We are already in March, and as this school semester is coming to a close I realized how much life has got in the way of the human connection. I spent my reading week on my University’s Alternative Reading Week program. When the majority of my friends, school trips, grad trips or s-trips hit up Cancun and Punta Cana for their last HOORAH! I decided that going down south would mean going a little further down, and finding myself in central America. Guatemala to be exact!
Having been to Mexico on five separate occasions, and being the Maid of Honor at my brother’s wedding in the Dominican Republic, not to mention the adventures of Cuba with my roommate Ashley. I was over the all inclusive scene. I wanted real travel in my life. My travel’s over Christmas provided the luxury of a sturdy luggage, lot’s of family time and a new addition to my country list with Budapest, Hungary. Yet, even though I was living out of a suitcase, and hoping on and off planes for three weeks. I still had the luxuries of warm showers, clean sheets and a la carte restaurants. That may be a nice scene, and to some, the perfection of travel. For me, that’s grown-up stuff. I like adventure.
Real travel means sleeping on the floor, or a beach or a park bench. Not having the sturdiness of a zip up luggage, but rather a back pack full of zips, buckles and clicks. Who need’s clean sheets when you can whip out your compact sleeping bag at any time, and food becomes the luxury when you’re on a budget, and can only fit in food between having an amazing time, and witnessing beauty. So I strived for that over my reading week, and found myself sleeping on a concrete floor in a Kindergarten classroom with 15 other women, while the men slept in the second kindergarten classroom next door.
I went to Guatemala to repair a school.
I have done volunteer work before, but nothing like this. Tree planting in Australia may have been volunteer work, but I can’t quite pinpoint why I left my heart with the Children of that school, instead of the tree’s at the seven star resort in Australia. Tough debate :p.
SO WHAT DID I DO? I PAINTED.
I painted my little heart on a giant mural for the school. Others built walls and roofs, which may have been more physical work, but I wasn’t trying to ease my way out of the labour. I still did my fair share of lugging cinder blocks around and pulling every muscle in my arm or back, but there was something about making the school beautiful. To me, it was about the human connection, leaving a piece of myself there that would always allow me to remember them, and for that community to remember our team. The first few days we worked hard, we had no distractions besides lunch, and worked from 8 AM until 4 PM. Once Monday came around, all the children were back in school, and work became IMPOSSIBLE.
They were so curious of us, they couldn’t help but get as close as possible, and the second any of us would pick up our camera and try to add a Spanish dialect to the word ‘FOTO?’, they would come running! Which is another thing, I thought my Spanglish was a little bit better then what I was able to even communicate. I got the basics down though…
Come es tas? – How are you?
and then one that came in handy…
‘La pintura sta al fresco‘- WET PAINT
They had a field day with that one. I kept butchering the language, and they would all laugh and tempt me. They kept trying to touch the paint and laugh at me when I would try and yell some foreign mix between Spanish, English and Jibberish to explain that the paint would ruin their clothes. That was the least of their worries.
Finished Mural with the Mural Team
When the Mural was finished, the principle personally explained to us his gratification for the work, and the community held a ceremony for us to thank us for our work. Below are some of my favorite pictures from the week… sort of like a photo essay.
Just a small portion of all the donations our team brought with us. After doing an environmental clean up campaign with all the students, a representative from each class lead one of the team members back to their classroom with donations. A little grade one boy took my hand, and helped me carry back all of the papers, pencils and toys for his class, and after I distributed all the pencils among the whole class, they sang me a song, that was so happy, and thankful, that I couldn’t help myself but tear up. Then, I realized, that all these six year old’s where singing me a happy song, and I was standing there like an idiot crying. Not sure what message that sent across, but the second they were done, I yelled ‘Gracias’ and ran out!
This is Melinda. She is three years old, and lives in a little house on the corner. What I learned from this little girl, was unconditional love. She would see us walking into town from her house and would run as fast as she could to give all of us huge hugs. She didn’t know who we were, and yet she had no fear of strangers. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the language, had different colour skin or features. She was just happy to see us. So this one day, after running to us, we brought her a few gifts, a teddy bear, some bubbles and a skipping rope. We spent the rest of that day playing jump rope with her, as she coordinated all of us, and made sure we were all smiling.
Melinda and Me again
Guatemalan Crafts. She hand made all of those bracelets and was so warm and welcoming.