Kate, Founder of School the World, happens to be my aunt. That doesn’t mean that my participation with School the World (STW) was built into my trajectory due to family ties. Although I was intrigued about School the World’s work at a young age through my discussions with Kate, in all honesty I wanted to travel to Costa Rica for Surf & Serve prior to even considering STW’s Service Learning Program in Guatemala. However, at the time, my aunts had recently traveled to Guatemala with Kate and quickly shot down the idea of Costa Rica, convincing me that the best way to leave the country for the first time would be with a group of friends and School the World.
I remember being nine years old and introduced to Kate’s new mission in life through photos, videos and stories. I struggled to grasp exactly what life was like in Central America and couldn’t quite understand the depths of their poverty or what not having a school really meant. I would ask questions, keep looking at pictures and ask even more questions. Fast forward to today, 9 years from the start of School the World, and I recently completed my fifth trip to Guatemala, have raised over $18,000, constructed 4 schools and 3 playgrounds, all within past three years. Needless to say, perhaps I owe a little credit to my family for steering me in this direction.
So, what have I experienced and learned from working in 4 communities within Quiche, Guatemala?
I witnessed extreme poverty, but I’ve seen firsthand the power of change.
The first community I served in was Xeq’ol in April 2015. I have since returned four times to visit and see what progress may have or may not have been made. Yes, I built strong bonds with the children there – but most importantly, I witnessed a positive impact in just a few short years. Xeq’ol has transformed from a small shanty made entirely of plywood and nonresistant to weather to three colorfully decorated classrooms with a playground. Attendance has increased significantly and school lunches are now provided from the authorities.
It’s been an emotional journey, but I’ve developed a strong sense of self along the way.
It is difficult to find the perfect words to describe the connection between School the World and us “World Changers” or the unparalleled passion many of us returning students have for the work we do, the culture we learn about and the humbling country as a whole. I’ve cried tears of joy, laughter and sadness. Not only has my desire for education grown, but my understanding of who I am and who I want to be has immensely developed due to this experience. I have been pushed to believe in myself, embrace opportunity and encourage others to harness their own potential. If I could sum up all the emotions into one word: EMPATHY. My personal understanding of the people of Guatemala and their lives and my ability to share in their struggles defines much of my character today.
I took on a lot of responsibility within the nonprofit and defined my career aspirations.
STW offers a leadership path for students who wish to stay involved with their work. Not only does this mean becoming a leader within the Service Learning Program, but it also entails learning more about sustainable nonprofit work. The staff of School the World, both local and international, taught me an immense amount about the field itself and what a strong work ethic and compassion really mean. Becoming a Trip Leader after preceding my second trip had allowed me to not only work closely alongside my peers and the STW staff. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to witness the impact that this experience has those that travel time and time again.
I am entering my freshman year at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a defined plan to major in Global Studies and Health Policy & Management with a concentration in South America. If you had asked me my ambitions prior to my involvement with STW, Global Studies wasn’t even on my radar. While at college orientation this summer, I was asked to write a six word story. Something that I believed matched my identity and defined how I wanted to embrace my UNC opportunities. So, I leave you with this: “do with heart at the forefront”.
[gallery ids="4276,4275" type="rectangular"]