Week One in Xela – 28th June 2015
After 15 hours of travelling, I finally arrived in Guatemala today! I arrived in the evening so had felt nervous and intense since I was one of the last participants to come. I think the excitement really kicked in when I was on my plane from Miami to Guatemala City and I could see the transcendent volcanoes from up high, my jaw dropped and I couldn’t compose how happy I already felt to be in beautiful Central America.
Departing from the airport and shortly arriving in Antigua, I met our brilliant team leaders Luke and Ada and other participants taking part in the program. I will never forget ‘Marda’ who picked me up from the airport and we were playing a Spanish game while waiting. Marda kindly gave me a little boost by stating my Spanish was good when I knew it was not so great at that time haha! It was a really welcoming atmosphere and great to meet students from countries ranging from Hong Kong, Australia, America and Singapore. The next day we then travelled to ‘Xela’ – known to be the second biggest
city in Guatemala, to attend an intensive Spanish course at the Escuela called ‘Sakribal’ run by Olga! I felt quite challenged since I did not have a Spanish language background but my teacher made me feel very comfortable and started off with simple steps and phrases. My teacher Miriam was very caring and informative about Guatemalan society and culture and gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful churches and markets around Xela during our last teaching session!
After the Spanish lessons, we met our homestay families and made our way to their welcoming home! I cannot begin to explain how lovely our homestay family was. We were awoken most mornings by hearing our host mother telling us ‘Desayuno’ is ready and she’d always give a gentle laugh when me and another participant, Christine would look tired in the morning, trying to remember Spanish words! The delicious traditional desayuno consisted of frijoles, huevos and platanos (black beans, eggs, and plantains) with tortillas of course! I loved the homestay family experience as it provided a solid foundation for me to practice my Spanish and learn about Guatemalan society from an insider’s perspective. The amazing hospitality and care we experienced will forever be missed and admired. We exchanged details with our homestay mother in Xela to hopefully keep in touch!
After Spanish lessons during the first week in Xela, as a group we participated in foundation building. This consisted of learning the core values of Soluciones Comunitarias and providing analysis of certain materials in regards to social entrepreneurship. We would then present our ideas to the rest of the group and discuss how important social impact is and how to measure it accordingly. Foundation building gave us all the opportunity to prepare for our first campaign in Pachute. We all practised doing eye tests and visual demonstrations of how the water purification filters worked.
Our first practical experience was in Pachute and this first contact essentially opened up our perspective to the needs of many Guatemalans. Pachute is located in a mountainous rural area, where the sun would be beaming and there would be massive amounts of corn being grown. The greenery contrasted significantly from the tranquil blue skies, yet as beautiful as this remote town was, many residents suffered from painful eye conditions such as cataracts and are affected by dust allergies. It was an amazing experience to see first-hand how helpful the eyewea
r and eye drops were for people. What really touched me was seeing the little children undergoing eye tests and then trying on different pairs of glasses, being able to see clearly up close. The other team ‘Team Impacto’ were involved in visiting certain residences around Pachute raising awareness about water purification filters and the organisation we were working for – Soluciones Comunitarias. As a whole this experience not only made me aware of how to approach community needs in a sensitive manner, but it helped me understand how important it is to reach people to make an sustainable impact!
Moreover, an amazing hike accompanied our last day in Xela across the highlands, which lasted about 7 hours! From falling over logs numerous times to gasping for our breaths when climbing a steep angle – this hike served as a bonding experience for all of us and made us that much closer! We left for Chiantla the next day in the morning and it was really hard to say goodbye to our incredible homestays! What helped was exchanging details, knowing we’d be in contact in the future for sure.
I cannot wait to experience what else this journey holds, after week one I already feel at home yet I also do not know what else to expect and that in itself excites me!