Eye opening. Invaluable. A chance for reflection. These are the words I would use to describe my Preview trip to Guatemala.
Before setting out on the trip over spring break, my class was learning about the lifestyle, environment, and culture of Guatemala. All of our course readings and discussion, however, could not actually compare to the experience of being there. For five days, we lived and worked in Zacapa. At the end of the trip, we spent one day in Antigua to relax and do tourist things. While in Zacapa, I seized the opportunity to pursue my passion of wanting to help children.
Meeting hundreds of children in Guatemala was lovely and also overwhelming. We met children at daycares, schools, and in their homes, which were mostly in impoverished areas. We were able to help by donating school supplies, giving away food, and also reading books since they had so few. Having this experience, showed me that little things we devalue so much in the United States mean so much to others. I realized that children just simply like to play and receive attention. Sadly, most do not get that. Their fathers are forced to work long dangerous hours in fields picking melons. Their mothers have to spend time working as well; children grow up fast. They do not have time to play much because they soon have to help provide for their families, too. With that being said, I did realize I could help the little ones by blowing bubbles, hugging, teaching English words, or even just coloring with them for a while. They smiled and laughed so happily.
One of the hardest things during the trip was the language barrier. Luckily, before the trip, we were able to learn a few terms from one of our professors. While in Guatemala, she was a great support and translator. Observing her bilingual skills encouraged me to learn a new language. Despite the language barrier, the trip allowed me to immerse myself in another culture. By the end of the trip, I was no longer on the outside looking in.
I’m grateful for this experience. It allowed me and my classmates to dive into the Guatemalan culture headfirst. Since it was a service learning trip, we worked in public clinics with people who deal with many problems on a daily basis that could easily be solved if more resources were available. For example, children requiring special education often did not have a pencil or paper to write with. And, in places without clean water, the children and parents are consistently sick. With those details weighing heavily on our minds, we knew what we were doing was more important than ourselves. By the end of the trip, we had a common goal to give back anyway we could.