We are Changed! Guatemala 2014

¡Estamos cambiadas! – We are changed!
Por Angela, Gr. 10

Watch the Guatemala video below.

Maeli and Angela, Gr. 10
Maeli and Angela, Gr. 10

This past spring break, I experienced the most eye-opening and life-changing trip of my life! Along with 11 other YHS students from Grades 10 and 11, Señora Marte, Ms. Kaddage, and I travelled to Tecán, Guatemala, where we spent ten days.

To be honest, my expectations were heavily influenced by the common misconceptions of developing countries. However, my actual experiences and discoveries were very different from my expectations. I find that it’s easy to see suffering, and then make monetary donations from a genuine wish to help those in need. However, while on this service trip, I discovered that there is a vast gap between viewing/donating and experiencing/supporting.

When we first arrived in Guatemala, the airport was very humid and although the group was tired, we all were excited to see the sights. Unfortunately, it was quite late so we headed to the Barcelo hotel where we rested for a night before driving to Project Somos. During the drive to the Project, I saw many old and plain buildings. All of the cars were old as well and at first glance, nothing seemed to be particularly special. However, the weather was beautiful, and the people walking on the streets were fascinating to me. I saw many young children in school uniforms walking in groups during their lunch break. Although they might have been as little as six years old, they all seemed very independent. We saw a young boy trying to sell flowers on the street, without a school uniform. It was clear to me that the lives these children lead were vastly different than my own and I was curious to know if they were in any way less successful or happy.

YHS in Guatemala
YHS in Guatemala

During the four days our group spent at the Project, I slept in a white tent on a platform. Inside, there were four beds and… lots of bugs. Sleeping was a bit of a challenge as I found a scorpion on my pillow on the first night! However, I soon got over it and found the nights a perfect time to reflect on the day and talk with friends. In the mornings, we would have delicious, healthy, traditional Guatemalan meals and then spend the afternoon helping around the Project. I worked on sanding and varnishing the playground facilities and also helped with digging the foundation for a library. Other jobs included housework and stuccoing a dorm building.

The YHS group was very fortunate to be on site for the first ever move-in of two Guatemalan families! Both families were living in very poor circumstances as both were comprised of single mothers trying to raise between three and four children. All of us spent hours every day playing with them and trying to chat with them in Spanish. To me, communication made all the difference! Maeli, a four-year-old I just fell in love with, chattered super quickly to me in Spanish everyday. Thankfully I’m taking Spanish classes so I quickly began improving and found myself able to carry full conversations with her after two days!

Maeli really made a powerful impact on me. Although her sixteen-year-old brother had died Christmas Day of 2013, she was still a bright, inquisitive, and brave kid. The first thing she did when she arrived at Project Somos was run to the playground slide and throw herself down it! I ran to join her and for three days, it was incessant sliding; she never got tired of it! From Maeli’s story, I’ve realized that truly, it is not circumstance that defines a person, but their attitude. When we held a community day for all the local children, I met many more just like Maeli in poor living conditions, but with attitudes just as strong as hers. When we walked those children home, two girls asked to hold my hand and when they reached their home, they waved their hands at me to get me to bend down. They kissed me on either cheek and then grinned before running inside. I think I stood in shock for a few seconds and then began grinning myself. It’s hard to put down everything that’s happened to me at Project Somos, but the only thing that I can say is, I will never forget this trip!

After a tearful goodbye, we left Project Somos and headed to Lake Atitlan where we spent two days. On the first day, we attended a workshop where we got to experience the long process of weaving with threads from natural dyes. It was a tiring process that began with collecting plants for the dye colours. Then, they are crushed and boiled in hot water before threads are soaked into them. Afterwards, when they are dried, the women spend many hours organizing and sorting the threads so they can be weaved. Rugs, scarves, traditional clothing and much more can be made from these backstrap looms. Women tie one end of the loom around a post and the other end around their waist as they kneel on the ground and weave. The experience was interesting but also exhausting, which made me better appreciate all the handwoven textiles I bought while on the trip!

By this time, many in the group were beginning to experience the first signs of Traveller’s Diarrhea and it became a group struggle for the remainder of the trip. Nevertheless, many amazing sights and experiences stole my attention and distracted me from the problem! Our next stop was the huge market in Chichicastenango. In groups, we explored and bartered our way through the market, practicing our Spanish! The crowded and colourful market was packed with many Guatemalan textiles and crafts. After all the bartering and souvenir shopping, we ate a quick lunch and then began our long drive to Antigua. These road trips were perfect for siestas!

Antigua is an old and colourful town and our last hotel was a beautiful place to rest after an exhausting trip! The next morning, we woke up at 5AM (to the dismay of all the girls in the group!) and drove to volcano Pacaya. We spent half our day hiking and cautiously walking across volcanic rock. We also got to roast marshmallows from the volcanic steam before returning to our hotel. After lunch, we did a bit of last minute souvenir shopping before eating dinner and packing for home!

Although I returned home exhausted and in need of a long shower, my experience at Project Somos was amazing! Through this service trip, my eyes have been opened to the perseverance of families in rural Guatemala and their beautiful personalities. In addition to making monetary donations to organizations, I hope to continue volunteering and meeting the people I wish to support, face to face! It has made all the difference in both my life and hopefully theirs as well.

When can I go back?! 🙂
Angela, Gr. 10

View Señora Marte’s Guatemala Blog.
Watch the girls reconnect with the women and children they met at Project Somos in this heartwarming Skype call.

Project Somos Front Page News
Señora Marte and Taneisha, Gr. 11, were interviewed for an article that appeared on the front page of The Province this past weekend: click here to read the story.

Watch the video with highlights from the Guatemala Trip:

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