Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Guatemala.


Student’s service trip to Guatemala

Posted in Guatemala on May 14, 2018

Day 1: Volunteer’s first day of discovery

Did you know that Antigua is built like a chess board with seven streets and seven avenues? We didn’t, until today. It was one of the many things that we learned on our first day in Guatemala.

The morning started with a great boost of energy from our wonderful breakfast. Everyone was raving about the coffee, made locally at Fernando’s (a great Mother’s Day gift!). From there, we walked through the cobblestone streets and colorful buildings, up a hill to a stunning view of Antigua. Tough the hike made us sweaty and tired, getting to look at the city from above was worth every huff and puff.

After getting back down and exploring more of the city, we had lunch at a Frida Kahlo themed restaurant, called Frida’s, where live music kept us entertained. Refreshed and ready to go, we started our guided walking tour. The city is rich with fascinating history that we got to discover cultural landmarks and various activities. The architecture highlighted the plethora of global influences in the past and how it is intertwined with the present. The unique symbolism seen in every direction was breathtaking in every sense of the word. The guide engaged us from the beginning by symbolizing life and death, contrasting the church in the east and the cemetery in the west, also relating to the rising and setting of the sun.

The rest of the tour consisted of chocolate tasting and learning about the rediscovery of jade stones in Guatemala. Today was a great day and a great way to begin our time here in Antigua. We’re looking forward to working at the Open Windows Foundation in our upcoming days.

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

Day 2: A tour and a visit to the worksite

True or false: can you change your entire life’s purpose at the age of forty? True, as proven by Philip Wilson, the CEO of Ecofiltro who started his journey in social entrepreneurship after his fortieth birthday. Now, around the world, in hotels, schools, and houses, you are likely to find a clay water filter made in one of the 59 different factories. It was admirable to see how the employees were valued and how renewable energy powered the entire factory besides the kiln.

After our fascinating tour, we began our first day at the Open Windows Foundation, where we got the opportunity to meet Teresa, one of the founders of the entire foundation. We toured the school and were able to see the work that all the previous volunteers had accomplished, including one of our very own groups from Balmoral Hall School.

Our tour lead us to the work site where we would be building a house for a family of five. After our amazing lunch, we had begun our project. As it was our first day, it mainly consisted of heavy lifting. Our group having realized that there is strength in numbers, had created an assembly line. It was an extremely efficient process and resulted in a greater amount of work completed.

After all our hard work, we went back to the foundation where were rewarded by spending time with the children and learning from one another.

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

Day 3: Seeing the product of collective hard work

Having arrived at the worksite, five members of our group were chosen to stay back at Open Windows to paint a mural in the computer lab. The image was of a brain half made of a circuit board and half made of a swirling design, which represented the interconnectivity of technology and creativity in the modern age. The contrast between the opposing sides as well as the details included by the artists truly help introduce a new innovative aspect to the room.

Meanwhile, the other group at the worksite learned how to hand mix cement in order to build the foundation of the house. We formed an assembly line to pass the buckets of cement up the mounds of soil. This process not only showed us the importance of working together but also how so much more can be done when collective hard work is put in. Although this one task had taken up our entire afternoon, it proves how progress is slow, but in the end, a difference has been made.

After a hard day of work, we returned to Antigua and went to the Rainbow Cafe. It had a variety of authentic food accompanied by live music. It provided a great atmosphere for us to absorb the culture and have fun with friends after a long day of work. Our wonderful evening was concluded with a rooftop reflection, in which we discussed how our perspective has shifted since coming to Guatemala. One of the highlights included the idea that all children have the capacity and drive to learn, but not all have the opportunity. We noticed a common theme within all of our answers. This was the contrast between our own privilege, in comparison to the reality the people in this community face every day.

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

Day 4: A tough but rewarding day

Again, the group was split into two for the morning. Four of us stayed at the foundation, where we first used Face Time to talk to the grade 5 students at our school in Winnipeg about what we are doing on this service trip and what life is like for those living in Guatemala. Afterwards, we continued to paint the mural in the computer lab. While working on the painting, a teenager at the foundation came up to us, and using google translate, told us the mural was beautiful. Though this action was very minimal, it touched us in a significant way.

Meanwhile at the worksite, the main goal of the morning was to finish the foundation and prepare the floor for the concrete. With this done, we were rewarded with another great lunch, and then it was time to get back to work. The group split up again and part of the group headed back to the work site and spent the entire afternoon mixing and pouring cement. It was a real team effort and with rain threatening, we managed to get the floor poured.

One of the other group members had the opportunity to volunteer at the medical clinic in the afternoon. Every Wednesday and Thursday, a doctor is at Open Windows and sees patients from the local community.  Pixel was able to help measure the children’s weight and height to determined their health status, as well as package gummy vitamins for the children to take home.

The girls who stayed to finish the mural also had the chance to spend some time reading with the children in the library before the group from the work site returned for the day.

Today was certainly a day to remember. 🙂

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

Day 5: Rooftop Reflection

When we arrived at the worksite today, we were greeted by the finished cement floor. We couldn’t spend a long time admiring it because there was more work to be done. An assembly line was formed so we could haul up buckets of sand to make cement. We also finished bending the last of the 215 metal rods into links to rib the rebar.

After lunch, the finishing touches were added to the mural in the computer lab, and two people stayed back to volunteer at the clinic. Back at the worksite, we carried more than 300 bricks up the stairs. We saw the bricks we carried up become part of what will be the walls of the house.

After a hard day of work, we had dinner at Frieda’s and went to a market afterwards. For our rooftop reflection, we were asked to share what we believed was our contribution to the projects we were working on. A common connection made in most of the answers was how the group made the largest impact when we worked as a team!

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

Day 5: A New Dawn of Memories

You don’t realize how much you’ll miss trekking up a steep hill under the hot and humid sun until you don’t get to do it anymore. The same goes for mixing fifteen buckets of sand with one hundred pounds of cement, carrying over three hundred bricks up a hill in an assembly line, and bending two hundred and fifteen pieces of rebar to make hooks. But alas, we do miss it.

From the moment we woke up and met for breakfast, you could detect the shift in energy among our team. There was a surge of determination, of pride, and of heartbreak that carried us through the last day of work with the Open Windows Foundation. After only five days, each and every one of us had formed a meaningful connection with either the family we were building for, the children at the foundation, the employees, or the project itself. We were not just putting up walls and laying down cement, we were building a home for a family of five, a place where three children would grow up.

It was important to all of us that we work hard on the last day to leave the family with as much as possible, though there was not much left for us to do. Only a foundation for the bathroom needed to be put in and rebar had to be hooked together. The rest of the tasks including putting up the rest of the bricks and installing a roof would be completed by the experienced workers at the site. Though it took a lot of time, each of us laid a brick on the house, symbolically representing our contribution.

At lunchtime, we said our first hard goodbye of the day. We took pictures with the entire family and the worker who helped us from the foundation. By the time Elsa, the mother, had made a speech expressing her appreciation, there were few dry eyes left.

Back at the foundation we had a couple hours to spend with the children doing various activities from drawing, to reading, to playing outside, to doing origami. The friendships we could create with just the exchange of simple words, smiles, laughter, and hugs was palpable. Our time at Open Windows concluded with a final gathering of all the children and employees with our group, where they showed a video featuring photos of us working, performed for us, danced with us, and gave us certificates and cards. The celebration resulted in crying, laughing, and, of course, more crying.

Though we could not fathom that our working time had come to a close, our spirits were lifted when we came back to Antigua and immediately joined a workshop on making chocolate from bean to bar. At Fernando’s, the restaurant next to our hotel, we witnessed the long and delicate process that goes into making every chocolate bar. The most popular part of the workshop was tempering our own chocolate by pouring it over marble, reducing the temperature; and then adding nuts and fruits at our own choosing.

It was essential that we reflected on such a full day after dinner, each speaking about something on the trip that we were grateful for. The central theme that came up again and again was about forming strong relationships either with the people we came with or the people we met.

Today was a day of memories, a day many of us have looked forward to for months, and a day we already wish we could relive. But since we all understand that we can’t go back in time, we can only hope that with a new dawn comes new memories.

Balmoral Hall School Volunteers

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