By Dana Fried and Lindsay Mazzone
We cannot believe that four years have gone by. We started our journey sophomore year of college with a service trip to Nicaragua. People say that once you start traveling, you cannot stop, and they certainly were right. We returned to Nicaragua the following year as leaders of the trip, and also decided to travel to Guatemala to continue our humanitarian efforts.
We never could have imagined the impact that these Albert Schweitzer Institute service trips would have on our lives. When David Ives presented us with the opportunity to start a spring break trip to Guatemala, we were extremely excited. We knew this trip would change the lives of Quinnipiac students and the Guatemalan community for years to come. David has been a constant support system for us, our biggest fan and we have him to thank for broadening our horizons and opening our eyes to the realities of the world.
Last year, when we traveled to Guatemala, part of our time was spent in a community called, Joyas de las Flores. Today we were able to return to Joyas de las Flores and truly see what these sustainable projects provide. Upon arrival, we were immediately taken aback by the finished, multi-use pavilion that we started last January. The pavilion stands in the center of the village and provides a place for community meetings and festivities. The town leaders explained how thankful they were for the project as well as the copious amount of events it is used for. Seeing the pavilion completed and being used, made us that much more proud of the work we had done and confident that these projects are worthwhile.
The community was so appreciative for the work that the delegations have done in the past, that we even had the opportunity to start exploring future project sites. David would like to return in the future with students to build a classroom for children with special needs. This would be extremely unique to the community, as children with special needs are often shunned in Guatemala. Building a classroom for these children would hopefully bring more acceptances to a community where the stigma is currently detrimental to the well being of these children.
Exploring the possible classroom sites involved more consideration than we imagined. We looked at two possible locations, but there are so many factors to consider for the perfect site. When we got to a site, David would ask us, “What are the advantages and disadvantages of this location?” Advantages included easy access to bathrooms and a water supply, as well as close proximity to the current school. However, disadvantages included unleveled ground and deeply rooted trees nearby. This expanded our knowledge on what these service trips entail, as there is so much planning to ensure the project is a success and sustainable.
After a traditional Guatemalan lunch, we were able to check in on a capstone project that was implemented this past January. Three graduate physical therapy and two graduate occupational therapy students traveled to Joyas de las Flores in January in order to create a boot camp for children with special needs. They gathered volunteers within the community that they trained to work with these children, using the few resources available to them.
Today, we had the opportunity to see the volunteers and the children at work. The volunteers worked amazingly with these children, as if they were family. When a 12-year-old volunteer was asked why she works with, Reyna, a 6-year-old girl with Cerebral Palsy, she explained that she likes working with Reyna because she is her friend. The delegation was inspired by this mature and empathetic outlook of all of the volunteers. The children were smiling the whole time, and really seemed to be benefiting from the therapeutic exercises. It is our hope that the Albert Schweitzer Institute can further these efforts by building a classroom for these children. Today we were able to see how imperative this need is in order to expand the acceptance of children with special needs into the community.
We ended our last day in Guatemala with a dinner to celebrate all of the work we had done and all of the people who had made this trip such an amazing experience. Constantino, our liaison in Guatemala, spoke to the group about how much these trips mean not only to the people in the community, but also himself. He explained how the students who come on these trips become family and are always welcome and encouraged to return to Guatemala. It was very impactful for us to see how strong our bond with Constantino has grown over this past year, and we can honestly say Guatemala is like a second home to us.
These past 11 days have been more incredible than we ever could have expected. We were able to travel around Guatemala with an extremely passionate and caring group of people, and meet amazing people along the way. We have accomplished so much in such a short period of time. After spending this time in Guatemala and learning more about the culture, we realize how important building the basketball court for the community is. It will provide the community with a productive outlet for leisure when there is so many stressors and negativity surrounding them. Living with the host families is truly a unique and indescribable experience which allowed us to truly immerse ourselves in the everyday lives of the people in Guatemala. They may have very little, but they welcomed us with open arms and offered us everything that they could. Our experiences in Guatemala came full circle when we were able to return to Joyas de las Flores and see the long-lasting importance of the work we do on these trips.
Leading this trip has provided us with a unique experience in Guatemala. We could not be more excited to have established a Guatemala Alternative Spring Break Trip with David Ives, as we know this trip will continuously provide extraordinary opportunities and experiences for students, like it has for us. Although we have spent time in Guatemala before, this trip was different for us. When you experience a country for the first time, you take in everything for yourself. As a leader, you have the opportunity to watch as the students are impacted by everything that Guatemala has to offer. It has allowed us to grow by assisting them on their journey and gathering their perceptions. Coming back to Guatemala a second time has reconfirmed for us that our efforts internationally are merely beginning. As we said our goodbyes, we said “Hasta proto” because we know this will not be the end of our journey.
By Jaslyn Scribner
I woke up this morning to the familiar sounds of roosters and dogs breaking the silence of the night. My roommate Amanda and I shared a bittersweet morning with our host family as we shared some of our last moments together – the two of us had previously put together a bag of toiletries that we would no longer use including towels, baby wipes, tissues, soap, bug spray, along with headbands, sneakers, etc. and presented it to the family.
The widest grins I’ve ever seen appeared on each of their faces as they thanked us for the gifts . It has been amazing to witness how grateful people can be. These individuals who live each day scraping by with what they can afford to eat, wear, etc. are more willing to give us the clothes off of their backs than most wealthy people in America would.
One of the most interesting parts of our morning was when Amanda and I spoke with our host father about his life. He told us how he lived in Minnesota during the 90s, and traveled from the states to Guatemala by bus, and then by foot. During his journey, he walked with a few other men for three days and two nights in the deserts of Mexico without any food and very little water just to return to Guatemala for his family.
He told us that he built the house we were staying in with his father, and he wishes that he could build or purchase a larger home with multiple rooms but doesn’t have the money to do so. His story is compelling and really opened my eyes to the significant opportunities to which I have been privileged, and wish I could share with my host family.
My last morning in Santa Teresa also presented me with the opportunity to teach in the village’s main school with two other girls on the trip. The students were eager to learn words in English, so we taught them a little bit of English vocabulary including body parts, school supplies, etc. and then played an educational game with them that allowed them to practice writing their newly learned vocabulary.
It was a privilege to be exposed to the dynamics of a classroom in another country. The children were excited to be in school and truly wanted to learn. I felt that the students here have a greater appreciation for their education because it is a privilege to go to school.
After I finished assisting at the school, we were instructed to return to the worksite. We were able to see the progress that had been made since we last worked, and it was remarkable. The workers had paved a large portion of the court and also had a surprise for us: They carved each of our names into the cement to show their appreciation for our hard work and dedication to the project.
It was an incredibly emotional experience that brought tears to my eyes as our liaison, Constantino, explained the significance of the project and how thankful he is that we contributed to the community in such a profound way. This basketball court is a symbol of hope and well-being for the community of Santa Teresa and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of promoting that to the village.
The important lessons I have learned will forever hold a special place in my heart.
By Caroline Cadigan
Guatemala has been a wonderful experience thus far, as we have experienced a different culture, food and way of life. I have been extremely fortunate to be placed with a welcoming family who has opened up their home to Tracy and me. The family dynamic has been extremely interesting as my host family consists of a mother, father, two daughters, two sons and two grandchildren. The women in the household primarily work in the home cooking, cleaning and maintaining the household.
My host father works as a corn farmer and his two sons attend school along with his youngest daughter. Our father is one who is involved with his family making sure all of his children receive an education, which is not always the case in impoverished communities. Many times, the children will not finish their education or will have to stop attending school because they need to work to support their family. It is refreshing to see a father who cares so much about their family and the importance of education.
While we were staying with our host family, we were fortunate to meet a new addition to our host family. My eldest host sister, Olga, gave birth to a girl on Monday night at the house of our host family.
In the Guatemalan culture, the baby is not named until it is one month old which is the same time in the baby will receive vaccinations which are provided by the government. As this is very different from what occurs in the United States, it was fascinating to learn how another culture welcomes a newborn. Being a part of such an exciting time for our host family was incredible as we were able to see the joy and happiness that a newborn baby brought to their family.
Wednesday was our last full day of work at the worksite and as a delegation, we have a phenomenal time working with the Guatemalan construction staff, the children of the school, and Constantino. As we arrived to the work site, we became so excited that today would be the day that we would be able to see the basketball court come together as cement was going to be poured. We started the day unloading a truck full of rocks to be used in the cement mixture. As a delegation, we worked as a team to accomplish the task while joking around with Constantino and Luis. As we moved the truck of rocks, the cement began to be mixed together.
The cement mixture was extremely interesting as it is all done by hand mixing part cement, rock, sand and water together in a mixture. Due to the hot sun, the cement needed to be worked with quickly and need lots of water to ensure the cement had enough liquid consistency to be moved into the basketball court foundation.
Throughout the morning, we saw various school children come to the worksite to have gym class on the soccer field which is adjacent to the basketball court. Observing the children in their stretching circle and playing tag, I was able to realize how important this basketball court is to the community.
This basketball court will not only serve as another activity in which the children can participate in during gym class but is also a symbol of the community coming together. The basketball court will be a place for the students to go and play in a safe environment after school, as well as a place for the community to host athletic events.
Throughout the week, we have seen how thankful this community is for our delegation to come help their community. The community has worked alongside us shoveling rock and sand off of trucks, has made fabulous lunches for us and has also gone above and beyond to welcome us to their community.
As we headed to lunch, our delegation was thrilled to see the basketball hoop being welded together to be brought down to our worksite. Throughout the afternoon, the delegation divided to accomplish a variety of tasks. From learning how to mix cement without expensive machinery, to sifting sand and transporting bags of cement into a storage unit, it was a great afternoon. As the day winded to an end, we were able to see the basketball court begin to take shape as cement was laid and one basketball hoop was brought down to the work site. As a delegation, we were so excited to see the basketball court take shape and begin to see the results of our hard work.
So far, Guatemala has been such an amazing experience. When I first showed up to the village and met my house family, I had no idea we would become so close so quickly, but I am enjoying their culture and hospitality.
As the first day of work began, we started off by attending a ceremony which was like the laying of the corner stone to start the work. The community ignited a rocket for this ceremony as a celebration of the start of the project build.
It was great to see how excited the whole community was for us to be in their presence and help create this basketball court. As the first day of work began, our delegation started by unloading multiple trucks filled with supplies to make into cement. I found all of the work to be a huge bonding event between the citizens of Guatemala and the students of Quinnipiac University. Also, many of the children from school came to our work site to help us with various activities like wheel barrowing supplies. All of the students of Quinnipiac were accepted by the community, which definitely made me feel welcomed.
As work continued, more and more children and citizens showed to help us and our progress took off. Although it seemed like we were so far away from finishing the basketball court, the foundation of the project began to take shape. After lunch, we started a few new tasks before the day came to an end. The job of pick-axing was assigned to many of us to help level the ground, and the soil that was dug up was used on the opposite side to raise the lower ground. It was amazing how the Guatemalan people were so resourceful, as they used water inside a hose to determine whether or not the wooden posts and ground were level with one another.
After we finished for the day, we returned to the village of Santa Theresa and Eric and I wandered around exploring the markets. We both were interested in the markets because of how different things are from the United States, so as we ventured around we stopped to get little homemade snacks like cake, bread and bananas.
After dinner, our host father, Lenoel, had a huge smile on his face as he walked into the house. He proceeded to ask us if we wanted to go into something that appeared to be a giant pizza oven. We came to find it was a sauna, and our host father was asking us to partake in a sacred experience which involved the family. Out of respect, we both agreed to take part in this event even though we were both scared.
As we climbed through a tiny hole, we didn’t know what to expect. We first saw a small fire in the front corner followed by a large pot filled with water, and then multiple wooden planks which we laid on while inside of the sauna.
Lenoel then started to pour the water onto the coals above the fire to create steam that filled the air. We then partook in various movements to help with blood flow. To cool off while inside of the sauna, everyone was given a small bundle of branches to pat themselves with. After pouring water onto the coals multiple times and sitting in the sauna for about 40 minutes, we received a bowl of warm water to rinse the toxins or sweat off our body.
This experience that Eric and I had encounter was like no other, but we both agreed we were happy we were asked to participate because we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and considered so sacred to our house father. It has been so great to be part of this delegation, and I look forward to the rest of the trip.
By Shane Cardinal
Today started off with an early wake-up call from the roosters, 4:30 a.m. to be exact. Andrew, Caroline, Tracy, Eric, George, and I hiked up the mountain at 5:30 in order to see the sunrise. Although the scenery was incredible, we weren’t able to witness the actual sun coming over the mountains, but that’s OK. After the sunrise, Andrew and I walked back to the house where our host family was awake and starting its day. The house is located at the top of the mountain, about a 10-15 minute walk from any of the other host families.
My family is amazing. Mama is very kind and generous, and also a great cook. The three boys are great, although they only speak the native Mayan language (Mum), and I can’t verbally communicate with them; Andrew and I play catch with mini-Frisbees that we brought them and kicked around a soccer ball.
After having breakfast this morning, our delegation gathered and headed toward the local village of Porvenir. Here, the locals greeted us with a short ceremony honoring the leaders of the community as well as David Ives and Constantino. Then, it was game time!
The men got ready to play the first game of soccer while the women watched and got ready for their game afterward. The Guatemalan team was given jerseys that resembled Argentina’s national team jerseys, while our team looked like a band of misfits. The soccer match was a lot of fun. The first half ended in a 0-0 tie and the game ended with a 2-2 tie. Our MVP was George, who scored both goals. The following game with the women was also great to watch. The Americans ended up beating the Guatemalans 5-0 in this match.
After the games, we went back to the school in Porvenir and ate a lunch of mixed vegetables, rice and steak before we visited the classroom that a past Quinnipiac delegation built for the town. It was really great to see what our hard work does and how appreciative the locals are of it. Then, we hiked up to the highest point of the town and visited the cemetery. Their culture is much different from ours; most of the burial sites were above ground and the gravestones were all brightly colored.
This trip has been amazing. The lifestyle here is different from life back home. People here are so content with what they have. They look for happiness in each other rather than happiness in objects and technology, like we do in the states. I have already learned a lot from this trip, and I hope to continue to learn much more with the week that we have left.
By Andrew Chestney
Arriving in Santa Teresa, Guatemala was one of the most amazing and exciting experiences of my life. The children exuded joy as they ran to our bus. The strong sense of community was something I expected because of my past involvements on service trips to Nicaragua, but I will always be amazed by how powerful this togetherness can be.
Even before meeting my host family, I was aware of the conditions that they lived in year-round and I knew they would share the warmth and love that was present in the rest of the town. It’s upsetting to realize that a strong sense of community is not seen as often in the United States, but witnessing the power that it can have in Guatemala has influenced my awareness of community. In the United States, the joy of objects seems to be more important than the joy of social companionship that, by my observation, is the polar opposite of the Guatemalan culture. In only two days, this trip has reminded me that who you have is significantly more important than what you have.
Following a group dinner, we began a long walk to the summit of a mountain and the home my roommate, Shane, and I would be living in. It was then that I started to realize the extent of the conditions in which we would be living for the week.
Our host family consisted of some of the happiest children I have ever seen, not only in other countries but also my own. It is amazing how much love our host family gave us after only a very short time together. Throughout my life, I have noticed some of the difficulties that come along with accepting someone so different from you. The joy that they had as a family translated into our joy, as well as our feeling of comfort and acceptance as a part of their family.
Our home consisted of a kitchen with a wood-burning stove and two bedrooms. The language barrier was only magnified by the fact that the three boys only spoke Mum, a native Mayan dialect common to the town. With little verbal communication between us, the happiness that we all expressed was enough to move past the challenges with which we were confronted. Moving beyond these difficulties is not always easy but it allowed us to gain an understanding for one another and gave us the opportunity to learn.
This is an amazing way for me to gain even more of an appreciation for the things that I have been blessed with in my life. Not only have I realized how lucky I am to have what I have, but also this experience helped me realize that the people in my life will always be significantly more important than any possessions. All of these emotions can be shown through something as simple as the Mayan handshake that symbolizes, “you are a part of me and I am a part of you.” Such a simple gesture has an incredible amount of meaning and is such an emotional and unique aspect of the Mayan culture that we are lucky to experience. Not often enough do we allow people to be part of our culture or religion and gain a full experience to understand the deeper meaning behind the aspects of an individual’s life.
The Mayan culture is a large part of the lives of the people in Santa Teresa and this submersion allowed me to think not only about my own religion, but my life and behavior as a whole. A Mayan ceremony was an amazing experience that taught me about their belief in praying to different ancestors on different occasions in order for the community to prosper as a whole. At the beginning of the ceremony, the spiritual leader explained that the purpose was to pray to the grandfathers and grandmothers in the ground for a good harvest. The rituals demonstrate praying for many individual types of harvest, including two different types of maize as well as squash, for the ground and water. The Mayan culture also believes that it is less important to pray for your own success and more important to pray that everyone does well because the people hope to prosper as a group in the coming year.
Helping the people of Guatemala has shown me more about how to live my own life than other experiences. I have seen what working together can accomplish. I have learned so much through my experiences in Nicaragua and Guatemala that I believe you gain as much from a trip of this type as you put in. I have had the opportunity to construct new buildings and witness the impacts they have.
By Tracy Campbell
This morning, we were treated to a fresh and delicious breakfast at the Ecolodge Tecpan, also known as the Hobbit Hotel, where we shared rooms that looked like little cabins. The compound contained a mini zoo with sheep, chickens, turkeys, roosters, a fox, pigs, a deer and dogs. We stumbled across about 10 sheep. One lamb was stuck and very nervous. As a group, we freed him — but as soon as he felt loose, he took off dragging Eric. George, our sheep whisperer, caught the lamb and returned him to safety. After an enjoyable morning, we began our journey to Santa Teresa.
On our drive, we passed houses of all shapes, sizes and colors. It amazed me how houses were built so close to the edges of cliffs with only a few boards securing them in place. The scenery of Guatemala is gorgeous but the abundant poverty is what really stuck out to me. People seemed to be doing whatever they can to make money such as walking through the middle of the streets selling flowers. I noticed little kids just wandering by themselves, which made me think how most parents in the United States won’t let their kids out of site.
After lunch, we were back on the road to meet our host families. As the roads became more bumpy and curvy, our anticipation and excitement grew. As the bus drove up the mountain and we arrived in the village, children raced the bus to our destination. I was nervous to meet who I would be living with, but at the same time, I was excited to start this adventure. You could tell from the faces of the children that they felt similiarly, excited to see us but a little nervous to approach us. The kids who knew our leaders, Lindsey and Dana, were excited to see them. They threw confetti at us and we immediately started to dance with all the children as a band played. Dancing was a great way to break the ice and encourage shy kids to smile and warm up to us. I am a little embarrassed to admit since I’m on the track team, but I was a little out of breath from dancing at this altitude. It was clear how much the community adores and respects David Ives and they made us feel very welcome.
The ground of the welcoming ceremony was covered in pine needles, which was a sign of honored guests. They served us a delicious dinner and afterward, we were introduced to our host families. The area we were staying is an impoverished neighborhood where the houses were made up of a couple rooms with a kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom at the house I was staying in was outside but contained a toilet so we are considered because it is considered a symbol of wealth in the community. We gave our host family their presents. It was so nice to see how appreciative they were of everything and it amazed me to how generous they were and how willing they were to give up their beds for us. We hung out all night playing with the new toys together. As we finally said goodnight and got ready for bed, I was excited to see what tomorrow would bring.
By Eric Cajolet
Following a long flight that included sleeping, delays and more sleeping, we landed in Guatemala City around 4 o’clock local time. The airport was clean but empty. A bus picked us up, and that’s when we began to notice the differences between the United States and Guatemala. I was amazed by the traffic. We saw people riding in the backs of pick-up trucks. Motorcycles weaved between larger cars and no one wore helmets. Pollution does not seem to be of any concern as large trucks belched out clouds of black exhaust. The highway weaved between the larger hills and had tunnels through the smaller hills, as we headed toward the Hobbit Hotel.
Public transportation seems to be one of the most popular forms of transportation in Guatemala City. Buses are painted in bright, shiny colors and packed with people. They have front grills, which seem to be a popular trend for larger trucks. Many of the stores we passed as we headed west were small auto shops.
As we headed toward the Hobbit Hotel, which was about an hour and a half away from the city, we passed many farms. Guatemala is a mountainous country that has very little flat land. Many farms are on steep hills. In order to irrigate the crops evenly, the rows of corn are terraced, which prevents erosion and gives the crops a better chance of surviving the wet season.
The Hobbit Hotel was amazing. It has a little niche right off the main road, with a restaurant and several cabins. There are pigs, sheep, a fox, dogs, turkeys, chickens and ducks, some wandering around and some in cages. We had dinner with trip liaisons, Constantino, Louis and Julio. They were very grateful we had come and gave each of us a painted mug and a T-shirt. I know I speak for the entire group when I say I cannot wait to go to our host village tomorrow. If the first day of the trip was any sign of how fun this trip will be, then we have a lot to look forward to.