Volunteering Abroad from a First Time Volunteer
We often find ourselves overwhelmed with the typical day-to-day tasks, and it can be draining. This past year, I knew I needed a mental health break. Rather than taking a vacation where I would lazily waste away in a chair on a beach somewhere, I wanted to exercise my mind and soul in a new way and disconnect from social media. Up until this point I had been doing local fundraisers with FAM for Project Genesis, and I had sponsored a child with the foundation over the holidays. I reached out to Meghan and decided it was time for me to go work with the kids. I booked a flight on Spirit pretty cheap and we left a couple of weeks later.
Going into this trip, I must be honest, I had a couple of worries. What would the country be like? Would I be safe? What if there is a language barrier? But, trust me. The second the plane broke through the layer of clouds; my mind was instantly at ease.
Immediately, I felt at peace. On my side of the plane, all I could see was luscious greenery, and across the aisle where Meghan was seated, I could see the most beautiful volcanoes and mountains from the opposite window. All I could think about was exploring this new place, and I had so much love in my heart to give to these kids that I was about to meet.
Once we had gotten off of the plane in Guatemala City, we quickly made it through Customs, and I was able to call an uber for about $20 to get to Antigua.
The Uber made its way down the historic cobblestone streets of Antigua, and I arrived at my home for the next 8 days. Before I could even get in the house, we were greeted by the neighbor Nancy, who insisted we visit her home for bite to eat. I followed a narrow path to her small home that housed her, her husband, and their children. It could not have been any larger than my one-bedroom apartment in the states. She offered us chicken tacos that she had made on her small electric hot plate and gave us her last beer. Although my Spanish is minimal (still after 6 years of Spanish classes), I felt right at home with Nancy. She introduced all of her children to me, and we talked about their schooling and day to day life. We even danced to some music, I already felt like part of the family.
That evening consisted on my first trip to La Bodegona, where I got all of my food and snacks for the week, and my first Tuk-tuk ride. Along the way I got to see some beautiful historical sites. It was only my first day in Guatemala, and I never wanted to leave.
On Monday morning, Meghan and I walked the cobblestone roads to La Bodegona to meet Ricardo, the inspiring man behind Project Genesis. We loaded up in his truck with the dogs (the same truck that used to hold 40 kids before they had a bus) and began the drive to the project.
I nervously studied my lesson plans, but I was mostly excited to finally meet and work with the children that I had only seen in photos.
When we arrived at the project around 1pm, I was able to set up my classroom for the day. We then loaded up on the bus and drove into Chimaltenago to pick up the kids. I was immediately greeted with smiles and laughter of from about 40 happy children. Seeing them all run, and hug Meghan immediately brought me to tears. You could see how much love was shared between them, and how much good our foundation has been doing for these young minds. When we got back to the classroom, I read the Spanish version of “Curious George goes to the Aquarium” with the children, and we all made clay fish. We learned the English words for pingüinos (penguins) and pescado(fish) along the way. Having a bunch of kids ages 2-5 yelling fish while they worked on their crafts was probably the cutest thing I have ever experienced. On that first day with the kids, my brain already had a new way of looking at life.
The rest of the week it was the same routine. Pick up the kids, do a learning activity, play, pray, and prepare their food (for some it was their only meal they would get for the day), then we would load them back on the bus to go home. But it was on my last Friday with the kids that had the biggest impact on me.
That Friday, before the kids arrived, I sat down and listened to Ricardo’s story. This inspiring man, received a message from God and biked up a mountain every single day to work with the children of his community, prior to help and donations.. Hearing all the hard-work, dedication, and faith that this man has is the most enlightening thing I have heard to date.
I learned far more from Ricardo and the kids, than I ever could have taught them.
We tend to take everything for granted. We have a roof over our heads and a fridge full of food. We also have 8 hours a day of free education. These kids are extremely grateful for the one meal they receive at the project. I have worked with children for 6 years, and I have never seen more kind and gracious children than the ones in Guatemala. The older siblings make sure their younger ones eat first. They watch out for one another, they have a connection with God, and they are quick to show their love to new volunteers.
I cannot do Ricardo and the Project enough justice in one short blog, but I hope that you will take the time to come and experience all that Project Genesis has to offer. As a college student, I worried over the cost of the trip, but I was able to spend less than $90 on food and fun for the whole week. Skip the spending on drive-thru coffee for two weeks and spend one week of your time in Guatemala.