Our first day under the Guatemalan sun was nothing short of amazing. It began with breakfast at the hotel, including coffee from the region that tasted like no other. Mr. Williams went so far as to say that the coffee transported him right back to his last trip to the country. This cultural day was also spent exploring the cobblestone streets, which are such a significant characteristic of Antigua, while eating new foods, admiring, and observing. We hiked up to the top of a hill overlooking Antigua that offered an optimal view of the volcano.
Our group found the citizens of the town particularly friendly. Unlike what one might find at a resort in Mexico, the vendors we encountered did not act in an overwhelming manner. If you weren’t looking to make a purchase, then they would simply nod and continue on their way as they welcomed you or wished you a nice day. Even if we just said, “Gracias,” or “Buenos dìas,” the locals showed their appreciation of our efforts with a smile. This appreciation of others – the acceptance of all individuals regardless of their monetary means – was also evident in the togetherness of people. This necessary sense of community exists in Antigua at a degree that developed countries will never truly comprehend. Selfless, connected, open-minded, and kind are other traits that can easily be associated with these people. The bright colours of buildings, objects, clothing, and so on are remarkably refreshing and optimistic in relation to the state of poverty that exists here. Similarly, the people of Antigua give the impression that living colourfully and with joy is about mindset more so than circumstance.
As we enjoyed our dinner, something that our guide, Tricia, said stood out to me. Mr. Williams had pointed out how much of a character Rosie is. She didn’t understand what he meant, and so Tricia went on to explain to her that a character is a unique or interesting person and we should make a point of filling our lives with these sorts of beings. In my opinion, this rule of thumb is what likely contributes to the beauty, happiness, and simplicity we can see in the eyes of the residents of Guatemala.
May 16, 2016
Day two in this beautiful country brought new faces, new communities, and new perspectives. After breakfast at Fernando's we made our way by bus to the headquarters of Ecofiltro, which is a water filtration social business that provides clean water to as many residents as possible, and we met with its founder and CEO, Philip Wilson. He told us his story about the process by which he concluded that he wanted to improve living conditions for his fellow citizens.
It was easy to deduce that the key to living a successful life is finding a purpose in helping those around you. In other words, the way to leave your legacy is not through mass wealth, but instead through the impact you make on others. “When you realize you have more yesterdays than tomorrows, that’s when you start thinking about your legacy.” As I reflect on Phillip’s words, I remind myself to begin thinking about my legacy before I reach that point he described. After spending time reading and drawing with the children or helping to build a kitchen with Teresa, the incredibly selfless genius behind Open Windows Foundation, which we are serving here, I believe that these kids and this community are truly going to remember us and our impact.
This first glimpse of the neighbouring town San Miguel Duenas ended with lots of smiling faces and BH girls waving: “¡Hasta luego!” (“See you later!”)
May 17, 2016
Today consisted of the option to paint or go off to a job site. I chose to remain at Open Windows to help paint poles along the streets near Teresa’s building. It was such a wonderfully therapeutic, creative way to spend a morning! We began by painting the poles white, and then went on to design vibrant scenes of the beach, a library, flowers, butterflies, and more. As enjoyable as this was, from my perspective, it seemed like a minor form of service in comparison to the day’s events at the worksite. Although I only heard about this work second-hand, I was very moved to hear of the passing of a teenage girl in the community. The girls who were at the worksite delivered coffee and other goods to her sobbing family. She took her own life because her mother no longer had the means to pay for her education. Rosie pointed out that the money she needed could have easily been covered by the cost of lunch at Stella’s.
We were all emotional for different reasons today, and I know for certain that my own are somewhat one-of-a-kind. Someone pointed out that the most memorable part of her day was the gladness of the family we were building for, seeing our progress. We were reminded that no matter how near or far from home we wander, people are people capable of feeling the same range of emotions. Another heartwarming part of the day was a Facebook post made by one of the residents who drives by every day. She complimented our work on the poles, expressing her gratitude, as she is well aware of the development that this town is in need of and deserves. Ms McGill noted that her tone evoked a feeling of surprise that outsiders were more than willing to help to the best of their abilities. Experiencing the good and the bad that inevitably comes with a meaningful life, we often question the extent of our care.
Today we learned the value of always remaining humble and kind.
May 18, 2016
This morning Ms McGill had the great idea of exposing the rest of the group to the reality of the worksite. I knew that this family’s home wouldn’t be much to look at; however, the poverty I witnessed first-hand was eye-opening. Truly, the family we were building for is living in dirt, and what is their kitchen is smaller than my bathroom at home. The few toys that the children had were always falling onto the ground where a few dogs and chickens were also living. Interestingly, though a child in Canada is likely to become very ill after putting filthy toys in his or her mouth, the children of Guatemala have much stronger immune systems, allowing them to handle their (often unsanitary) living conditions. The day definitely involved giving our best efforts in getting our hands dirty, as evidenced by the cargo pants that were (and still are) covered in cement and paint.
Today, I felt invigorated by my hard work. We experienced the appreciation of meeting the needs of others. After all, isn’t this what life is all about? According to Rupi Kaur, it’s “who you loved / and how deeply you loved them / how you touched the people around you / and how much you gave them.”
May 19, 2016
Although every day here in Guatemala is one we make count, today we displayed our diligence creatively by finishing the painting. We also had the opportunity to play basketball and soccer with youth from neighbouring schools. As cliché as this may sound, it is always magical to see how a sport or a half hour of fun connects people who speak different languages or come from different backgrounds.
What is the first thing you would tell your family upon your return? This question was asked during today’s rooftop reflection, and I think our answers are worth recording. On behalf of the whole group, I will say that we thank our parents for this opportunity to be part of this mission. Some girls shared that they would apologize for the times they acted in a less than grateful or loving manner. I thank my parents for my childhood – the foundation of who I have become. I am beyond blessed by time spent with my family. Their unconditional love for me shines by means of constant communication, as well as my feelings of trust. Like most young adults, as I grow older my knowledge of the world – especially, my range of opinions – grows too. Various experiences are beginning to shape me above all else. As I observe the effects of malnutrition, for instance, I am particularly appreciative of how I have spent the simplest years of my life.
May 20, 2016
This final day in San Miguel Duenas was certainly a lovely one. We visited to a coffee plantation where migrant workers stay from November to June. Again, a lot of people live in a relatively small space alongside dogs and chickens. We also visited a cemetery; an extremely interesting site considering how unlike our own funeral homes they are. There are flowers everywhere you turn, and no grave is quite like the next. For a cemetery, it felt lively to me. Teresa even pointed out where her family rests. Later, we had the pleasure of building kites with the children as our final activity. The room filled with smiles, hugs, and more than a few tears as Teresa had prepared a small celebration to thank us for leaving this incredible community a bit better than we found it. It seemed fitting to end our time at Open Windows Foundation the same way we had begun: “¡Hasta luego!” (“See you later!”)
What actions, small or big, will you take upon your return to Canada following what you have experienced in Guatemala? Many of our responses to this rooftop reflection indicated a desire to spread awareness while encouraging others to practise selflessness as often as possible following the eight days we spent in Central America. Furthermore, I have the following ideas.
I want to continue improving my Spanish, as communicating with people from around the world is one of travel’s most enriching opportunities.
I would be interested in looking into a project similar to Ecofiltro that could provide clean water to First Nations communities in Canada that are also facing adversity.
I will make an even greater effort to smile at or say hello to people I encounter. Sometimes something as simple yet sincere as that can make a difference.
Most importantly, I will be sure to remember. It is far too easy to get caught up in superficial things. I’d like to think a part of me will remain in the hearts of the people I aided. That being said, I will keep them in mind every time I complain or find myself feeling greedy.
Lastly, I will further my knowledge of what sort of work to participate in someday regarding my studies in psychology in relation to the malnutrition centre we visited. A chance to benefit these patients (or students) would allow me to incorporate travel in my work, which has been a dream of mine always.
May 21, 2016
May long weekend should be spent at the lake, am I right? Needless to say, the serenity of nearby Lake Atitlan took my breath away. Following a memorable boat ride, we visited a women’s cotton-making co-op. It was impressive to hear about the lengthy process required to make string, dye it, and then weave it in order to create the various products for sale. It also felt wonderful to make a few purchases in an attempt to contribute to local economic development. Personally, this was especially satisfying; I have been working on a large project throughout the school year on the topic of consumerism and its relation to psychology (particularly, becoming a better global consumer) in Global Issues 40S.
May 23, 2016
I am sitting on the plane. I say I am going home, but I am determined to continue making the bones in my body the only home I need. Prior to this adventure, I tasted parts of life that led me to forget the difference between love and hate. I may not be living on a dirt floor or starving or being denied an education, but there have been days when being fully alive was the least of my interests. Pain is relative; there is no denying that fact. No matter where we live, the best things to hold on to are hope and each other. Some time ago, I learned the hard way that “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all / the opposite of love is indifference.” This is a lyric from the song “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers. I cannot even begin to imagine how much less impactful my contribution to this service learning experience might have been if I was incapable of sensitivity, empathy, and concern. Right now I am about 36,000 feet above the ground, and I am pleased to report that travel really is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.