Guatemala, UPAVIM, children, you.
With such a large world, it becomes easy to think that one person cannot possibly do anything to invoke positive change -so it is easy to sit back and watch.
This summer I realized just how easy it is to help. I became involved in a trip to Guatemala through Nourish International, and my experience as a volunteer teacher has been so much more than I expected it to be.
Even at first glance, the level of poverty in the area surrounding UPAVIM -the school in which I worked- is evident. However, there is something about La Esperanza that holds true to its translation: Hope. It both amazed and inspired me to see that those who have so little, yet they are still grateful for all that they have.
I think that was my favorite experience: the cultural change, especially with regards to school. As a first-generation Filipino American, I think that I was more used to different cultures than some of my other organization members. I have visited the provinces in the Philippines in which my dad lived the majority of his youth, and it was actually a bit worse off than the area where we stayed in Guatemala. However, I was never able to experience Filipino schools, and although it was stressful at times, this became my favorite part of my experience in Guatemala.
I worked in Reforzamiento (“Reinforcement”), an after-school program which provides opportunities for learning to those who cannot afford school. However, unlike in America, there are no laws against truancy. Children are not dragged to school by their parents. Children came to Reforz voluntarily. Most always had notebooks with them, always came in smiling, were always happy to be there.
This is not to say that teaching was always easy. Surprisingly, teaching in mostly Spanish was not the difficult part, rather the culture in which students were raised, combined with the lack of schooling, made teaching tricky. Most days, I would help kid of the appropriate age level in writing letters, reading, multiplying and dividing. However, there were days where I would teach a twelve-year-old how a sentence has a period at the end and the difference between certain letters. After a good twenty minutes, repeating “espacio” (“space”) multiple times to show the difference between a letter and a word gets tiring.
But that’s the beauty of it. While there were few who did not want to cooperate fully, there those who would not stop no matter how long it took. My fondest memory (but also most frustrating) was when I had to teach a seven-year-old how to write the number one. Our supervisor – a native Guatemalan- wanted them to write the number one a certain way (like 1 without the base line), and the little boy I was working with could not seem to get it; his numbers kept turning out oblong, even after his friend and I drew examples. I even had to resort to drawing out dots for him to trace, but he still could not write the number one. After an hour of attempts, the moment he finally drew it made me ecstatic! Through cheering and smiles, I made him high-five me plenty of times to show him how proud I was of him.
THAT, is how one person can make a difference.
It was not always instructional time for the kids, as we often went to the canchas, which was the cement area where kids played. Even in the Reforz room we often played games with the kids. We came to realize that anything was good for them, as long as they were not on the streets. In Reforz, they were not exposed to gang violence.
And at the end of the day, many students voluntarily give the teachers a kiss good-bye on the cheek out of respect and gratitude. As an aspiring teacher, I think this is the one thing I will truly miss the most, as I know this would not be considered “okay” in America. Even if the day was exhausting, you were left knowing the kids appreciate what you did for them. Some days, your cheek would be more slobbery than others, and the “Gracias, hasta manana!” was always worth it.
After being home for several weeks, I have been able to reflect on my time volunteering with UPAVIM. Before I got to Guatemala, I was worried about how the teachers and students would feel about some American college student coming to teach English, but those fears soon went away as we were welcomed with open arms from both the students and staff of UPAVIM.
An average day for me at UPAVIM started with helping to teach a second grade English class. Once class was over, I returned to the roof to have lunch with the other volunteers. After lunch, I then went to Reinformaziento, where I helped tutor students in math and reading. Twice a week I would also teach an English class to some of the kids after school.
My favorite memories from my time spent in Guatemala, revolve around the interactions I had with the children. Despite the challenges that many of the children faced in their lives, they were truly the happiest most loving children that I have ever met. I will always remember my first full day at UPAVIM when we took the kids to the park. As we rode on the bus, it was filled with the sound of laughter and singing as one of the students danced up and down the aisle.
I look back at the 6 weeks I spent in Guatemala and am very grateful for the experience. Even though I came to UPAVIM with the intent of teaching the students, they taught me more than I could have ever imagined.
You guys may be wondering how do I clean? Cook? Shower? Wash clothes?
It’s totally understandable! I had a friend ask me if I was staying at a hotel, which I wouldn’t mind, BUT I am actually staying in the roof of UPAVIM!
The building in which we are staying has at least 5 floors, and each floor has a different purpose! For example, the first floor is the nursery and kindergartners classrooms, the second floor is a pharmacy and doctor’s office, the third is where the women make crafts, the fourth floor is the location for the classrooms for the grades 1st through 6th, and finally it’s the roof floor!
The roof, or my home for the six weeks, has four rooms, along with a kitchen, bathroom, and a pila! The pila is where all of the dishes and clothes get washed! NO, we do not have an official sink in the kitchen nor do we have washing machines! We all have to handwash our clothes, which is terrible because in the morning there is always the older women washing their clothes and they are PROFESSIONALS! One said that we [volunteers] didn’t wash our clothes, we just soaked them in water and hung them up…. [I AM GUILTY]!!
We are all assigned a day to cook and clean! My day to cook is on Wednesdays, and I must say that people really loved my “half-cookings” yesterday! I guess when you only have a limited amount of food and meals per day, you’ll literally eat anything!
Yesterday the shower stopped working! Now we all have to shower with “buckets!” The water, I must admit, has been the coldest water that I’ve showered in since I don’t know when! But usually we do have hot water! And In order to turn on the hot water, we literally have to turn on a switch!
Even though, we lack basic commodities, I have learned to look pass those things and really enjoy the simple basic things! I love the simple life that I am living!
Tomorrow seven interns of NourishUTK will leave for Guatemala City, Guatemala, for their humanitarian project. This summer, NourishUTK will be partnering with UPAVIM to help teach English and science classes in the impoverished community of La Esperanza. Being able to speak English provides access to better opportunities in the Latin American job market. UPAVIM’s English program, along with their sponsored extracurricular activities, helps keep children off the streets away from gang violence by placing them in safe nurturing environment. Our goal is for our interns to return having created a curriculum that can be successfully implemented long after the project is completed. Stayed tuned for weekly blog post and updates from our interns as they document their stay in Guatemala. Hasta proxima vez!