Guat’s up, guys? I hope everyone had a great winter break! I spent the last part of my break in Guatemala.
What was I doing in Guatemala? I was on an Alternative Breaks (AB) trip, which included a service learning experience on Community Development and Sustainability. The mission of the University of Maryland Alternative Breaks program is to “engage individuals in short-term service-learning experiences that challenge social, political and economic structures of our global community. Through reflection, education and service, Alternative Breaks develops mutually beneficial community partnerships, critical thinking and leadership skills to create a socially just world.” (Please visit http://www.alternativebreaks.umd.edu for more information.)
I am a Public Health major with a focus in Global and Environmental Health Program Planning and Community Development, which made this trip even more meaningful to me. I was able to be immersed in the culture, and the locals and their perspective on life made a huge impact on me. It truly has been one of the greatest moments in my life. If I were to talk about my experience on this trip, it would take me days. This is why I want to share some highlights and interesting and surprising things I learned from my trip.
My AB team and I volunteered at Safe Passage in Guatemala City. It’s a non-profit organization working in Guatemala City to bring hope, education, and opportunity to the children and families living in extreme poverty around the City’s garbage dump. It serves about 600 children, ranging in age from 2 to 21 years, and 100 mothers coming from nearly 300 families in the surrounding neighborhoods.
We also visited a cemetery in Guatemala City. Notice the comparison between the rich and the poor. On the left, the big Egyptian-like tombstone served as a family memorandum for a rich family. On the right, there is a wall-like structure where each family has to pay a monthly price to leave their deceased family’s ashes. If they can’t pay, the deceased are removed so that other people who can pay take their place.
A part of the cemetery overlooks the Guatemalan dumpsite. This view you can see in the photo is not nearly enough of what we saw. We saw a comparison of the dead at peace with flowers and butterflies, while the living is working in a living hell. This dumpsite is miles long and football fields wide. Many people make a living by working there from 6am to 7pm every day, to get like 20 Quetzals (less than $3). Some mothers who work there even bring their newborns. There are little shacks right there that sells food or that people sleeps in. It was mindblowing and so saddening to see this. It was a first hand experience that is indescribable with words.
My AB team and I spent the majority of our stay in Los Andes. A small community of 38 families lives on its nature reservation. We painted their school, taught some English, shared our knowledge on health and nutrition, and came to know the locals very well. We fell in love with the people, the place, and our time together. This little cheeky and adorable boy is Moises. He has got to be one of the most loving, helpful, and sweet children I’ve ever met. He had one chance to take a Polaroid picture and he chose me to be in it. On the last day, I lost count of the number of times we cried together or he came to hug and kiss me goodbye. Hopefully, I’ll get to see him again one day.
I could continue to talk for hours of how amazing this experience was for me. I am very thankful to my sponsors, my AB team, the hosts and locals in Guatemala, and especially to Alternative Breaks for allowing me to go on such a wonderful, life-changing, and inspiring trip.
If you are a UMD student, I highly recommend that you look into Alternative Breaks (AB). AB participants “address social issues that include disaster relief, environmental restoration, HIV/AIDS, education, homelessness, healthcare, poverty, and immigration”. There are 27 trips to 27 different locations in each school year. Trust me, you can’t go wrong with AB!