Tag Archives: travel

Summer Trip: Hurry Up and Lead; Wait in the Meantime

20130620_193029By Marita Phelps, Global Visionaries Program Manager

June 25th, 2013

From the moment we gathered as a group in the airport we were faced with challenges that demanded leadership, selflessness and group unity. We were delayed two hours from our initial flight, made headlines because of a three hour emergency landing in Denver and after missing our connection in Miami, waited another seven hours in the airport for a new flight. Each and every young person in the group rose to the occasion and showed leadership.

They supported one another, they did not complain, they moved through the airports maturely, contributed valuable suggestions to solve the many problems we encountered and at the last leg of the trip, went down in GV history as the fastest group to load the bus. As one student recalls, “What really stuck with me was ‘group first, me second’ because everyone is just as tired as the next and we have to suck it up.” Certainly without forewarning and perhaps without forethought, the young people in this group were spontaneously faced with a challenge that called to use all the leadership skills they have learned in the program throughout the year. They truly rose to the occasion and proved to everyone, including themselves that they too have the ability to lead.

Despite the fatigue of traveling for 28 long hours, the group again “sucked it up” and the very next morning experienced their first lesson on global injustice during this Cultural Immersion at the Guatemala City dump. For many of the students, seeing the dump was a period of introspection. If the piercing silence wasn’t enough of an indication, the facial expressions certainly were. They were becoming aware, perhaps more so now than other times, of their personal contribution to environmental injustice and their responsibilities as global citizens. As another student recalled, “Seeing the dump made me realize how wealthy and privileged I really am compared to many people in the world. It also made me think about the role I play in supporting the system that creates situations like this -all the waste that I generate in a day, America’s support of successive military governments who mismanaged the country resulting in extreme poverty like this. I resolved to reuse and/or recycle everything I could, and to buy fewer processed foods and other products which come with a lot of packaging that then becomes trash.” To see the world shine in the light of justice both environmentally and socially we all must do what this young person has already done, which is to self-reflect and commit to lifestyle changes, if need be, for the greater good.

Thus far the students have also completed their first day of work, had their first day of school with their teachers, had small group reflections and every day are spending quality time with their home stay families. The learning and growth process this Cultural Immersion affords is multi-faceted and deep. The participants are gaining multiple perspectives about the world, in order to properly lead it, from Guatemalans and even each other. A student puts it best saying that, “My roommate and I both do not know any Spanish but we try and we interact but even after we have a conversation with our homestay family, we both have different views on what/who we were talking about. Thus making today one of my favorites because of all the opinions and different views by many other GV participants, especially heard on the long bus ride back to Antigua. Everyone takes away something different, but to share and explore ones you may never have crossed is the real reflection/learning experience.”

The future of the world is what comes to mind most often while we share this space and time with one another but we will first have to tackle the future of this trip and take our eagerness to see a just and sustainable world one step at a time. So, until the next time adios amigos!


Spring Trip: Happening Now!

Small Spring Trip GroupFor participants of the 2013 Spring Trip, Guatemala is now a reality. On April 6th, they departed on the culminating experience of all the learning, volunteering and fundraising that they have been a part of for the past months.

I know how excited and anxious I would be if I were going to Guatemala, but to get some insight into how the participants feel, I checked back in with Fiona Carlile (see Spring Trip is Right Around the Corner) to see how she felt just before embarking on her trip.

Q: As the trip gets closer, what are you excited about?  Anything new?

Fiona: I’m still excited about the same things, but everything just feels more real now.  I’m excited to build relationships with everyone involved in the trip.

Q: Again, as the trips draws near, what are you nervous about?

Fiona: I don’t want to look so American.  I want to work alongside the people there and not just fix things.

Q: How have you grown and developed personally over the span of the program so far?

Fiona: My views have definitely changed.  Originally I thought we were going to just help the people in Guatemala but now I know that we are there to work with them.  I also have a lot more confidence in myself.

Q: Have you made any lasting personal changes because of the program?

Fiona: I feel like the way that I view other people has changed.  I used to judge other people, but now I make sure that I don’t because no one deserves to be judged.

It’s incredible to see just how much can change in a person can be seen in such a short amount of time.  I know I’m excited to see how the work and learning that will happen in Guatemala will continue to shape these incredible youth, and I’m sure you are as well. We will be checking in with our participants during the trip and for a follow up after, so don’t forget to come back for the next Spring Trip installment on the GV Blog! Find us on Facebook and look for photos soon!

Sights, sounds, tastes and heart: Christmas in Guatemala, Christmas in the US

by Kenna Stout


What do you get when you mix long, furry, green feet, anti-Christmas cheer and the ability to slither down chimneys?  A Grinch of a Christmas course! But not to worry, this is no ba-humbug article.  With many ho-ho-ho’s and some jingles along the way, only images of tinsel-trimmed trees, reindeer and sugar plum fairies will be left dancing in your head. And maybe a strange craving for a tamale, too.

When asked to write a little bit about Christmas traditions in Guatemala and the United States, I turned to blogosphere and the lovely Global Visionaries staff to unearth traditions found in Guatemala and in their own families.   Many thanks to Mario Flores, program outreach manager, who opened my eye to Christmas celebrations in Guatemala City.  And special thanks to Billy Lopez, assistant program manager, for sharing his family’s chuchitos (Guatemalan tamale) recipe, give it a shot!

While US Christmas shoppers are bombarded with images of Santa Claus and snowflakes, and carolers can be heard fala-lalala-lala-ing throughout the season; Christmas in Guatemala comes to life with the sight of colorful nacimientos, the sounds of fireworks, merengue and salsa, and the smells of pine, ponche and chuchitos.


Though, of course, at the heart of it all, are the children, whose excitement and joy are palpable in the weeks, days and hours leading up to Christmas. Despite the visible differences between how Christmas is celebrated – or ritualized in the traditions we keep – the essence of this holiday lies in our families, friends, communities and how said traditions strengthen the bonds of love between us.


Vintage SantaSanta Claus’s button nose and his sleigh full of toys is not a focal point for Guatemalan children.  Though this global icon can be found in many a window at department and toy stores, Mario points out that you won’t find very many fireplaces in Guatemala. Still, Santa’s true magic is not lost in the hearts of children.  On one night every year, anticipation runs rampant on a global scale, no matter how poor, rich, small or tall, children feel Christmas magic uniting them as a human community.  In Guatemala, children get to stay up all night on Christmas eve because at the stroke of midnight, they receive and unwrap the presents bestowed on them by parents, relatives and friends.  Guatemalan children give thanks to their parents and relatives for all the gifts and memories received and Santa’s antics in the chimney are left forgotten.  Still, Guatemala has its own unique images that add to the spirit of Christmas.


You may hear, “did you see, so-and-so’s nacimientos?”  Many churches, neighborhoods, and families create or sponsor elaborate nativity scenes called nacimientos to commemorate Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus.  These scale models depicting the manger scene can fill rooms and draw crowds of family, friends and nacimientos lovers alike.  Check out some examples of nacimientos and consider: do gingerbread house competitions seem dull in comparison? As opposed to the traditional US custom of “keeping up with the Joneses'” by lighting and decorating the outside of one’s house, nacimientos fill the inside of buildings with light and color.  Brightly colored sawdust in green, red and yellow line the ground of displays, neatly laid in rows and patterns representing the land and fields.  Though no prize is involved, great pride, planning and personalization go into their creation; they are like the frosting on any cake!

For days leading up to Christmas, las posadas, or parades re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a safe haven, happen nightly.  As the processions wind through the streets, the drumming of a turtle shell is faintly heard as it brings up the rear.  Each night, Mary and Joseph get turned away from houses until they find refuge at a previously designated house.  Once they are safe, the participants and observers erupt in celebrations filled with hugs, candy, ponche, cookies or tamales and more.


Nothing tops the smell and sounds of firecrackers and fireworks that ring in (your ears) the holiday season.  On Christmas eve, to commemorate the birth of Jesus, fireworks are lit at six-hour intervals starting at noon, 6pm, midnight and noon again on Christmas day.  Other festivities include a church mass from 9pm to midnight and neighborhood or family parties that last all night long.


tamales1Food bonds us through taste, texture, smell, heart and history. Guatemalan tamales and American apple pies can be strong and delicious representations of a family’s past.  As they fill our bellies, they remind us to look to a future filled with love, joy and togetherness with our loved ones. No matter the country, common themes, like ingredients, flow through all of our traditions.  Like the sweet tamale and apple pie, cinnamon and love are ingredients that can be found around every corner during Christmas.

The history of the “tamal”, pre-dates Spanish conquistadors, going back to Mayan culture and beyond. Though the exact origin of the tamale is unknown, the significance it has for many families is connected to stories of migration, labor and family bonds.  Thousands of years ago, they fed armies and cities. Nowadays, they are a great lunch time snack that can be bought outside many offices in Guatemala City. Tamales are portable; they can be re- steamed, grilled or eaten cold.  Tamales carry sustenance bursting with flavor and can be altered to appease everyone’s taste buds. To be sure, tamales have a special place in the hearts of those who have ever eaten one.

tamales4Guatemalan tamales are essentially two parts: masa (corn flour) and filling, and wrapped in banana, plantain or another leaf of choice, then steamed to perfection. The dough, or masa, can be the trickiest part of the tamale to get right. The masa needs to be mixed with water or stock and fat (like butter or margarine) before it can be filled with any number of things. Typically though, the filling is made with meats such as chicken and pork, fruits such as raisins and pineapple or vegetables with chilies, cheese, or beans & finished with a sauce (red, green or mole). Yum!

And Christmas tamales are possibly the most important tamale of them all. Some will say Christmas just isn’t complete without one!  Making them before Christmas is part of the ongoing party that is the holiday season.  Moms, aunts, sisters and grandmothers spend days cooking, shaping, steaming and laughing, all in the name of the Christmas tamale. There is a saying that you can never cook tamales angry or they will just never cook! True or not, assembling tamales is best done with loved ones, while laughing, singing and having fun. Tamales are usually made for festive occasions, so the making of tamales must be kept festive too.

Now the last thing to remember about tamales is how to eat them.  Don’t be greedy!  Try them one at a time, even if they are the same kind.  Tamales are for sharing, they are for loving and they are always going to be around as long as families have loved ones to share the secrets and laughter with.


Christian missionaries may have brought the religious teachings behind why we celebrate Christmas and Germans may have lent us their tannenbaums; but however the traditions were brought to each of us, it is the gathering of family and friends that keeps our holiday traditions alive and in turn, each tradition we share helps to keep our families close.

In both, or should I say, all countries, children are at the heart of Christmas.  Children embody the spirit of Christmas to the fullest.  The worries of moms and dads, who are busy making sure the food is prepared and decorations are perfect, are washed away by the wonder and awe that so often captivate the hearts and imaginations of their children.

From Guatemala to the US to Zambia, every family’s recipe for how to celebrate a perfect Christmas is different. Whether you make apple or pumpkin pies, pork tamales or chuchitos; traditions are how our family secrets get passed down from generation to generation.  It is in the unique ingredients of our own recipes for a perfect Christmas that inform our traditions and keep them alive for years to come.

I think Mario Flores, GV’s program outreach manager, puts it best when he said Christmas is a “playful time you enjoy yourself, family, and community”, it is the sense of “feeling really welcome” not because people don’t welcome you on other days, but that “that day is [just] more special” and in Guatemala Christmas is especially magical.

Teach English In Mexico And Get Paid!

Hey GV alumni—are you ready for your next international adventure?

Then you should consider the Global Leadership English School, located in Temascalcingo, Mexico. Here in this picturesque town in the central Mexican highlands, you will have the opportunity to live, work, and study for a year.

The Global Leadership English School, founded and directed by former GV Program Manager Aimee Duran (previously Aimee Hibbets), is now accepting qualified candidates to teach English and leadership skills to local youth.  You can work, earn money, and improve your Spanish, all while having an in-depth, authentic experience in this small community.

For more information about the program, fees and how to apply, see the Global Leadership English School website http://globalleadershipengl.wix.com/globalleadershipengl.

Check us out on Facebook, or email globalleadershipenglish@gmail.com .

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.

Spring Trip-Reflections from Week 1

Saludos de Guatemala,

It’s been almost a week since our journey began and so much has happened. Our days have taken on a pattern. We wake up, enjoy breakfast in the homes of our homestay families, then at 7:30am we’re off to the office to meet up with the chapines and divide into work teams. During this trip our three work teams are Coffee, Construction, and Hospital. Due to the hard work of our GV staff we have just as many chapin participants as we do gringos, so everyone works with a buddy.

Today in coffee our goal was to cut 400lbs of coffee. We grabbed our snack (sweet bread and oranges), some big containers of water, and all the tools and baskets we would need, then piled into pick-up trucks and rode up the hillside overlooking San Miguel into the coffee fields owned by Don Manuel (Helen and Hannah’s host dad). Don Manual talked to us about the plants and showed us which color beans to pick (the red ones that look like cherries) and then we set about filling our baskets. Lee and Reina were the pair to gather the most, followed by Ra’layzia who picked twice as fast as everyone else. Everyone had fun chatting and in some cases singing. Then when we had our break we talked about the price of coffee and also about the Garbage Dump.

Sandra directing Cafe duties for the day.

The majority of the chapines have never seen the dump either and were surprised to hear about the people living there. They have decided to go see it for themselves. Maya did a great job of translating. By the end of the morning we had cut about 300lbs of coffee…pretty good, but not quite up to the goal we had set, so we plan to work even harder tomorrow. Don Manuel says for that amount of coffee we would have earned about 120 quetzales…which is less than $20.


The construction work team is laying the foundation for a multi-purpose room in Cerro del Nino in Pastores. This means lots of moving cinder blocks and removing wheel barrows full of rocks. Many people are sore, but everyone seems excited to see what they are able to accomplish each day. When it’s finished, the community will have a place to host memorials, meetings, or any sort of large gatherings. Every day there is a family of little kids who live in the neighborhood who come to help with the building process. Today Ismael pushed them around in a wheel barrow and let them film some of the experience. We will try to upload some videos to the blog soon, but our computers are running slow. Each participant has set personal goals for themselves. Today Teisha accomplished her goal of speaking more Spanish and Mitchell managed to greet each chapin on his work team in Spanish.

Teisha and Flori

The hospital work team, is perhaps one of the most emotionally difficult teams. Participants spend their mornings coloring, painting fingernails, blowing bubbles, or beading with the patients. Today there was mass so Mary Anne, Devin and Alli accompanied patients to the church inside of the hospital, while others worked with the few patients left in the wards. Jessica played the guitar for a man who used to play before he lost the use of his hand and she says it was one of the best experiences of her trip. Mostly today was an opportunity for the gringos and chapines to play games and get to know one another better.

After work, everyone returns home for lunch and a short siesta, and then it’s time to get on the bus to Antigua for language lessons at La Union. La Union is a lovely school set in the heart of downtown Antigua. Students sit at small wooden tables spread out across a courtyard. Everyone is at a different level, so each class is completely personalized. Our native Spanish speakers are watching movies and working on grammar or writing. Our beginners are learning how to ask the questions they’ve been wanting to ask their homestay families. Tonight after class, we will have a short reflection here, then it’s off to salsa lessons with Dona Carmen. Here are some reflections from our Leaders of the Day.

“When I woke up I was nervous about being an LOD, but Porter told me that it’s easy, so I got a little calm. But it was our first day of work so I was kind of nervous. When we were going up the steep hill, I was nervous because it was so steep! When we turned the corner I thought we were done, but we were just ¼ of the way there. When we finally got to the top we all rested. When we got into a GV circle, I translated a lot, but that’s a daily thing. I don’t mind. Surprisingly my goal was to talk Spanish more. I has it because sometimes I feel weird speaking it. After translating I felt more sure of myself. When we got to the end of working, I pushed everyone to give a final effort. There are soooo many differences between to US and Guatemala. The houses, the people, the surroundings, everything is so different. I learned that being a leader takes hard work, you got to set the example and it is hard especially if you’re working construction because it’s demanding labor. But I pushed myself to set an example. Overall it was a good first day of work and school.”

“Today was the first day of work on the coffee farm. We met the chapines at the GV office. It was kind of hard to talk with them but we all tried. Walking to the work site everyone tried to pair up with a chapin. I was with Raul and I learned that he really likes to play soccer. It’s really interesting how if you asked a group of Americans what they liked to do in their free time there would probably be many different activities, while everyone I’ve talked to here says first and foremost soccer. At the worksite we played a name game and then started to work. The process is simple, yet complicated. You have to measure exactly so that the plants grow correctly. At one point Nilda and Reina taught us a hand clapping game that was uncannily similar to quack diddly oro. Work was very satisfying but difficult.”

“I made a new friend. His name is Angel. He can’t talk so I don’t know much about him. When we first got there, we went to the special school and I was looking around to see who I would go to. He smiled at me, so I went to go talk to him. We colored and then we started to bead. I asked him if he has a girlfriend and he said yes and point to Kimberly. Then he laughed and shook his head and pointed to me. Since then we’ve become friends.”

“During school we walked to the bank with our teachers to exchange money. The center of Antigua was really beautiful. I was really excited about the level of conversation I could have with my teacher. After school we came back to the office to reflect on the day and how the trip has been so far. Being LOD I has to lead the discussion, which for e was way out of my comfort zone and quite difficult. I’ve learned that I actually can do it through and also that I should participate more in discussions. I’m always afraid to say something dumb, so I psyched myself out. But I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if I say something “wrong”. What I take away from today is that people are all the same, whether they are from the USA or Guatemala. Also I learned that I’m capable of being a leader and even though I never would have volunteered to be a LOD if it were optional, I’m so glad that I had to do it because I learned a lot of new things about myself.”

The next update will be written by our Junior Leaders, Erica, Lena, and Emma.

Reagan Jackson

GV Program Manager

Alumni Spotlight: Emma Shull

Emma Shull, on el Panecillo overlooking the city of Quito, Ecuador.

If Global Visionaries had a poster child, Emma Shull just might be the “IT” girl.  Over the course of three years, Emma participated in our First Year Leadership Program, went on to serve as a member of the Youth Board and capped it all off as a Gap Year volunteer once she graduated from high school.  She’s currently wrapping up her undergraduate studies, but more on that later…

As a First Year participant, Emma traveled to Guatemala on the Summer Trip, where she worked on the construction work team and first met Billy Lopez (last month’s featured alumnus).   Asked why she decided to serve on the GV Youth Board, she responded that the inspiration came from a retreat workshop put on by the previous year’s YB pro-justice (PJ) team on the Theatre of the Oppressed.  Not surprisingly, she spent her year on the Youth Board passing on her pro-justice knowledge onto the succeeding group of First Years.  And then there was Ruthie Ditzler, whom Emma had met in her first year with GV; Ruthie made enough of an impression for Emma to decide to expand her role with GV as a Gap Year volunteer when the time came.  Emma spent her first six months undertaking work that was near and dear to her heart: developing the pro-justice curriculum and topics for GV workshops.  With GV’s help, she also applied for and obtained a Youth Venture grant (worth $1,000) to support her ongoing work.  The second half of Emma’s gap year was spent in Antigua, Guatemala, where she continued to develop her pro-justice work and expertise; this time adapting the model and theory for training of GV’s Guatemalan staff and volunteers.  Emma was careful in ensuring that what she taught reflected a Latino context.

One of the exercises that GV used to have its First Year participants do upon their return to the US was to write a letter addressed to him or herself, that would be received a year later.  In Emma’s letter to herself, there were three resolutions:

  1. Go back to Guatemala
  2. Attend a university that would provide opportunities to travel the world
  3. Use the knowledge gained during her time with GV to help other youth
  • Go back to Guatemala – did so as a Gap Year volunteer!

…and fast-forwarding to today for resolutions 2 and 3:

  • Attend a university that would provide opportunities to travel the world – Emma is getting ready to graduate (May 10th) from Long Island University Global College with a BA in Global Studies.  In the course of her undergraduate career, she has lived in Costa Rica, China and Ecuador.  Even more remarkably, her Gap Year in Guatemala was accepted for 18 credits as part of a “Life Experience Portfolio” towards graduation requirements, so she’s finishing a year early!
  • Use knowledge gained during time with GV to help other youth – Emma is currently undertaking a Spring internship with the Sadie Nash Leadership Project to promote leadership and activism among young women (particularly those of color).

Finally, some words directly from Ms. Emma herself…

Please describe how your experiences with GV have helped you to interact with people, cultures and environments outside of your own during your studies abroad.

– Above all, my skill as an observer is one I often attribute to my time with GV.  I appreciate how GV encourages participants to always ask questions and to reflect on observations.  My experience with GV directly influenced my decision to enroll at LIU Global as it is a school that emphasizes experiential learning.

Have you experienced any moments of profound insight, where you realized that had you not been a part of GV, your perception of an event or issue would be quite different?

– In general my time abroad always leads me to this conclusion.  The biggest concept I have taken with me abroad is the recognition of my systemic role in societal oppressions such as racism and imperialism. Without this point of reference my experiences abroad would be completely misconstrued.  GV has taught me to think critically (not negatively) about my surroundings and about the people I meet along the way.

One of the issues that GV participants sometimes face upon completing their time with us is tackling the question of how to continue living the mission in their own lives.  Beyond your internship with SNLP, what are your plans for continuing to be mindful of all that you’ve learned through GV and beyond in living a conscientious life?

–  I am passionate about youth and creative learning.  Wherever I am, and whatever I am doing, my role in the empowerment of youth will be essential.  As far as long term goals are concerned, one day I’d like to eventually start a youth-run Theatre of the Oppressed troupe.    

Do you have any advice for current GV participants (first year, YB or those considering a Gap Year with GV)?

– My advice to current participants is to really search within your community, in Seattle, and outside of Seattle who have similar sets of interests.  I feel that it is important to create a sense of community where you live, and GV (although a great community) can also become its own bubble.  Get out, and volunteer with other like-minded organizations and expand your network!  

From the Ground in Guatemala

Saludos desde Guatemala (Greetings from Guatemala),

After months of the Seattle rain and cold, the blast of heat and sun was a welcome relief as we arrived in Guatemala City and began loading up the chicken bus with our luggage and supply drive boxes. Though we were all exhausted from the trip, it was hard not to be excited that at long last after culture nights and coffee selling and everything we’ve shared until this point we’d reached the day we’d been waiting for, the start of the Spring Trip.

We arrived on Sabado Santo…the Holy Saturday before Easter, so in Guatemala City all the stores were closed and traffic was light, but everywhere there were remnants of the festivities of the week before. Purple banners hung from walls, colored sawdust still littered the street. The bus took us directly to the cemetery which also seemed eerily quiet as we silently made our pilgrimage between the stone mausoleums to the cliff overlooking the largest garbage dump in Guatemala.

Though it was my fourth time visiting the dump, it was no less impactful. The smell hit us immediately and the sky was filled with circling vultures. Due to Semana Santa there were no long lines of yellow trucks, nor were there the hordes of people scavenging for recyclables from each truck, but yes, as we looked over the edge, there were still people and animals foraging through the refuse. A myriad of emotions played on each participant’s face, some were stoic, some near tears.

Checha, one of our GV Guatemala Staff, spoke to us about what we were seeing, not simply the culmination of years of daily dumping, but something even more sinister. He spoke about the systems of oppression present in Guatemala, that have made it so difficult for some indigenous people to find jobs, that they have been forced to move to the city to work in the dump simply to survive.

“Wait, you mean people live here?” One participant asked.

And everyone grew quiet, perhaps realizing this would be a far cry from a typical tourist trip to Antigua. This would be a journey where we would actually have to do some thinking. And there was time to think as we rode through the hilly countryside and finally through the cobblestone streets of Antigua to arrive in San Miguel Escobar, home to the GV Guatemala Office. At the office, after unloading everything, students met their homestay families and went home for dinner and much needed rest.

Easter began with a bang, literally. In addition to singing and bell ringing at 5:00am, we awoke to the sounds of fireworks like cannon shots and of course the local roosters singing along.  And then it was time for breakfast as a group, black beans, bread, and ham omelets. On Sundays we give the Homestay families a rest and eat as a group at the office, so everyone pitched in, setting up tables, and pulling out the plastic bins of plates and cutlery donated by previous groups.

After cleaning up, we hopped on the bus to San Antonio Aguas Calientes to the home of Sandra Ordonez, the Program Manager here in Guatemala. You might have met her during our recruiting season when she came to Seattle. Sandra, like many Guatemalans, comes from a Mayan family. So there we were introduced to some traditional Mayan handicrafts and weaving. Jessica and Mitchell were married in a traditional Mayan Ceremony (not sure if that was binding) while Mitchell’s pretend parents Nava and Steve danced in celebration. Afterwards we feasted on Pepian, a spicy brown gravy served with chicken, rice, and homemade tortillas, which many participants got to help make. Throughout the day Lupe, Helen, Ismael, Lindsey, and Janet took turns translating.

After lunch we did a little shopping and then headed to Segunda Cruz where GV built a school in 2007. There we met with the families whose children attend the school and everyone had the opportunity to share a snack of banana bread and horchata and to converse with the families. At the end of our time, one family enjoyed Janet so much that they gifted her with a live baby chicken. Though she would really like to keep it, I am skeptical that we can smuggle it through customs so “el pollito” is going to live with Aurelio, our Country Coordinator, until he finds a better home.

Today was our first day of work. I am working with the Coffee work team this trip. Ilana was our leader of the day and lead an awesome reflection. Everyone worked so hard and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to get the gringos and the chapines to talk, because both parties were ready. It was Don Antonio’s first time working with gringos. He was the farmer in charge of teaching us about café, and by the days end he seemed impressed with what we were able to accomplish; which consisted of marking the coffee fields and beginning to dig holes for new plants. This is a task that requires a lot of patience and measurement, so during the down time, gringos and chapines taught each other games and songs.

The following are some excerpts from the leader of the day journals, so you can hear from the participants themselves. We will try to load some pictures and video on the blog, but not until tomorrow. Take care, Reagan.

“After I got on the bus I was so excited! The heat was killer. The music on the bus was great. Guadalupe was singing along and that was funny. I was feeling sick all day but all the people around me made me feel so much better! Meeting my family was awkward. They are the kindest people ever, but I don’t understand any Spanish, so my roommate did all the talking. I’m excited for the next few days though!”

“In Guatemala, I’ve found the people to be more friendly and though I don’t speak Spanish very well, not complaining, just grateful and happy for what they have and don’t have. I wish I was more like that…The most challenging thing I faced today was stepping outside of my comfort zone, I wish I was more brave and that this wasn’t an issue for me, but tis something I’m working on.”

“Whew, what a day! The trip finally feels real, after all our anticipation and preparation. Today we arrived in Guatemala, visited the dump of Guate City, and met our host families. Seeing the dump was a really powerful, moving experience. When I saw a person actually sorting through the trash, I really hated myself for just standing and watching him work from above. I felt a deep, human connection to this stranger.”

“When we drove down the streets of Guatemala City with supplies overhead, we drove fast through the colorful streets with bright white lettering against the reds, blues, and yellows of the small buildings’ walls. People on motorcycles, buses, foot were everywhere and I felt keenly aware of being watched just as any traveler is, and I understood the dress code and hearing cultural explanations: we are the front for a country, a culture, a program, and whatever we do, wrong or right is observed. The further we drove, the more the buildings morphed into small unit shacks with crosses on the doorways, crumbling stone and garbage outlining the graves. We had reached the dump. I was struck by the heavy contrast between the quiet and beauty of the grave sights and the putrid smell and the garbage strewn around. We walked through the graves, some took pictures, some just walked and all of us were silent. We reached the overhang of land jutting over the ravine toward the wasteland. Birds with giant wing spans flocked overhead, diving to feed, hundreds of them. People below us walked, bending down every now and then to pck up a piece of garbage and death seemed endless. “If you are born poor, you die poor,” is the Guatemalan saying.

Families Experience Guatemala with Rick Steves Tour Guide

Experience Guatemala is not your average tourist excursion.

On November 19 through November 27, 2011, 17 people travelled to Guatemala guided by Jennifer Gouge from Rick Steves tours. Experience Guatemala is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the work of Global Visionaries in the communities of Guatemala as well as contribute to GV’s mission of empowering young people to become global leaders in creating a just and sustainable future.

This year all of the families that participated in Experience Guatemala were families that have adopted a kid from Guatemala.

Upon arriving in Guatemala City, the group went directly to Antigua.

While in Guatemala, the participants had the opportunity to learn about other organizations like GV that are partnering with local communities.

The group later returned to Guatemala City to visit the dump which like many developing countries is a place where hundreds of people live. According to Gouge, scavenging and living at the dump is dangerous and affects the lives of thousands of people. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, this dump is one of the largest in Central America.

Safe Passage is an organization that GV partners with whose mission is to solve the problem of the dump through educating the children who live there.

According to Gouge, guiding is more than just directing. The philosophy of Rick Steves tours is to help the participants engage with the culture and prepare them to interact with the local people.  During free time, Gouge would help the families by giving them ideas of activities they could do as well as giving them background information.

Experience Guatemala participants had several opportunities to interact with villagers. The group visited several of the GV work sites.

Picking coffee beans gave the Experience Guatemala participants the opportunity to interact with villagers while learning about the importance of coffee. Growing coffee is hard, physical work and is not like going to an office, Gouge said. Even when the price of coffee rises, the coffee growers do not make very much money. The coffee industry has a large impact on Guatemalan’s economy.

Before visiting the coffee farm, the participants discussed the purpose of the visit. According to Gouge, these discussions show a greater dimension of Guatemala. Jennifer said that she always explained why they were doing what they were doing and why they were going to the various places that they went. The goal of the trip was to educate the participants about the culture of Guatemala.

Planting trees gave the Experience Guatemala participants the opportunity to learn about how deforestation affects farms and the local people. A large percentage of the land mass is being deforested, Gouge said. Planting trees prevents mudslides and protects the land.

The Experience Guatemala group spent Thanksgiving at Lake Atitlán which is a lake surrounded by volcanoes. Thanksgiving dinner was spent at a restaurant with another organization. That day the group visited a women’s weaving cooperative.

Before returning to Guatemala City, the group visited Tikal, the center of the Mayan people. While it was still dark, the group walked to the edge of the jungle to watch the sunrise and listen to the jungle wakeup. The first animal in the jungle to wake up is the howler monkey. Gouge said that she could hear clans of howler monkeys screeching back and forth.

Participants told Gouge that Experience Guatemala was a “unique experience they will treasure forever.”

Before these families took part in Experience Guatemala, they already knew that they liked Guatemala but now they know that they love Guatemala, Gouge said.

View Pictures here.

GV Alumni Living in China

Written by Natasha Komen, ’06-’07

At the end of my junior year, June 2007 I traveled to Guatemala for two weeks with GV.

I can honestly say it shifted my world perspective and opened my eyes to the world. The GV program helped me see more than just me, my family and my country. From there I was hooked on traveling, learning new languages and meeting new people from other cultures.

Since that short two week cultural immersion experience four years ago, I have traveled to nine countries and spent at least 16 months abroad. I am currently living in China where I am  learning Chinese and meeting the wonderful people of this country.

I still love the States and the people there but I can definitely say I care about more than just my life.  My goal is to study sociology and psychology in order to transform people’s lives for the better as well as to continue to travel and learn about others’ lives. Who knows? maybe after I learn Chinese I’ll learn another language.