Saludos desde San Miguel,The last few days have been very chill. The night rains have made for great sleep. Saturday we had the coffee tour, where my work team was able to talk about what they’d learned about the process of growing, harvesting and selling coffee. Then in the afternoon we shared an excellent group reflection followed by some gorgeous poetry which I hope will become a part of the first ever GV poetry anthology. We have a few sick kids, there is a cold going around and of course some stomach issues, but nothing serious that can’t be cured by sleep and plain rice. Sunday the group went to the ruins of Iximche everyone seems in good spirits.
As you know, each year a few students from Youth Board are selected to become junior leaders. They attend some culture nights and the retreat and they work with Mary Dalton and myself to learn about what GV leadership requires. Then they accompany us on the trip as facilitators. This trip I am privileged to be working with Erica, Emma, and Lena. I’ve asked them each to write a little something so you could see the trip through their eyes:
Emma: I first traveled to Guatemala with GV three years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. When I first found out that I would be returning this year as a student leader, I was overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness; the only way I knew how to organize my emotions was to treat this year’s trip as an experiment. Like any good lab test, I had controlled and manipulated variables (I chose to again work on the Café work team, but I was three years older), a guiding question (“How will I respond to the exact same information for a second time?”), and what I believed was a firmly cemented hypothesis (“I will respond the exact same way, possibly/probably more mildly than before.”) Although I was thrilled for the backbreaking farm work, longed to expand my Spanish knowledge, and yearned for the self-transformation I had undergone three years earlier, I generally expected that this trip wouldn’t force me out of a well-groomed comfort zone for a second time. In fact, I was confident that I’d already broken any such zone.
Immediately upon our arrival in Guatemala, I knew I had been naïve and self-absorbed in my theories about this trip. It wasn’t at all easy to herd the group from gate to baggage claim to bus, actions that only required clear directions. I suddenly found myself unsure of how to balance being a friend and an enforcer, nervous around the group and fumbling with my directions. This was going to be so much harder than I thought.
More than my internal, melodramatic “action!” campaigns about local farming and innate imperialism, I’ve learned so much from this group of participants. I never thought I’d be softly encouraging rather than yelling at people to get work done. I never thought I’d receive a piece of information I didn’t question and criticize. This group is never cynical, never overly heady about everything they’re learning – they stay positive and upbeat; at the core they’re just an extraordinarily caring, inclusive group. I feel so honored to have worked with all of them, especially those on my work team, shout out to Café, for being so happy while working so hard. I had always thought the two were mutually exclusive.
In sum, I can’t believe how wrong I was two weeks ago when I assumed this trip would affect me the same way it did last time. And in wondering why my hypothesis was so far off, I’ve found that I conveniently left the people out of the equation. Somehow I overlooked that by being with different people, I’d learn something beautiful and new from each of them. I have been so, so shaken by this experience-by the language, the information, the work, the Guatemalan people, by yes, the food, but mostly by the kids-and I am infinitely lucky to have travelled this spring with GV. This time, I’m not dreading returning home because “my parents aren’t as nice as my homestay family,” or “my friends won’t understand.” This time I’m empowered to return more patient and focused on the love I need to repair.
Erica: I was so ready to just to go back to Guatemala. When I found out that I was going back in September, I was looking forward to it and would think about it almost every single day. My responsibility as a Junior Leader was nothing like I imagined it to be. I thought I would just be another facilitator of the group and have the privilege of experiencing that same things that I got to experience last year as a participant. But little did I know this trip would become another great growing experience for me.
I find myself being shaped by the whole experience once again, though in ways that I didn’t expect. On my first day in the hospital, I was scared because the last time we went to the hospital I cried my eyes out. It was so hard for me, but as a leader I knew had to be brave in order to help my group do their best. So I encouraged them to take risks and I let go of my own fear so that they would let go of theirs and soon we were all working with patients and it just felt so good to know I helped create their positive experiences.
By the participants that I’ve witnessed grow, the chapines I’ve connected with, the staff I’ve gotten closer to and just being moved by the simple things here in Guatemala. Knowing my potential as a participant and just being able to lead this year has given me more that I could have ever expected. Not only has working in the hospital stretched my comfort zone once again, leading the participants, both the gringos and the chapines has allowed me to learn more about myself and allowed me to blossom in so many other ways. I love being able to plead them and mentor them and know that they are going to be the ones that will make our community and even this world a better place. I absolutely love it here.
Especially with it being my senior year, it’s nice to be reminded of how much I’ve grown because of being a part of GV. GV has had such a great influence in my life and I know for a fact I would not be the young empowered passionate woman I am today. Going to Guatemala once more has not only reminded me that this once in a lifetime experience is worth so much, but it has also allowed me to rediscover myself once again and is the center of my inspiration to step up and leave a positive mark in this world.
Lena: As excited as I was to return to Guatemala, the place where I had experienced the 15 most fun and meaningful days of my life, I could not ignore the nerves I was feeling before the trip. Even the first night in Guatemala, after a stressful travel day, I went to bed nervous for the weeks ahead. I felt so much pressure to exceed the expectations of the adult leaders and to make this a smooth, enjoyable experience for everyone. Yet I was not sure how to accomplish this. After the first full day, however, my worried had been put to rest, and I felt infinitely more confident and excited for the next day. With each day that passed, I grew more inspired and motivated by the group, by what we were learning, and by the memories we were all creating. Construction was hard work from day one, but my team kept up the positive energy and worked through the hot sun.
Communication with the chapines on our team also seemed to improve every day until we were all laughing together and playing jokes on one another. I was no longer nervous for each work day, but excited to work hard and see what memories will be made. But by the time the weekend arrived, I think everyone, gringo and chapine alike, needed some time to sleep and rest.
On Saturday, we had an interesting tour of the process of producing coffee followed by a beautiful poetry session. Then, on Sunday, all of the gringos and chapines headed to the Mayan ruins of Iximche where we learned about the Guatemalan Civil War and spent time relaxing and bonding with one another. Monday was another relaxing day; in the afternoon we watched a documentary about the Guatemalan Civil War then held a conversation about US imperialism. For me, and for many of the other participants, these three days were an important time to think critically about the injustices in Guatemala and our role in the world as US citizens.
With five full days ahead of us, this experience is far from over. But I can already feel the impact that this experience is having on me. I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to return to Guatemala a second time and to be able to experience these 15 days with a truly amazing group of young people. One of my favorite parts of this journey has been witnessing the transformations of the participants.
Just to name a few, Izet has stepped way beyond her comfort zone and shows no hesitance to dance in the bus, to translate a lesson into Spanish for the group, or to strike up conversations with chapines. Aside from that, she works unbelievably hard at the construction site. Thomas has also amazed me: with each day, he tries harder and harder to speak Spanish and make connections with the chapines. It is clear in our group reflections that he has been very impacted by his experience so far and is thinking critically about the problems he has witnessed. These are only two examples of the changes I have seen. Every single participant has blossomed and grown in ways that I never expected. It has been inspiring and thought provoking to see the experience of the participants from a leader’s perspective. I have great faith in the abilities of every student on this program, and I cannot wait to see what further transformations the final days of the trip will bring.