June 29th, 2013
By Marita Phelps, Global Visionaries Program Manager
On a typical morning, like today in San Miguel Escobar, one would hear various types of birds singing among rooster crowings, firework explosions here and there celebrating birthdays, and the cathedral bells that fill the town each hour of the day. Mostly cloudy, the sun will shine for several hours and heavy rain has been normal in the late afternoons and evenings. Today the group visited the Maya ruins at Iximche in Tecpan which was a change of pace and scenery from the work week. Usually, students will go to their prospecive work sites in the mornings, have a siesta or break at home with their families in the afternoon, go to school and then come together as a whole with the group for salsa or reflection.
There were many breakthroughs throughout the work week. One of the most popular was “the language barrier.” Most students soon found language was not a barrier at all, especially with the help of their teachers at school. One student said:
“It was very validating to have a two hour conversation with a native speaker and I immediately felt so comfortable, as my many language barrier worries floated away.”
Students have shown positive leadership by becoming quickly immersed into the culture, stepping out of their comfort zones and making an effort to connect with Guatemalans regardless of how much spanish they previously knew.
Many students are working harder than they ever have in their lives, especially since more than half of the students are doing physical labor. Working at these sites gives the students a chance to see how most of the world makes a living as well as the strength and resilience it takes to get through day after day. In order for youth to properly lead the world towards a just and sustainable future it helps for them to experience global injustices first! Working with the Chapines, or the Guatemalan student counterparts, is one of the most important parts of the cultural immersion experience. This is one of the many ways the US students, or gringos, learn how to work side by side with other youth to seek alternative and innovative approaches to the problems facing their generation. A student from the reforestation team said:
“It was pretty satisfying to hear that we had planted over 300 trees, and not one complaint while doing so, I was really proud of everybody on the reforestation team for several reasons. One of these reasons was that nobody complained about the very long and steep hike to the worksite, and everyone volunteered to carry something. I was also really proud of our workteam because when I looked around there were gringos working with chapines. There weren’t two separate groups. Everyone was working and talking together.”
We have had several reflections thus far and there are several more to come. In the first reflection, which happened in workteams, it was obvious that there was a lot on everyone’s mind but perhaps not enough words to articulate those thoughts and feelings. Although reluctant, some shared and others just listened deeply nodding in agreeance at their peers experience. By the first large group reflection, more than half of the particpants offered their insight about their time in Guatemala. A mixed bag of emotions like sadness, appreciation, anger, and empathy, caused many of them to cry. Some admitted that they had never before been so introspective or emotionally intelligent as they have been here and now. A hospital student said:
“After everyday here I grow more homesick because being here makes me so appreciative of what I have at home. And I wish I could see my mom and daddy to tell them exactly how thankful I am for everything they’ve done and sacrificed simply so can have the best life and the endless opportunities I have now.”
As we reach the end of our time here in Guatemala, the vast inner growth of each student leader shines outwardly and yet there is still much to gain and growth to witness even in the last days.