Over Spring Break, 11 members of M-A’s Global Leaders (GL) club stayed in Antigua, Guatemala for eight days. Students on the community service trip worked in a hospital in Antigua called ‘Hermano Pedro.’ Patients from all over Guatemala come to the hospital, because they do not charge as much as other hospitals. Due to this policy, however, the hospital is highly understaffed and underfunded, so it accepts volunteers whenever possible.
Working in the hospital was the service aspect of the trip, but the trip included much more than just that. Students spent four hours per day practicing Spanish in the Tecun Uman Spanish School in Antigua, and also participated in various team-building and learning opportunities. Though the Spanish School was for all students on the trip, it was particularly beneficial to those taking Spanish at M-A.
Students spent time touring the town of Antigua, learning about Mayan pract
ices at the Mayan Culture Center, learning the salsa dance, and experiencing the poverty of Guatemala first-hand at the Guatemala City Dump. The dump is extensive, and many people work collecting recyclables for long hours, making only approximately 5 U.S. dollars in an entire day. Some people even used to live in the dump until the Guatemalan government passed new laws prohibiting it. In between activities, students stayed with a Guatemalan family, and immersed themselves in the Guatemalan culture.
A typical day looked like this: students woke up and had breakfast with their host families until departure at nine. Then, students walked through the town of Antigua to the Tecun Uman Spanish School for a one-on-one lesson. After four hours at the Spanish School, the students walked back to the home stays for lunch and rest. At around three o’clock, groups departed from homestays again, and walked through town to Hermano Pedro Hospital. After working in the hospital for three hours, students gathered in a park and reflected on the day. To celebrate at the end of the day, students sometimes returned to the school to learn and continue to practice the salsa dance.
M-A’s GL trip to Guatemala usually occurs during the summer; this group was the first to travel to the country over spring break. Because only 11 members attended, as opposed to the 40 or more that will go on the usual trip during the summer, many of the students felt that the small group was more of an advantage, as it led to more opportunities to bond with each member.
Students reflected on their most memorable experiences from the trip. Sophomore Emily St. John shared, “My favorite part of the day was working in the hospital because I feel like I really developed connections with all the kids.”
Alex Chang, another sophomore, agreed, “I really enjoyed going to the hospital after the first work day because I was able to see the patients I connected with. I also like spending time with my roommates and bonding with everyone in the group.”
Students feel that they have learned a lot from spending time in Guatemala and being immersed in the culture of a new country that it is a very different than the United States.
Sophomore Sam Jeffrey said,“I learned that the people there have such a positive outlook even when they are in such extreme poverty. There is such a different culture there. They have so much joy in everything they do.” The students agreed that many people in Guatemala, despite being economically disadvantaged compared to people in the the U.S., had a positive and optimistic outlook. They said hello to people as they passed, and were always polite and courteous. Many of the students came to realize that the people they met defined wealth by their happiness, not by the amount of money they had.
Junior Mariana Guzman explained, “Even though people there go through difficult situations, they manage to have a positive attitude and make you feel comfortable.” Sophomore Esveide Gonzalez added, “One thing I learned is that the people in Guatemala live by the day. We here in the United States are fortunate enough to save up money for college or something we want, but people in Guatemala have to spend the money they make [for daily needs].”
Chang said the trip and new experiences were refreshing: “The community of people in Guatemala seems much more connected, loving, and kind than here… being unplugged, connecting with my host family, and getting to learn about the culture really helped relieve the stress that many people in our community have. The people are very grateful.”
Thanks to the team bonding activities and the new cultural experiences, nearly every student felt as though the trip brought them closer together with their classmates. St. John said, “I personally feel like I got to know everybody. Definitely having a smaller group is better because I connected with everybody.”
Jeffrey reflected, “I think that the trip itself was what made us so close because there are so many different emotional aspects to it that brought us together.”
Chang felt that she not only made new connections, but substantial ones: “Going into this trip, I hardly knew five people, but after the trip was over, I had built a relationship with every person… seeing each other vulnerable, experiencing difficult things together, and having fun created a strong bond within our team.”
Gonzalez also reflected on the bonding effect of the trip as a whole: “I think the trip was good to connect with people because you got to see a different side of everyone, especially when we went to the hospital. You saw people feel sympathy, working with others and you never thought you would see that side of someone, especially at school. It was nice getting to know pretty much everyone.”
Sophomore Leyla Arabian agreed that the trip helped her bond with her classmates: “I feel like I connected with everybody individually at some point during the trip. I felt comfortable around everybody. I would recommend a small group.” She values her newly-made connections, and said “It is really comforting for me to know that there are ten other people at M-A that share the same experiences as me, and know what I went through.”
Giving her concluding thoughts of the trip, Jeffrey said, “You don’t really realize how big of an impact the trip is going to have on you until you have actually gone and you are on your way back. I know going into it I just thought it was going to be cool and I was going to help people, but I didn’t really know how deeply it was going to affect all of us. It was really a life-changing experience experience for all of us.”
The students were inspired by their realizations in Guatemala and continued to reflect on the trip once they were back. The trip helped highlight that Guatemala, just like countries everywhere, may struggle with poverty, government corruption, and high influence of gangs, but young individuals working in that country are still capable of enacting change. During the trip, when reflecting on how they can make changes in and around M-A, the students decided to create the S.A.L.S.A. club. S.A.L.S.A. is an acronym for Society of Activism, Leadership, and Service for All, and is a reference to a piece of Guatemalan culture. The club will be instated in the coming year, and will engage in community service at M-A and around the Bay Area.