For the first time, the GBL Friends have helped sponsor two volunteers abroad to Tecpan, Guatemala. This summer two of our scholarship winners (Abby Harris of Pittsburg High School and Kennedi Fields of Frontenac High School) were selected to be our representatives to the Cross Cultural Solutions High School program located in the Maya Highlands.
The GBL Foundation provided matching fund grants to the girls and arranged with CCS to participate in two weeks abroad with other students to engage in meaningful volunteer work with children; and journey into the Mayan/Spanish culture and countryside.
We have asked Kennedi and Abby to share with us a few highlights and experiences.
1. How was the trip overall? What were some highlights that you’ll forever hold onto?
Kennedi – Overall the trip was incredibility life changing. I not only got to give back and help out the kids, but I was also able to partake in events to become more culturally diverse. Some of the moments that stand out to me were playing on my phone with the children at the school because they were absolutely fascinated with the camera and videos, but also getting to go visit Lake Atitlan. It was insanely beautiful and definitely a place I would go back to.
Abby – The trip is almost beyond words. One huge highlight I’ll always remember would be playing soccer with the kids. That was such a fun thing we got to do every day. I couldn’t speak much Spanish I didn’t need to when we were playing soccer, the body language was enough. Though I couldn’t communicate well everywhere, which was a challenge, I definitely managed. The kids that were also on the trip with us were pretty good at Spanish and helped me out a ton. It was frustrating at first to not be able to speak, but I think that was a good thing because now I’m very determined to learn more Spanish, I’m even taking classes at PSU.
2. What did you do throughout your trip and how did you learn and grow through that?
Kennedi – Throughout the trip we taught English to elementary kids, painted murals at the school, and participated in a variety of different cultural activities such as dancing, going to Lake Atitlan, and ancient Mayan language lessons. It was very eye opening to see how these people lived and made me realize how privileged I am. It was such an incredible feeling seeing those kids light up when we showed up to the school every day.
Abby – During the trip we would go the school in the mornings and then go on a cultural excursion. We went to a strawberry farm, Lake Atitlan, Antigua, a jade factory, a pottery factory, and so much more. During most of our excursions, like the strawberry farm, we got to see how hard the people of Guatemala work. They do everything by hand and with extreme care. The entire country is so different it really just knocked be off my feet realizing how lucky I am to have all that I do. Not only were our excursions humbling, but they were always informative and really fun.
3. How were the accommodations, food, etc.
The accommodations were AWESOME. The home base was a hotel that CCS rents out during the summers and it was beautiful. We had our own volleyball net and basketball/soccer court. The hotel was right outside of Tecpan and had amazing views. It was right on the side of the mountain and you could walk up the mountain and sit at a little terrace. Our food was also amazing. I’m the least picky eater in the world so I loved everything we ate every day. The staff there were so kind and helped us with anything we needed. I had no complaints about the home base. Everything was extremely nice.
4. What would you tell others of a similar age who are considering this kind of trip?
Kennedi – Definitely to step out of their comfort zone and just do it. Go in with an open mind and whenever you are given an opportunity to take it because you never know if you’ll get another chance like it.
Abby – I would tell other kids to not be afraid of going somewhere completely foreign because it’s worth it. Even if you aren’t good with the language it is easy to pick up on stuff quick and learn the little things you need to get yourself around, and people are always willing to help you. You should be ready to be accepting of the cultural because you will be extremely surprised at what is normal in other countries. Being open is the best thing you can do on a trip like this, especially when it comes to the people you meet. It is so much easier to become friends than to close yourself off and have the trip be awkward. I still talk to all the kids I met and plan to go visit a few on Christmas break.
5a. Question to Kennedi – I know you have strong desires to work abroad in pharmacy with DWB, did this catalyze those desires even more?
Kennedi – This trip really solidified desire to work in underdeveloped countries and now I’m even looking at other opportunities to travel abroad and volunteer again.
5b. Question to Abby – I know you’re very much into helping others especially those in need, was this experience fulfilling from that standpoint? Did this experience act as a catalyst in continuing your desires to travel abroad and help as an OBGYN?
Abby - It sparked the drive I already had to travel and help. The program director and I became pretty good friends and he suggested I come back with my Pre-med friends and do a more medical based trip. I’m fairly certain I’ll go back this summer.
Finally the girls were asked to describe the trip in 3 words…. “Forever Life Changing” was there consensus response.
The GBL thanks all of our Friends for their continued participation in our annual 5K run, Facebook postings and financial support. For 2017, we can only hope to expand our efforts to get our local high schooler’s on volunteering journeys abroad.