Volunteering in Guatemala

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hi, this is Patty writing now and a section about my voluntary work project here in Guatemala.

"Proyecto Educarte", the name of the school, is in Ciudad Vieja (10 minutes in a Chicken bus from Antigua) and it started in Jan 2006. The mission of the project is mainly to educate children in order to reduce poverty.

Guatemala's social indicators, such as infant mortality and illiteracy, are among the worst in the hemisphere, and 80% of the population lives in poverty, and two-thirds of that number live in extreme poverty.
Poverty is particularly widespread in the countryside and among the indigenous communities of Guatemala.

Alejandra (the Director) is just 25 years old, but with all her experience and knowledge, you would think she is 40. People take on big responsibilities at a very early age here.. She had been volunteering in a few projects and decided to set up her own one. In Guatemala, parents normally have to pay if they wish for their children to attend school. However, this voluntary run school, gives free education to children from poor families, who otherwise would not receive an education. The school has a long waiting list of people from the surrounding villages to study there, but unfortunately, the school can't take all of them, as there are shortage of volunteers.

So here I am on a Monday 7.30am, having to get up to go to "work" again. Oh man, that's so weird after such a long time. We have had to get up very early to take buses and stuff, but is not the same. I start wondering if I'll ever be able to get up again to go to a real job when we are back in London!? Oh well, not worrying about it yet... :)

Alejandra showed me what to do the first day, but after that I was giving classes to the younger kids on my own. I taught them English, Maths, Art, Geography and a little bit of everything I could think of. The geography class involved guessing where I was from, and pointing to that country in a world map. It was very funny when they all replied that they thought I was from Antigua, just 10 minutes away!

I've got 12 kids in my class, they all come from a very poor background, their parents are mostly farm workers and don't know how to read or write, so the school also gives adult classes in the afternoon. Although their families are extremely poor, the kids come to school very clean, and really want to learn, and they make lots of effort to progress.
The school has a long waiting list of people of the surrounding villages to study there, as there are not many, so the parents must tell the kids to give the best of themselves when they attend school.

The kids are sooooo cute it's very difficult not to become attached to them. In next to no time, all the kids showed respect to me, calling me "Seņo Patty" (Miss Patty) all the time. Being a native Spanish speaker is great as I can totally interact with them, play some of the same games I use to play when I was a kid.. etc.

It is funny how everyone, including the chicken bus driver (who is a different one every day), seems to guess that I'm volunteering in a local school. As Ciudad Vieja is a very small town, with just some small shops, they must imagine that I'm going to school to volunteer when I get off the bus every morning. It was hilarious when the driver told me "Adios Seņo, que le vaya bien" (Bye Miss, have a nice day) for the first time.
Walking to the school every morning means I get a lot of "Buenos dias seņo!" (Good Morning Miss) from almost everyone. Even people I've never seen, they know my name too! So nice.

Being a volunteer has enriched me, in a personal and constructive way.

This experience has given me more personal happiness, and it's been more rewarding than a 9-5pm office job, that's for sure.

I was supposed to teach the children, but I think I've learned just as much from them as they have from me... They don't have anything, but they are happy in their own way, without complaining about silly little things. They are happy with very little, and share everything they have with the other children. They always help each other out if one of them can't do something..

I've enjoyed my time here so much that itīs so hard to say goodbye to the kids. They have been sad the whole week, once they found out it was my last week with them. It's just incredible that kids who are just 4 year old, realize what's going on and can be so loving.

So my last day arrives, I've bought a banana cake for everyone and some games and books for the school. What I didn't imagine is that they would bring me some gifts too!

The mums of some of the kids arrived and gave me 2 boxes in a heart shape and 2 small bags made by them, full of sweets, leaving cards...etc. They gave them to me telling me all the time. "Thanks for all your help Miss Patty and for teaching and educating my kids. We really appreciate your time here". That was a very emotional moment and I was in tears straight away. They started crying as well, telling me all the time :
"God bless you Miss, good luck with everything, God bless you".

I couldn't stop crying... They are people who don't have anything and are extremely poor and yet they give you so much...

They came with me to the bus stop and I spent the 10 minutes back to Antigua crying in the bus, thinking about how much I've learned here, how much I'm going to miss them and how much I've changed during my time here.

This won't be the last time I volunteer on this trip, so I'm already looking forward to next time, probably in Bolivia.

As I said in my previous entry, I found this volunteer project through Proyecto Mosaico www.promosaico.org . They work just by donations so please feel free to send any money over for this country in need. It would be so highly appreciated.
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