By Cynthia Chang, Winchester High School '20
This past February break, I spent a week building a school and playground for a rural Guatemalan community, Quivala. It was my second time traveling with School the World, and just like my first trip, this one was truly unforgettable. If I had to sum up my recent trip in two words, they would be eye-opening and heart-warming.
One of the main things that stood out to me over the course of the week was the extreme poverty in Quivala and in the more rural areas of the country. As I had come to realize on my first trip with School the World in 2018, the homes and classrooms in these rural communities are extremely bare; the people do not have access to certain commodities that we often consider “basic” and “guaranteed”. For example, things like running water, electricity, and schoolbooks are rarely available, and if so, are considered a luxury or a gift.
I saw all of this first-hand on my shadow visit to the home of a community member. The experience was especially eye-opening because the mom let us look around and explore the animal pens, the kitchen and the one small bedroom of her home. It all looked so different from what I’m used to in the United States. The mom also taught us how to shuck corn, and when I tried to do it myself, not only was I really slow, but my hands hurt after a mere few minutes! I was shocked to learn that every meal they ate involved preparing the corn, and it was hard for me to wrap my head around how long and tiring the process is, let alone having to do it at least three times a day. At the same time, hearing about it made me value the privileges I have in my life, like the grocery store located five minutes away from my house and even things like the stove, microwave, and sink in my kitchen.
Despite the simplicity of her home and life, the mom was so genuinely happy. She explained that she was so thankful to be surrounded by her children every day and to be able to see her husband when he returned from working in the city every few months. Her gratitude showed me that you really don’t need a fancy house, electronics or other materialistic possessions to be happy. Instead, it is more important to appreciate your family, your community, and other loved ones around you.
In addition to my shadow visit, my experience bonding and playing with a little third-grade girl from the community, Cristina, also demonstrated the widespread happiness and kindness in Quivala. One day, during recess, I was teaching Cristina how to move across the monkey bars, zoom down the slide, and use the see-saw with one of her classmates. We had just finished cementing everything the day before, and it was Cristina’s very first time using all of the structures. It was heart-warming to watch her have so much fun, and I realized that joy can come from the simplest activities. I also understood how lucky I am to have playgrounds and parks within walking distance from my house.
When the heat soon left both of us exhausted, Cristina asked me to come with her to get some water back at her house. As I waited for Cristina, all of her family members nearby offered me water to drink. Even though I could not accept the water because of safety precautions, their offers communicated the consideration and care that everyone in the community had for each other. I was again touched by how strong their generosity was even though they had so little themselves.
This trip not only opened my eyes to the unfortunate poverty in rural Guatemala but also, more importantly, the greater power of communal kindness in the face of hardship. I am proud to have been able to help the community progress by building a school and providing the infrastructure for quality education.
From the Winchester area and want to learn more? Join us TONIGHT April 3rd at Winchester High School Library 7PM! Learn about our Summer service trips!