Tag Archives: inspiration

Summer Immersion Update – From Naomi!

Coming into this experience I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what it would entail, but I feel as though I’m starting to catch on more. Working in the hospital again this year has been incredible. To be honest, I feel as though it has almost been a bit harder this year. For the first two days that we spent in the hospital, I found myself leaving with a sense of panic. I kept on feeling as though I had no time to spend with the patients and the friends I had created last year and also make time to create new connections. Last year I left here with the idea of applying to Youth Board, which provided me with the small sense of hope that I might return. This year, though, I realize that it would be very difficult, if even possible, to return in the coming years and visit my friends in the hospital, which is a terrifying and sad thought.

Things have been really great though overall and I’m still a bit overwhelmed and astonished that I’m actually back here. Leading is definitely more exhausting than I could ever have imagined. I feel like the Junior Leaders have many behind the scenes responsibilities, which are difficult to notice from the outside, so I don’t have a perfect image to replicate. Many of the responsibilities and tasks we have are fairly simple and would be quickly accomplished by one person, but in the effort to foster teamwork, we delegate different parts of the job to different people. It is very important and provides the participants with an opportunity to practice their leadership skills. It is just a much more tiring process when you have to delegate, check in, confirm that the job was completed, and reflect for each individual task. It absolutely pays off, though, when you see someone that was once shy and timid share, open up to the group, and blossom in the work they are doing and people they are interacting with. It really is incredible. I can’t wait to see how other develop as well.

-Naomi Rothenberg (Mercer Island High School Class of 2016, incoming first year student at Willamette University)

“A Letter to Our Readers: GV and Me” By Samrawit Zeinu

A Letter to Our Readers: GV and Me

By Samrawit Zeinu

Meet Samrawit Zeinu. A recent GV alumni, a current youth board leader, a recent speaker at a Founders Club meeting and an all-around Global Visionaries enthusiast. As Samrawit prepares for college, she applied for the Gates Scholarship which included an essay she wrote centering around her time with Global Visionaries. With her permission, we decided to share her experiences and words about Global Visionaries with you, the readers. Enjoy!


Question: Discuss your involvement in and contributions to a community near your home, school or elsewhere. Please select an experience different from the one you discussed in the previous question, even if this experience also involved leadership. What did you accomplish? How did this experience influence your goals?                 

Answer: One of life’s greatest moments for me happens when I am giving back to my community.  Through service to others, I am able to give thanks for everything I have been fortunate enough to have.  No one asked my aunt to adopt me.  She believed that taking me in would give me a chance to have a better life. Adopting me was no simple act and she knew she would have to take on a lot of responsibility.  This act was her way of giving back to our family and community.  She believed that if she could help me then one day I would be able to help my family in Ethiopia and my community there.   Growing up in Ethiopia, I had the humble experience of watching compassion take place between strangers.  This experience has motivated me to give back as well.

My sophomore year in high school, a youth leadership program, Global Visionaries (GV) came and presented at my school.  During the presentation the concept that stood out to me was a quote that stated, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” by Lilla Watson.  I wanted to join the program because of its focus on youth empowerment, leadership opportunities and self-awareness. The program was more than just going to Guatemala and helping others; there was an equal exchange. Having lived in a third world country, I would have hated for someone to see me as a charity case and not someone who can also offer something in return. That was what made me want to be involved with the program.  I have been a part of this program for the past three years. During my first year with the program I met weekly with other high school students to talk about social justice; I volunteered as an intern, and went to Guatemala.

The purpose of Global Visionaries is to have students understand their ecological foot prints and where each of us is currently standing in society through monthly meetings.  I was encouraged to take on challenges to help the environment such as only taking three minute showers, not buying plastic water bottles, and recycling in my household.  It is hard to adapt, but these are changes I continue to make throughout my life.  Another part of the program included doing local community service.  I became a GV intern to give back to the community that was teaching me so much and changing how I viewed my life.  I helped with filing and organizing in the GV office and wrote thank you letters to the donors of the program.

The summer of my sophomore year I went to Guatemala with the same group of students for two weeks.  I had the opportunity to volunteer in construction to help build a local school, reforestation, or in a hospital.  I volunteered at the local hospital because I am interested in medicine. It was not at all what I had expected. Many of the patients permanently live in the hospital because they have been abandoned.  I worked in the different wards which included, babies, young children, adult men and women and the elderly.  In most cases, these patients did not have any visitors.  I will never forget the smiles that were on their faces as we met them and began to do activities with them.  In the young women’s ward, I met a woman named Wendy.  Every day she would stand by the gate and ask the name of the person who wanted to pass through.  If their name was not Wendy then she would not like it. So one day when I was passing by, I told her that my name was Wendy and in an instant, excitement overtook her.  Each day that I visited her, she would talk to me about anything that was on her mind.  Even though the language barrier made it difficult for us to communicate, it did not matter because we found a way to talk by drawing each other pictures. Before I left Guatemala, I confessed that Wendy was not my name and she told me that was okay because she liked my name too.

Through the hospital work team I learned that material wealth is not important.  It is who I am and what my beliefs are that is important.  I believe that words are not always necessary to communicate with others and it is important to not take simple interactions for granted.  The hospital work team also reinforced my goal to become a part of the health care system. The hospital I volunteered in was crowded with patients awaiting a doctor.  I know that I cannot cure every disease and treat every patient but I am willing to try. I just want to live my life accomplishing as much as I can.


Check out a video of Samrawit!

GV Youth Leader Samrawit Zeinu shares her story:

Samrawit Zeinu — a Global Leader — Thanks You

Dear friends,

I am so inspired by the words of Samrawit Zeinu, a senior at Chief Sealth International High School, who has grown through Global Visionaries for three years.

I am asking you to read about her GV experience in her own words and then partner with us to empower another young leader like Samrawit today by making a gift – whether it is $10 or $100 – to empower a young person today.

Samrawit ZeinuThrough the hospital volunteer work I did, I learned that material wealth is not important.  It is who I am and what my beliefs are that are important.  Before GV, I didn’t have confidence. When I faced problems, I kept to myself.  After GV, not only did I have more confidence in myself but I am also more assertive. I am more open to feedback and I am able to speak about how I feel.  I learned that the way issues turn out depend on my reactions to them.  That made me want to change how I reacted to things.

GV changed my outlook on the world – how I perceive things should be. It hit me at my core.

It has been three years since I completed the [First Year GV Leadership Program] but the values I learned are still strong inside of me. If I catch myself complaining, I remember my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia and my friends in Guatemala don’t have enough.  I now hold myself accountable. Before when I thought about home, Ethiopia, I thought of my family. Now, when I think of my country, I think of its problems on a global scale. As a matter of fact, I think about countries all around the world. GV has made me want to contribute to the country that has made me the person I am. I intend to become a cardiovascular surgeon with Doctors Without Borders. I want to give those countries the voice they deserve.

Global Visionaries, much more than just another cultural immersion program, provides the educational and leadership platform enabling youth to develop the necessary skills to change their own habits and to transform their local and global communities through social entrepreneurship. Please give online now or mail a check to:

Global Visionaries
2524 16th Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98144

I am so grateful for your continued support. I wish you and your family a joyful 2013.

p.s. you can also see Samrawit’s full speech on video

Thank you,

Christopher Fontana, Executive Director
Global Visionaries

Upcoming Diversity Workshop

Global Visionaries and The Mandala Center for Change present


A participatory workshop featuring Theatre of the Oppressed

Facilitated by Cheryl Harrison & Marc Weinblatt

When: Dec. 1-2, 2012; Sat & Sun 9 AM – 6 PM
Where: Seattle location TBA
Cost: $200


  • How does our gender, ethnicity, and other social group memberships affect our experience in the world and how others experience us?
  • How can we work together to create a more just and healthy world for all people?

This popular workshop invites an exploration of the frequently challenging issues that surface under the general term “diversity”.  Often associated just with race, this also includes gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, nationality, and more.  Whether it be around institutions or in your own personal life, develop deeper awareness about societal systems, your own social rank and its impact on situations, as well as strategies to be become a more effective ally to yourself and others.

Through story sharing and problem solving, our goal will be increased awareness, empathy, and empowerment towards action.  Primary tools include Theatre of the Oppressed and other participatory tools to generate an honest and humane dialogue on systematic oppression (power-based analysis of the “isms”) that divide people through inequity and injustice.  The process will be highly experiential and driven by the wisdom and needs of the participants. Despite the serious nature of the issues, the process is remarkably playful.

For anyone interested in re-humanizing humanity including community organizers, activists, teachers, social workers, therapists, workshop leaders, and more.

To register, contact:

Global Visionaries
T: (206) 322-9448
E: programs@global-visionaries.org

For workshop information only, contact:

Mandala Center
T: (360) 344-3435
E: info@mandalaforchange.com


Facilitator Bios

Cheryl Harrison

Former and founding member of Seattle Public Theater’s Theater of Liberation Ensemble, Cheryl has been active in anti-oppression and empowerment work with people of all ages since the mid 1980’s and has designed and facilitated workshops and trainings locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Using music, theater, lectures, and a variety of experiential activities both Theater of the Oppressed based as well as non-T.O. based, Cheryl has worked with a wide array of organizations and communities such as homeless youth and other marginalized social groups, domestic violence survivors, school age youth, nurses, work transition programs (YWCA), as well as universities and colleges. Some agencies and organizations include the State of Washington (DSHS and Department of Labor and Industries) the International Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conferences in New York, Nebraska, and Ohio, University of Minnesota, Kellogg Fellows, ACLU, Amnesty International, Wheaton College, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), University of South Florida, Global Visionaries, Power of Hope, Labor Center at The Evergreen State College, and the Eastside Domestic Violence Program among others. Through her work Cheryl is committed to facilitating self-awareness and empowerment for individuals and communities as a means to create a world which values equity, understanding and compassion for all peoples around the world.

Marc Weinblatt

Marc has been a professional educator, theatre artist, activist, and workshop facilitator since 1980 having extensive experience with both adults and youth. Formerly Co-Artistic Director of the Seattle Public Theatre, Marc is an internationally recognized leader in the use of Augusto Boal’s ground breaking Theater of the Oppressed (T.O.) to stimulate community dialogue and social change. He has worked with diverse communities ranging from police to homeless youth, grassroots organizers and laborers to University deans. Internationally, Marc has worked with theatre activists in Canada, refugees in Azerbaijan, construction workers in South Africa, slum families in India, actors in the Republic of Congo, and victims of war, among others, in Afghanistan. Marc was recently named “Cultural Envoy” by the U.S. State Department for his work in the Congo in spring 2010.Marc regularly facilitates T.O. based diversity / anti-oppression workshops in a wide variety of contexts across the U.S. with a commitment to bringing a deep sense of spirit and humanity into social justice work. He also directs the multi-generational Poetic Justice Theatre Ensemble which incorporates T.O. and Playback Theatre techniques to generate community dialogue on burning social issues. One of Augusto Boal’s “multipliers”, Marc has trained thousands of people in the use of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques through his classes and annual week-long intensive trainings since the early 1990’s.

Aimie Kawai: Alumni Spotlight

One of the great things about the work that we do here at Global Visionaries is being able to watch the students who’ve been a part our programs grow into young adults who go on to do some pretty interesting things – and knowing that in different ways, sometimes big and sometimes small, we had something to do with it.

Aimie Kawai went to Guatemala in the summer of 2009.  She joined the GV Youth Board the following year as a senior in high school, where she worked as part of the Pro-Justice (PJ) team and helped pass on her knowledge and experience to the incoming group of First Year Leadership Program students.  Through her interactions with Mario Flores, our Program Outreach Manager, and her experiences as a PJ facilitator, Aimie began to develop an interest in teaching others about injustice.

We’re proud to report that Aimie is currently attending Brown University and studying modern US history (find out why she settled upon this in her own words below).  This summer, she is undertaking an internship with The Mentoring Partnership of New York (MPNY), where she is helping the organization promote the growth of mentoring by providing training and technical assistance to over 180 programs across all five boroughs.  In particular, she will be working on fundraising and other events to promote the visibility of the work of the organization.  When asked if there were any connections between her decision to work for MPNY and her time with GV, she says it is possible.  Aimie thinks that her interest in the educational aspects of MPNY’s work may have come from the PJ work that she did as a GV youth board leader.

As for the future, Aimie isn’t quite sure yet, but she thinks that she may work with youth in some capacity.  For now though, she’s planning on taking some time off from school next year.  Aimie hasn’t taken any trips outside of the U.S. since her time with GV, but thinks that Ecuador may be in the cards.  Or maybe spend some time in South America doing research into justice issues surrounding incarceration.

Or, perhaps, she’ll find herself WWOOFing.  What’s THAT you ask?  It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an exchange program where in return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts will provide food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.  What a way to take your experience to the next level if you happened to be a part of the coffee work team during the GV trip!

1.  In what ways have your experiences with GV provided you with additional insight or understanding during the course of your studies?   For example, would you say that your perspective of modern US history is enhanced by your exposure to pro-justice issues?

I think my experiences with GV helped spark an interest in understanding history from multiple perspectives.  My work with pro-justice issues in particular exposed me to ideas of structural inequality and how that has shaped our country and our country’s history.  I have gone on to study these concepts in greater depths, really enjoying learning about the US through a variety of lenses in order to get a greater scope of understanding.  I like learning history beyond just the bare facts of what has happened, but rather as a history of social factors that have led to different events.

2.  How do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve gained as a result of GV will help you in your internship this summer?

I think the skills I learned as an intern and a facilitator will help me in my internship this summer.  I began to develop skills that help me find out where things need to be done and what needs to be accomplished in order for events (such as auctions or workshops) to be successful.  This confidence and assertiveness comes from experience, and continues to develop in my work in NY.

3.  Please tell us more about your ideas for what you might do with your time off from school.

I am not sure of my plans yet due to certain complications, but ideally I want to spend some time at home with my family and some time exploring a new place. I want to use this semester to relax and take a step back so that I will fully appreciate my spring semester of college.  However, at the same time I hope to challenge myself in one or more directions.  I think that one way that goal will be reached is through travel, and exploring a new country and culture.

Reflections from Trip Leader Katie Wallace

It’s the second to last day of the trip, our last day of work and just hours before our fiesta de despedida (farewell party). I’m sitting here overwhelmed by what we’ve seen, heard and done here in Guatemala in the previous two weeks.

As I prepare to head back to Seattle I begin to imagine what I’ll take home from Guatemala (aside from handmade earrings and hundreds of digital photos). I have memories of the steep, exhausting hill we climbed each day en route to the construction site. I have mental images of the lush hillsides, the cobblestone streets in Antigua and the beautiful smiling faces of the guatemaltecos that we greeted in every passing. I’ll carry with me new relationships, stronger relationships and a greater sense of peace than I had when we left.Above all these images and memories I am leaving with the desire to research. I want to know even more about Guatemalan history and politics. How can the current President of Guatemala be responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people? How was this former General elected by Guatemalans in 2011? This leaves me with feelings of disbelief, frustration, anger and wonder.

Learning is not measured by the number of pages read in a night or by the number of books read in a semester.
Education is not an act of consuming ideas, but of creating and recreating them.
– Paulo Freire

The most valuable and eye-opening experience has been spending time talking with my host brothers, 21 and 18, after dinner. Their wealth of knowledge about Guatemalan history and their passion to raise awareness about politics (of the past and present) are impressive and motivating. My older host brother has led large scale protests in Guatemala City, and my younger host brother won a speech contest while we were there. He spoke in the central park in Antigua about acknowledging Antigua’s true history. I am in awe that there is such little acknowledgement of the genocide and corruption that have taken place in their country. I have never personally known young adults so angry and yet genuinely convinced that change on a large scale is possible and attainable. I look forward to learning more, and I hope that they will continue to inspire youth in Guatemala and from the U.S. to learn and take action in their communities and on a global scale.

Final Summer 2012 Trip Update

Saludos desde San Miguel Escobar,

Just as in the beginning everything was all about firsts: first time meeting the chapines, first time meeting homestay families, first days of language school and work, now everything is the last. Here at the GV office, two large tents cover the courtyard as we prepare for our final group reflection and our Goodbye party.

Today was our last day of work, and tonight will be our final goodbye with the Chapines. We started off with a traditional burning of fireworks to celebrate Cora’s birthday. There was laughter, water fights, and some tears, but mostly we are all just grateful to be able to enjoy the brief time we have left in Guatemala.

I look forward to seeing you at the airport. I will leave you with some further updates and reflections written by our junior leaders, Reed and Ari.

ARI: It is truly a wonder to see the changes among the individuals, and the change in the dynamic of the entire group over the course of a few short weeks here in Guatemala. I remember meeting all of them together for the first time and all I could feel was a huge amount of awkwardness between everyone. Now, it’s as though that awkwardness never existed.

I wish all of you were able to see it happen with your own eyes! But you’ll definitely see the change in your children when they get home. I remember my parents telling me that when I came back from my trip a year ago, I’d transformed from a naive teenager to a young adult with convictions. It’s not hard to believe that 2 weeks here in Guatemala could do that to a person. A lot of them will come back with a whole new perspective on everything. Some of them will want to come back to Guatemala. Some of them will tell you that they’ve made some of the best friends they’ll ever meet. A lot of them (I’m hoping) will be joining Youth Board in the next year and will become future Jr. Leaders like myself.

We’ve had so many memorable moments. From water fights on the construction site, Simon and Sean’s creation of the Fun-O-Meter ranging from Malo to Bueno to Perfecto, Angela’s guitar skills, Jenna’s singing, Torin’s handstands, and Isabella’s constant hunger, and so many other things that it would be impossible to list everything, it’s easy to say that this group has made memories to last a lifetime. I’m sure everyone misses all of you, but I can say on behalf of the whole group that they’re all having the time of there lives here.

I’m honored and have been blessed with this opportunity to be a Jr. Leader for this group. I love every single one of them!

REED (written Monday):

This morning, GV participants were given the choice of either taking the morning off to be with their families or returning to the hospital (Obras Sociales Santo Hermano Pedro) in Antigua, which all participants toured on Saturday.

Yesterday, the entire group, Guatemalan teens included, took a two-hour bus ride to the Mayan ruins of Iximche. After a short session of storytelling from several Guatemalans whose families had been marginalized by the armed conflict throughout the 20th century, students got the chance to explore the ruins, with no shortage of pictures taken.

This afternoon, the entire group will get together once again for the “Coffee Tour” – an introduction to the process of coffee farming, various recent inventions for expediting the processing of coffee, and the history and politics surrounding that five-dollar cup of Starbucks coffee we bought this morning.

The preceding week was the participants’ time to fall into the rhythm of things. Nearly every weekday began with two-and-a-half to three hours in the students’ respective work teams – the Reforestation team lugged hoes, machetes, tree saplings, and five-plus-gallon water jugs up the hillside in Cerro del Nino. The Hospital team cultivated a week’s worth of compassion in a place where a single friendly touch is a rare treat for patients, as well as preparing for the tours and reflections they facilitated on Saturday for the rest of the group. The young men and women of Construction flexed and lifted away to help raise the walls of a brand new school in Cerro del Nino, and ended the week with an all-out water fight that included an ambush on the returning Reforestation team. Afternoons at the La Union language school kept students’ language skills sharp, and brief runs to nearby bakeries kept their bellies full.

After a sufficiently relaxing weekend (and Monday,) participants will return to their very last day in work teams tomorrow. For Reforestation and Construction, this will mean perhaps the most physically exhausting day yet – for Hospital, this will likely mean a day of bittersweet goodbyes.

With three days left in the journey, the entire Global Visionaries Summer 2012 group is able to reflect on the experiences that have transformed them, the hard work that has strengthened them, the cultural education that has made them more aware of their roles as U.S. Americans, and the support from one another that has pushed all of them to discover new and unexpected leadership opportunities.

Traveling Teachers Reflect on the Summer Trip So Far…

Greetings from the Summer Trip. Emily and Diana are two of our traveling teachers and this has been their experience thus far. Stay tuned for pictures:

Emily Estep

“Yeah, because, you know, YOLO”

Sitting on the plane about to leave Seatac airport last Wednesday morning I was listening in to the conversation of my two GV participant seatmates.  One had been a student of mine in Spanish class at Nathan Hale the past year and the other was a Junior Leader, a participant returning in her second year to take advantage of a new leadership opportunity.  As a young teacher, I usually feel pretty competent keeping up with the slang of my students, but now they had me confused.

“Yolo…?”  I looked at them, waiting for an explanation.

“Yolo – you only live once!”

“Ahh, got it.”

The term was new to me, but the idea, of course, was not.  “Life is short”, “Carpe diem”, certainly we’re all familiar with the idea of making the most out of life, but it’s something that I, and I think many others, still struggle with seizing, putting into practice, feeling that we are really able to live.  During the past week in Guatemala, YOLO has proven to be a theme.  It’s been taken to a new level for me, however, and I’ve seen the same thing happening in the student participants as well.  If you only live once, we are realizing, then each moment takes on a new, grand significance.  I have found myself, and the students around me, slowly feeling ourselves overcome by the grandness of each and every moment we live here, overwhelmed by the importance of giving our all, our best, our absolute presence to each minute that passes.

Typical mornings in Guatemala consist of splitting into three separate groups for a few hours of community service work alongside Guatemalan teens.  One group works on reforesting a nearby area, one on the construction of a school close to the reforestation site, and the last, which I am a part of, works in a “hospital” in the center of the city of Antigua.  While referred to as the “hospital” by GV participants, this institution is really a permanent home to approximately two hundred Guatemalans, children, adults, and elders, with mental and physical disabilities whose families cannot care for them.  The grand majority are in wheelchairs and most cannot carry on a conversation.  Many do not speak at all.  Most are never visited by family or friends.  Our work there is simply to spend time with these people.  Time.  Moments.  On our first day in the hospital, as I sat holding the hand of an old woman who could not respond to my question of “¿Cómo se llama usted?” but slowly lifted her head to look into my eyes and smile, I was struck by the power of that small moment.  Some days as we return from our snack break for the second part of our morning in the hospital, I’ve caught myself thinking “Oh, only 45 minutes left – how is that enough to make an impact?  We need hours, days, weeks, months!”  But without fail, I am reminded again and again of the enormity of the briefest of moments.  I have seen heads slowly shifted, with great effort, to make eye contact.  I have watched lips that seem to have spent years pursed into a frown breaking into an unexpected smile.  I have heard raucous, joyful laughs exploding from the mouths of people who cannot speak and whose eyes seemed empty at first approach.  I am continually overwhelmed by the power of a few minutes, even a few precious seconds.

I know the student participants are experiencing this same shift towards a more present, conscious experience of the moments in their life.  Last night we had our first whole group reflection.  Sitting in a “GV circle” (a powerful ring of interconnectedness arranged so that everyone can see the eyes of every other person in the circle) we shared what had most struck our hearts in our time so far in Guatemala.  Over and over again, I heard students speak of wanting to give more of themselves in every moment of their work, of becoming aware that the root of happiness lies in simple moments spent with people they care about, and of feeling their worldview and attitude toward life permanently shifted.  They are changing, they recognize that change, and they want to bring it back to the United States with them.

We all know life is precious, but through the work we’ve done in Guatemala, be it physically demanding or heart wrenchingly emotional, we’ve been given the opportunity to internalize the incredible power of each moment we live.  We will return to Seattle with a deeper understanding of what it means to be present, an enormous gift, because, you know…YOLO.


Diana Burga

Last night as I lay on my bed reflecting on the day, I could not believe a week had passed since arriving to Guatemala for the Global Visionaries summer 2012 trip. So much had happened in just that week.  A week ago from today I felt jet lagged, irritable and I’ll admit that being surrounded by 40 teenagers all day every day with a jam packed activity schedule of activities sounded less than awesome at the moment.

I’m a Spanish teacher at Garfield high school and to anyone who teaches they can empathize with how hectic and stressful the end of the year is. I frantically tried to wrap my head around the experience that was about to come but found myself feeling anxious and unsure if this was really the best way to spend my time off, after all I had just come from devoting my time and energy for the last nine months to 150 students.

I chose to be on the reforestation team because I looked forward to the physical challenge and being out in nature. And let me say, the first day was HARD. I didn’t take into account how much the altitude would affect me, as well as just how physical the labor would be. We “gringos” paired up with the “chapines” or “Guatemaltecos” to learn about the work we would be accomplishing. After hiking up a steep hill we had to walk another 20 minutes through the lush vegetation carrying machetes, water jugs and a box with snacks for our group. I was shocked at how weak I felt. After all, I go to the gym three times a week and practice Bikram yoga once a week. I lead an “active” lifestyle by American standards. I was in awe at my new chapin friend Mich and how what took me 5 minutes to cut down, be completed in just three swings with the machete. And while I needed to take constant breaks for water and catching my breath, the chapines worked for three hours straight without any breaks.

After a few days of working closely with the chapines and feeling more confident with the tools, I felt powerful up on the hill. Looking over at all the weeds and invasive plants we cleared in just a few days is one of the most accomplishing things I have ever felt. Knowing that we are helping the farmers and working side by side with the chapines of the area is both incredibly satisfying and humbling.

But the most incredible aspect of this experience is seeing how hard every single person in our group works. Chapines and students alike are all exhausted and sore from the previous days work, but no one complains. This really helped me to get out of my self-involved funk and realize that what we are accomplishing is much bigger than me and my problems and has provided me a much needed perspective. Being surrounded by such positivity, beauty and peace has truly been therapeutic lesson I will never forget. Gracias grupo reforestacion, I am so grateful for you!

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.

Junior Leaders talk about Spring Trip

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.

Rita purchases the first bag ever sold on the coffee tour!

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:

The Junior Leaders: Emma, Lena, and Erica

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.

Spring Program at Iximche

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.

Thomas and Michaela posing at Iximche.

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.

Izet and Porter at Iximche!

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.