floor for, the mother cried as she went to get their family photo album that had 3 pictures in it to show me and put the picture I just took of her family in the album.

One of the most amazing things to me about the people of Guatemala is how easy it is to connect with them. I know little-to-no Spanish and even without being able to really talk to the kids, just after simply smiling, laughing and playing together for a few hours just how much I was able to bond and connect with them. At the school for mentally and psychically handicapped children, I played bingo and bubbles with a little girl there and she was really hard to understand and none of us were able to catch her name but we had the best time together just smiling with each other and playing games. As it was time to leave the school, I went and told her “adiós” and she hugged my legs as tight as her little body possibly could and she started to cry because she didn’t want me to leave. This moment was really special for me as it showed me how we can connect with others without even speaking to each other, which is truly special.

My time spent in Guatemala is something that I will never forget as not only did we help them better their lives but they really helped us too by helping us realize much we have to be thankful for in our daily lives and so much more. Even after two trips, saying goodbye to Guatemala and its beautiful people doesn’t get any easier. This trip and the people of Guatemala are truly one of a kind and I am already looking forward to the day when I get to go back again.