YOGO – or, You Only Go to Guatemala Once

By Reagan Jackson, GV Program Manager

I admit that when the day finally came, I was pretty stressed out to be herding my fourth group of eager teenagers through four airports and two sets of customs.  But as the last supply drive box was loaded on top of the fancy red chicken bus, I breathed a sigh of relief.  We had finally made it to Guatemala.  From there, the road was more or less familiar…

I was armed with a minute by minute itinerary of everything we would do over the next 15 days as well as a map of San Miguel Escobar denoting every homestay family.  Having accompanied previous groups, I felt comfortable and confident that together with the Guatemalan staff, we would be able to provide the robust, transformative experience we promised during all those school presentations and Info Nights last September.

In retrospect, I believe we were able to do just that.  But as usual, things did not go exactly as I had imagined.  I keep trying to find the way to articulate what was so different about this trip.  I hesitate to compare it to my previous trips because though we did many of the same activities, such as visiting the dump and volunteering on our work teams, the trip (well, really the entire program) is more than its mere components, but rather something that is co-created by its participants.  The Spring Program participants reflect a unique and beautiful blend of diverse personalities and experiences of individuals who’ve chosen to create something very special.

There are so many stories, so many small victories and major revelations that I find it difficult to explain. I could tell you about Sam, a kid I once thought of as shy, who ended up infecting the entire group with the YOGO (you only Guatemala once) philosophy and how this pushed everyone to try new things.  I could tell you about gorging on cake and ice cream with Annie and Rita during the Antigua tour, or about how Mary-Anne always sang and led her work team in games, or how Stacey spoke so beautifully about her experience in the Hospital that I almost cried.  Or I could tell you about trading poems with Devin and Nava.  Or about Lupe, who was so eager to translate that she sometimes translated Spanish to Spanish or English to English.  Or Steve, who makes the funniest faces ever and still can never seem to get all the way through Redemption Song on the guitar.  But these are all just pieces that add up to create something greater than their sum.

Throughout the trip, the Spring participants created and re-created community.  They worked hard and played harder.  They drew their Chapin counterparts into the fold. They held one another accountable for participating in discussions.  They passed each other Kleenex and held hands with people who were feeling homesick or overwhelmed by something they had learned or experienced.  Work teams created get well soon cards for people with upset stomachs.  There was an attitude of “what can I do to make this a great trip?”

Chris Fontana always says that it is each person’s responsibility to make sure that everyone else “gets it”.  And that is exactly what this group did.  My experience is that this was a trip filled with compassion, honesty, humility, a great deal of reflection, new found friendships, learning and fun.  It was a trip that really connected me in a new way to our mission, because I returned to the States feeling more empowered and privileged to have gotten to know such a special group of people.

I came back really feeling like not only did they “get it”, but that I did too.

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