My trip to Guatemala this past spring break was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Because I had never been on a real mission trip prior to going to Guatemala, I had no idea what to expect. It definitely exceeded anything I could have imagined.
Although we spent a few days in the capital, Guatemala City, as well as a major tourist town called Antigua, most of our time was spent in the small mountain town of Cantel.
On our first night in Cantel, the church/ school that was hosting us held a special service in our honor. That in itself was amazing to me because they did not even know us. Yet because they were so excited about meeting us, they took time out of their lives to give us a special welcome. Somehow I ended up being chosen to carry the most gigantic Guatemala flag ever made while this 6th grader got to carry what seemed like a very tiny U.S. flag, compared to the one I was carrying. With no notice we also had to sing our national anthem…which we know, but somehow the sound system wasn’t playing the music so we started to sing it a capella. Of course when we were about half way through the song, the music finally started and we had to start over in a very high pitch which none of us could reach. Talk about a humbling experience. After we awkwardly finished our anthem, the Guatemalan people began theirs. Now picture this: me carrying this gigantic flag that is extremely heavy while the Guatemalan anthem plays on for about a good 8 minutes. I almost died. Finally I got to sit down and the program went on with a little entertainment from both the school kids and our group.
On our second day we got to travel to another small town called San Bartolo. Here we planned a day to play soccer and basketball with the kids in the morning and then after lunch we would get to go to the hot springs just outside the town. When we arrived, we walked into the town and past the market to get to their basketball court which was in the center of town. At first none of the kids would come play with us so we just played our own game of soccer. Eventually more and more kids started to show up and started to play with us. It felt so good to be able to play soccer again with people who really knew how to play and were good at it. We had kids half our size beat us to the ball or steal it away from us. It was pretty funny at first because we didn’t really want to play rough since we didn’t know them. Boy, were we wrong. They were definitely not concerned about roughness and soon we were all laughing and having fun knocking each other down and playing as hard as we could. It was sad to see many of the smaller kids didn’t have shoes and their clothes had rips and tears in them. You could tell they hadn’t washed their hair in at least a few weeks and their faces were covered with dirt. Yet here they were smiling up at us, just happy to be with us playing a simple game of soccer. It touched our hearts.
The baths were interesting. They kept telling us that they were like hot springs so what I was picturing was much more like the hot springs I visited in Costa Rica that were more like the ones we have in the states. We were surprised to find out it was nothing of the sort. Basically they send you to a private bath (if you want one, otherwise you go to the public ones outside) and you basically wash yourself off with these little bowls that you scoop water with as well as soap and once you are completely clean then you are allowed to get into the “bath”. It is more like a hot tub in my opinion, but it feels really nice. Definitely an interesting experience, but it was really fun. After the baths we made the journey back to the hotel in Cantel for the night.
On Monday we FINALLY began our construction project after breakfast at the school. We were to build the foundation of a science classroom which would sit across the road from the main school building. We were all excited to start, even though none of us knew what we were doing. And so began our long, hot, and dirty task of digging the 20 feet by 20 feet square trench around what would be the classroom. Since the building was on a hill, it was very hard to get exact measurements so that the building would be level when completed. In some places our trench was probably only 3 ft. deep, but in others it was so deep that I had a hard time trying to get out of it. The first day it seemed like a piece of cake. Digging right, how hard could that possibly be? Ya, right. By the time we ate lunch we were all exhausted and extremely dirty (Note to self: Guatemala dirt sticks well to skin). We had barely gotten anywhere on the digging, even though we thought we had done a lot. We had no idea at the time just how deep we were going to have to dig. After a quick lunch in one of the school classrooms, we were ushered into the basement of the church (connected to the school). The kids had prepared a welcoming presentation for us. They did such an excellent job telling us about all the different cities in Guatemala and performing different dances and rituals for us. It made our group feel special to think they had been preparing their presentation for months. The whole entire time we could hear giggling all around us as all the kids tried to steal glances at us while they thought we weren’t looking. The girls were rather shy but the boys tried to look cool like they were trying to impress the girls in our group with their cell phones and whatever else they could. After hanging around and talking with the students and their teachers a while and eating dinner we finally made it back to our hotel.
Tuesday was filled with basically the same thing Monday was except instead of watching the kids make a presentation for us, we got to do one for them. We handed out stickers….which got a little crazy. Before I knew it my shirt was covered with them. We also did a Bible story presentation about the Good Samaritan. It went well for being our first time. We did the translation from English to Spanish all by ourselves too so that was really neat to take part in! The kids laughed and had a good time. I know we did other things with them during that time, but I think we were just having too much fun to remember what exactly we did. After our ministry time, the pastor of the church took us on a home visit to one of the student’s homes. I couldn’t tell you what I had expected to find there. The house was made of metal walls and a dirt floor. It was only two rooms and had 1 bed- for 6 people. Jorge, the student attending Principe de Paz, was living with his grandmother and four brothers and sisters. Both his parents had died a few years previous. Because he had no way to pay for school, the church had given him a scholarship to attend the Principe de Paz School. It was heartbreaking to see the way they lived and how much they did without. When we visited we took them a basket of food. The grandmother kept thanking us again and again for bringing such a needed gift. At the end of our visit we all gathered around and prayed for the family. Prayer is performed much differently in Central America than it is in the United States. At my school we always called this form of prayer Mexican Prayer. Instead of taking turns praying one after another, everyone prays all at the same time. At first it was a little weird and hard to get used to, but once everyone got comfortable with it, it made an amazing sound that was so uplifting to hear. It was an awesome experience and amazing to see that though we speak two different languages, we still call on the same God to answer our prayers.
We worked on digging the trenches again for the next few days. On our last day working we decided to have a trench warfare fight. I am not even kidding. It felt so real. It was hilarious as well. We were all crawling on our hands and knees trying to move around to get a good shot at someone else before we were hit with dirt clods ourselves. If only history teachers could do that when they teach on WWI! We also spent more time with the kids from the school and had a few more home visits that I will never forget either. One of them was a visit to Walter’s home which was on the other side of the town. His “house” was only one room separated by furniture. There were flies everywhere. Only two beds were in the house, one for the parents and one for Walter and his younger brother and sister to share. What touched my heart was that Walter had such high goals and dreams for his life. As we talked, he told us of his dream to be a pilot one day. Unfortunately, Walter barely had enough money to eat let alone go to school in one of the big cities and pay for pilot training. It was one of those moments in life where you feel guilty for taking so much for granted. Here Walter was trying desperately to earn money to get his pilot license and there are kids in the US who don’t even have to think twice about how to pay for the same opportunity. I wanted to see Walter reach his dream so badly. On the last day of our stay in Cantel, after we had finished our construction, we got to play one last game of soccer with the kids from the school. We walked a short distance from the school to a turf-style field and set up teams. 2 guy teams and 2 girl teams- one team made up of kids from the school and one team made from our group for each gender. It started out well. Our guys had been practicing a little bit during our lunch breaks so they weren’t as bad as they had been in San Bartolo. Still, they were no match for the other team. Eventually they lost and the girls took the field. I had to coax a few of the girls from our group to play, but once we started playing, they got into it. It was a lot different from playing in the states because I am used to being the small one on the field, but there I was, knocking girls over (on accident) and then tripping over them myself as well. That was definitely a new experience for me. When we finally won our game, the boys went out to play another game and we sat down on the benches and began making balloon animals for the kids. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen when they watched us make the balloons. At first no one really wanted one. I guess they didn’t know what they were. All the sudden we were surrounded with kids wanting this animal and that animal. They were all so excited and even tried to copy us. Sometimes it is the simple things in life that make us happy. When it was time to go we got out our cameras and began the long process of taking pictures with almost all of the kids. They were so anxious to get their picture with us. It was great! I felt famous. On our walk back to the school, one of the girls I had gotten to know, Leslie, grabbed my hand and walked beside me the whole way. She told me in her broken English that I was her best friend and that she would miss me very much. With tears in my eyes I replied that I would miss her too, in Spanish. That was one of the harder moments of the trip. I never thought I would have that hard of a time saying goodbye. The next day as we drove out of town we saw many of the kids from the school running down the street after our bus waving and yelling goodbye. I was sad to go, but it was time, unfortunately.
We spent some time in the Antigua markets for a few days as well, but it just wasn’t the same as spending time with the kids in Cantel and San Bartolo. Sure it was fun, and we made some pretty funny memories, but I missed the kids. The one thing I hadn’t thought much about was how many beggars are on the streets. I mean, I live in Colorado Springs and they tend to stay in certain areas in my city. In Antigua, they were everywhere I think even big city people might have been surprised. My heart went out to them. Many had lost limbs or their eyesight and there were dozens and dozens of children begging as well. Now, I know that sometimes people send their kids out beg because they can get more money…sometimes even if they don’t need it. It’s been known to happen in the US, but good grief it is the easiest way to suck me in. I am never able to resist a kid let alone the three adorable brothers that came running after me. We were getting ice cream after a long hot afternoon in the market and right outside there were three young boys begging on the sidewalk. Of course we had been warned not to give money to anyone in Antigua because it could get dangerous, but I seriously couldn’t help myself. All day I had been walking past numerous people who I am sure needed the help. I had obeyed the instructions all day, but I couldn’t hold out any longer. These boys were just SO cute and they were wearing rags that could barely even be called that anymore. I had to do something. The youngest one looked like he hadn’t eaten in a few days at least. I looked down at my ice cream and the money in my hand. I had noticed the middle boy eyeing my treat. My mind was turning. I had spent all the money I felt like spending and I wasn’t going to be able to use it after I returned home. I had plenty left over…probably a good fifty dollars and of course the ice cream in my hand. I hadn’t taken a bite of it yet, but it was supposed to be some of the best in Guatemala. I looked down at the boys again. Somehow, I knew the right thing to do was to give them what I could. I took the money out of my pocket and called to the boys. I smiled down at them as I handed each one an equal amount of coins. They just beamed up at me as though they were experiencing Christmas for the first time. All at once they hugged me and the youngest boy, whose name turned out to be Edgar climbed onto my lap. I scooped up a spoonful of the ice cream that was rapidly melting and held it toward his mouth. His eyes grew so big I thought they would pop out of his head. Taking the spoon, he looked at his brothers and then back at me. I nodded and he took the whole cone and began to feed his brothers the ice cream as well. It was such a delight to be able to give these boys even just a moment of happiness. We stayed there playing with them for a while longer but eventually had to leave to go back to our hotel. After our adventures in Antigua, which there were many more of, we drove to the airport in Guatemala City and flew home. By that time I was ready to go home, but not ready to leave. I knew by the time we left Cantel that I wanted to work with 3rd world country kids after college. It seemed to be a place where I fit in and where I could make a difference in the lives of children who deserve it as much as any other kids do. Every once in a while random memory from the trip pops into my head and makes me smile. It was definitely something I will never forget. I hope you will continue to pray for me as I move on into college and toward my teaching degree, so that I may one day help make a difference in children’s lives. But I also hope that you will also pray for the kids and staff at Principe de Paz School in Cantel, Guatemala, especially those like Walter and the other children on scholarships who cannot afford to reach their dreams at the moment. Thank you for all your love and support.