So, I have finally arrived in Guatemala! After much preparation it is hard to believe I am actually here, and writing this in a rumbling thunderstorm of rainy season overlooking the mountains.
Stepping off the plane into the Guatemalan heat a week ago seems like almost a lifetime ago and all my fears of what to expect have been quickly wiped away in the excitement of getting stuck into the program and the warm Guatemalan hospitality that is so prevalent everywhere.
For the first week all of the interns on the U21 program have been based in Xela, the second biggest city in Guatemala and the cultural capital of the country. The city spreads out in a sprawl of winding avenidas of pastel coloured houses, clustered between lush forest mountains clouded in a misty haze for most of the day. Every morning this week we have spent in the local escuela in an intensive training in espagnol and Guatemalan culture, and I really could not have asked for a more inspirational teacher. From fighting for indigenous rights alongside Rigoberta Menchu and others to making an independent film on alcoholism, David opened my eyes to the many problems and corruption that this beautiful country faces on a daily basis. The afternoons we have spent learning more about the inside workings of Social Entreprneurship Corps and Soluciones Comunitarias, the Microconsignment model, the products and services we provide as an organisation as well as how to conduct eye examinations.
For our time here, we have all been placed with homestay families and I cannot describe the love and care that my family have shown me. From teaching me and my companera Somia traditional dancing, to Luis mi hermanito waiting at the door for our return each day our families have just been a home from home that I will miss when we move next week!
The highlight of this first week with my family was going to a traditional art exhibition with Maria mi abuela Guatemalteca. I really felt like I had been welcomed into the community, as my abuela proudly introduced Somia and I to her local circle of friends as well as the artists themselves, where we happily spent the rest of the evening discussing the paintings and local community.
Today we left Xela in the first blushes of sunlight, travelling to San Martin to work on our first campaign with Don Irma and her husband our regional entrepreneurs. As we climbed into the mountains listening to Shakiras “Can’t remember to forget you” on repeat, (our bus driver apparently loves Shakira), it quickly became apparent the harsh conditions of these isolated communities, in a stark contrast to Xela. We arrived to find a small line of villagers patiently waiting already, amas de casa in their beautiful Mayan dress, children peeping out from behind their skirts and babies strapped in bright coloured cloth to their backs, alongside local farmers and workmen. As well as helping conducting eye examinations and prescribing different types of reading glasses, my group was also involved in conducting needs and product analyses for our research project. For this we will be working on improving the understanding and awareness of Soluciones Comunitarias within communities, as well as how the organisation can better meet the needs of the different communities it provides for.
And there is absolutely nothing that can beat the beam and look of awe on someone’s face when they can read and see up close again!
Every day has been filled with so much enthusiasm, and learning I cannot wait to start working more on the projects here and learning more about SEC, the Guatemalan people and this amazing and beautiful country.