Greetings from the Summer Trip!
“Bienvenidos a Guatemala. All seats and tray tables need to be in their upright positions as we prepare for landing.” I opened the window shade and turned to the two participants who were seated next to me. “This is it guys. We’re here.” We watched in silence as the plane cut through the layer of white clouds to reveal a glimpse of the lush tropical landscape below. Thick brown rivers snaked through green mountains scattered with small towns and farms cleared and planted in patchwork rows. Despite being exhausted you could see the excitement in the eyes of the kids when the realized that after months of preparation, we had finally made it to Guatemala.
We breezed through customs and were welcomed with open arms by our Guatemalan staff. Our first order of business was to load all of the supply drive boxes onto the bus. We formed a line and everyone pitched in, then we drove straight to the cemetery and the Guatemala City Dump. After a short walk through the cemetery, we arrive at a cliff overlooking the dump. I missed this part of the Spring Trip, so like the participants it was my first time actually experiencing where garbage goes.
If you ever need to convince someone to recycle, just take them to the dump. It was a strange and terrible sight; a mile-wide pit of refuse rife with vultures, wild dogs, and saddest of all, actual people. There were many people who, unable to find other occupations, ran along side the yellow trucks to have first pick of the newly dumped trash. And the garbage seemed endless. I counted no less than 80 trucks lined up to deliver more, and behind those were more trucks stretched beyond the limits of my eyesight. Mario shared with us that the people we were watching spent their days and in some cases their lives picking through trash for sellable items. It was hard to imagine enduring the stench for more than the few minutes we were
there…and that was from the cliffs above. What must it feel like to be down there in the middle of it, surrounded by waste? Even before we made it to the GV office to meet up with our homestay families, we were already engaged in a serious discussion about poverty and the racial politics of where garbage gets dumped.
By the end of the first day I found myself deep in thought and thoroughly impressed with this group. Despite the lack of sleep, everyone maintained a positive attitude and seemed eager to dive in to the adventure. Now it’s day five. We’ve ventured into Antigua, started our work teams and gotten a chance to get acquainted with our homestay families. We also visited Segunda Cruz, a small town where GV built a school five years ago, where we met with local families and teachers and saw some of the end results of other trips.
I’ve been in awe of how much leadership I’ve seen in this group. When I ask for volunteers there are always more than enough to complete the task. They work together and no one complains, even when the rain soaks through their ponchos. Yesterday when we visited the Mayan Cultural Arts Center four students chose to translate during the presentation. They even worked out a rotation so that they were able to distribute the job evenly. It’s been amazing, but don’t take my word for it.
Here is a bit more about the experience from the eyes of the participants as recorded in their Leader of the Day Journals:
“It didn’t really hit me that we were going to Guatemala until we were on the bus in Guatemala. Other people were getting excited at the Seattle Airport. Guatemala is so beautiful. Everything is so different. The rain reminds me of Seattle. The bus ride to our homestays was very fun. We danced for a while. The town seems so small and packed in.”
“Our homestay is also very beautiful. You walk through a black garage like door into a courtyard. All the rooms are off the courtyard. They have so little compared to Americans,but they have all they need. Spanish is the hard part. There are so many words. I don’t know. I want to get better and I know I will.”
“Attempting to lead a rowdy group of 40 teenagers is pretty hectic. Especially after they’ve experienced a 4 hour red eye flight from Seattle to Houston. It takes a lot to be a leader. I definitely found myself struggling multiple times.”
“Our host family is the cutest, nicest family I’ve ever met! Regardless of the language barrier for me, I found little problem falling in love with the three little gris, Daniela, Andrea, and Fatimal. Their obsession with Dora, Disney Princesses, and iCarly is the most adorable thing in the world! I love my family so far. Overall, it was a good first day! I’m excited for the rest of the trip!”
“The next most exciting thing was the ride up the mountain in the pick-ups. I was so impressed we only had one pick up get stuck because we were driving around mini canyons in the ground. The bumpiness however did not detract from the gorgeous view. When we got high enough we could see the tops of the surrounding hills which hosted beautiful farmland (corn I think), a small glassy lake, and trees that looked like palm trees. Now finally, onto the highlight of the day: The families and the school. I have so much respect for everyone involved in building and running the school ‘la escuela’, but despite the gratitude of all of these people for the GV students, I didn’t feel like all my fundraising efforts was connected at all until we were personally welcomed into our family’s home. It broke my heart when our father kept reiterating that he did no have much to give: ‘I don’t even have chairs for you to sit on.” My heart was screaming that’s not the important thing. The family had offered their hospitality and shown us the strength of their character, so what more could we ask for. There were 8 people in our family living in 1 small room. It was awkward, but when a few of us explained that only 2-4 people lived in our houses. I was sad the mother didn’t talk at all and I still wonder why. She said a few words when I shook her small hand, but I mean I wanted to know her story. It touched my heart and re-opened my eyes when I saw how hungrily the family ate and drank. I wonder how often they get to eat.”
“I really enjoyed the Mayan Cultural Arts Center today. This really helped me learn more about Guatemala as a whole. Yesterday I saw some of the economical problems Guatemalans face and today I saw some of the political problems Guatemalans, especially Mayan’s face. Discrimination is one the world’s worst traits. It has brought down many cultures all around the world. And even though in some places things are being done to stop it, it is still growing. I can’t help but think about why people feel the need to put others or things that are different down. It saddens me to know that so many people feel the need to do this all over the world. I t sometimes feels like all the effort put into it is pointless. Why not use the energy taken to put someone or something down to do something nice for others. This has all taught me to not discriminate against others based on appearance and difference. I can only control my words and hopefully others will do the same.”
“On the other hand I really enjoyed the wedding and shopping. It was great to learn more about the Mayan Culture. I think it is great that they are trying hard to protect and keep their culture. Although the rain sucked, I really enjoyed walking to the church and seeing what it was like. The church was really beautiful.”
If you would like to see pictures and videos from the trip, I will be attempting to upload them to the GV blog. Please be patient, as the internet connection here doesn’t always have the bandwidth to support large uploads. Take care.
PS. Thanks to the parents who wrote with birthday reminders…there will be cake and singing and all sorts of lovely silliness!