Ashley Yu is a sophomore at Winchester High School in Winchester, MA. She explains her experience in a letter and video.
This experience was wonderful in every way. It was beautiful, playful, and joyful. It was touching and heartfelt. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had and so much more.
I came on this trip to help build a school in hopes of bringing the gift of a better education to these kids in the small community of Colonial San Juan in Quiche, Guatemala. What I got out of it was so much more than the simple act of finishing a school for them. We all fell in love with the kids, with their eagerness and joy in the simplest and smallest of things.
When I think of Guatemala, I think of their shy smiles as they tugged at my hand to ask me to play soccer with them. I think of the sheer delight on their faces when I gave them pieces of candy. I think of their laughter as I ran around our huge circle of Pato Pato Ganso (Duck Duck Goose) and managed to fall on my face not once, but twice. I think of their caring expressions when they gathered around to check on me as I was putting on a band-aid over a small cut. I think of the never-ending excitement of taking pictures with 10 of them all trying to squeeze their faces into the shot. I think of the boy who was always hovering on the edge of the work site and who sprinted as fast as his legs could carry him to retrieve my water bottle when it fell off the windowsill. I think of all these little moments of joy and laughter, but most of all, I think of Juan.
I met Juan when two other girls and I were taught a traditional dance to be performed at the school's dedication ceremony on our last day. He was my dance partner. He was about half my height and probably around 10 years old. He was always smiling, and his sincere joy at everything inspired me so much. After the dance, I taught Juan a handshake. From then on, our hellos and goodbyes always started in the form of a handshake. He was always so determined to get it right each time. During the dedication ceremony, all the children came together and danced with us. They jumped up and down and mimicked whatever weird dance moves we were doing. It always touched me when Juan would look over and give me a huge smile and a big thumbs up. He had boundless energy and kept saying "Uno más! Uno más!" after each song ended, no matter that sweat was dripping all down his face. My favorite moment was when I gave him my sunglasses and he danced with them on for the rest of the ceremony.
I will always remember Juan. He'll always be my friend. I don't know if I'll ever see him again but I do know that meeting him was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. His joy at everything inspired me so much to be thankful for everything I have and to just be happy.
The moments with the kids there were the best memories that I take out of my School the World experience in Guatemala. From the little things like playing tag or receiving a piece of candy, they never ceased to smile. Their laughter was the highlight of each of my days with them. I miss them so unbelievably much and I'm so thankful that I had the truly amazing opportunity to go and help bring a better education to them and more memorably, to go and laugh and play with them. I will never forget Juan. I will never forget his smile. This amazing experience will always stay with me. The kids' happiness at the little they have really puts into perspective just how much we need to learn to appreciate all that we have. They are happy but they aren't satisfied. The kids there deserve to have the opportunity to reach for a better future through education. Their smiles will forever be in my heart and I am so grateful to have been a part of this wonderful experience.
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This video shows the Winchester students celebrating with Guatemalan students at the school's dedication.