My service team from Sidwell Friends School was the first group of Americans the community had ever met, and we were greeted with timidity. But after a week of hard work, and close interaction with the community, my team formed close bonds with members of the village, and I learned much about their lives.
Rural village life in Guatemala is certainly a challenge. Most live in little more than tenuous single-room mud houses that they built themselves. Every morning, many have to walk to a river 30 minutes away to return carrying the water that they need for the day. I met one family that can only afford to cook three tortillas a day to feed the entirety of their six person family. However, despite their everyday struggles, there was much happiness and optimism for the future. In fact, it was difficult to find a frowning child in this community. The people had very little, but they made the most of everything they had.
One of the most moving moments of the trip was on my last day following the opening ceremony of the school. While saying my final goodbyes, a child wearing little more than rags clung to my leg and told me that he promised to study hard after I left. This drive to learn and achieve was inspiring to me. The trip made me reconsider the insignificant things that I spend time worrying about at home, but it also made me think again about what it takes to be happy; it was clear to me that a plethora of possessions is not necessary to feel joy. That said, there are many hardships in their daily lives and little opportunity to improve their lot. I hope that our work to build the school will help provide the children more life choices in the future.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, and it will always be a very special place for me. I hope the school that we built will be a place where children can learn and take the first step easing the burdens of their lives in the near future and for generations.