June 20 2017 by Allison Hagler
Today we finally arrived in Guatemala! From the plane, the beautiful mountains proved you were getting close. After speeding through customs and baggage claim, we were ready to meet the rest of the group. It was so nice to put a face to the people we had been texting. From arriving in Guatemala city, we were greeted by friendly locals and a welcoming staff. We came to find out, driving through the bustling city was much different than in the states. We had a filling lunch of fried chicken and met more arriving students. For an hour we drove through the beautiful towns becoming more acquainted with guatemala. The stunning hotel in Antigua was where we unloaded for the night. The afternoon was filled with “get to know you” games and a trip to the market across the street. We decided to immerse ourselves a little more by trying an exotic fruit called “leeche”. The night ended with a walk to dinner. We shared our first Guatemalan dinner together, although we all became distracted by the smell of fresh bread baking across the street. As the night came to a close, we trudged through the rain back to our hotel for a heavily needed sleep.
Not included in photos and arriving tonight and tomorrow: Maura W, Catherine R, Olivia H, Sarah S, Summer A, Lena B, Maria R
Blog written on June 21st by Allison Hagler
This morning the sunrise woke us to start our early day in Antigua. Breakfast of eggs and beans was served in the hotel. Our suitcases packed on the roof of the vans, we headed out for the first activity, A traditional wedding ceremony. After a small drive, we piled into a small room and gazed at the beautiful clothes and bags surrounding us. Two indigenous women welcomed us and told us about the customs of the mayans. They told us that because of modern innovations, the locals were straying further away from traditions. It was moving to see the passion and dedication the women had for their beliefs. After reenacting a typical mayan wedding, we shopped to support their movement of cultural preservation. We then drove to La Azotea for a tour of the coffee plantation. Our tour guide informed us that Guatemala has the 3rd best quality of coffee in the world. While Brazil wins in quantity, Guatemala is the only country that produces the coffee by hand. As demonstrated by the mayan women, we saw how locals take pride in their traditions and history. From La Azotea we drove to a local restaurant for a Guatemalan lunch. Prolonging our time in Antigua, we shopped at a market in town. Finally, we met up with the last arrivals to the group and left for xela. Filled with anticipation and dramamine we twisted around the mountains for approximately five hours until we reached the destination. Instantly it felt like home with welcoming staff and a home cooked dinner. Still full from the delicious tamales, we showered and drifted to sleep excited for the service project in the coming days.
Blog written by Allison Hagler
This morning started a little rocky. Literally. Mother Earth decided to give us a wake-up call with a small earthquake. Luckily our staff had prepared us for emergencies like this one. We ate a filling breakfast of french toast and fresh fruit and packed our bags for the first day of service. As we arrived at the school, we were instantly surrounded by the smiling children. We watched as the students performed a Son, or a traditional dance. They also performed a skit for us that showed the importance of education. In the end, we were gifted a homemade craft by some of the younger children. As recess began, the children were running and playing games with the volunteers. Afterwards, we were given a tour of the small school. A teacher informed us that the government does not pay enough money for the upkeep and daily necessities of the school and children. It was eye-opening to see the kitchen intended to feed 600+ students to only be the size of an average bedroom. Teachers face the problem of underpayment combined with limited supplies required to teach. As we are more aware of the government struggles, we begin to see graffiti saying ¨we want more” or ẅe demand equality”. On the way home, our van groups became better friends with each other and we all decided to have a dance party in the living room at home base. To end the night we watched a documentary about the history of guatemala. As Cate put it, “even though it was dated, it gave very important insight into the history of guatemala.” With somber hearts, we head to bed with new perspectives and ideas about the country we are visiting.
June 22, 2017
The morning of the 22nd of June started as any morning would for me as International Director. I woke up at 5:30am, jumped in the shower, listened to a few songs, and began to dress myself for the day. Just as I was putting on my undershirt, I felt the ground massaging my feet. Oh the familiar thrills and marvels of a free and 100% natural foot massage! Most of staff was awake and immediately jumped into action waking all those that were still sleeping. We quickly evacuated the building with a mob of sleep-walking teenagers, meaning that the evacuation was in complete silence. Wow! Less than two minutes later the chatter and jokes began to flow. The volunteers began to reflect on ac experience that can be frightening but also exciting to someone who has never experienced an earthquake. After waiting outside 10 minutes for the aftershocks to pass, everyone entered into the house, but this time wide awake and ready to start their day. Activities for the day proceeded as normal and staff is continuing to follow all emergency prevention procedures. The day’s activities included the volunteers meeting and playing with the kids at the school, learning about the history of chocolate making in Xela and Guatemala at a family owned chocolate factory, and learning the history of the Guatemalan civil conflict. Everyone is safe and enjoying their time in the ¨Land of Eternal Spring.¨
The earthquake with the epicenter near the coast of Port of San Jose, Escuintla. Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela, is a 4 hour drive from the warm and small beach town San Jose. The majority of damage in the country of Guatemala occurred in areas where the buildings are composed of materials such as adobe, which are not the best for withstanding earthquakes. Luckily, GLA believes in providing the best facilities for its programs to operate in and no damage was done to GLA Guatemala’s facilities.
This morning we woke up to a breakfast of eggs and fresh bread. After the meal, we had our first reflections with our groups. We talked through any questions we had regarding the children or the different culture. We left for the school shortly after and split into stations of construction, painting, or teacher planning. Construction groups learned how to smooth a cinder block wall and plaster cement onto it. Teacher planning made posters in English so that the next GLA group would be able to teach the children. Painting groups painted the unfinished kitchen and painted desks. Although we were not able to spend as much time with the kids as we were expecting, I think we all agree that the hard work was just as rewarding.
From the school, we came back for western lunch of chicken and mashed potatoes. We drove about an hour outside of xela to go to a small family farm. The family farm produced natural wool creations. We were able to have a tour while the family demonstrated how to weave. At the end of the tour, we were fed fresh corn tortillas with salsa and guacamole. We drove back to home base afterwards, to finish the day with a dinner of enchiladas and chicken.
We woke up early this morning to have breakfast of cereal and fruit before we left for our weekend excursion. It was about a 2 hour drive outside of xela until we finally arrived at lake atitlan. We got on a boat and went from one side of the lake to a small market on the other side. The mountains surrounding the lake were stunning. We spent a little bit shopping and walking around before we got back in the boat to go back to the lakeside hotel in Panajachel for lunch of mashed potatoes and beef soup. From there, we unpacked with our new room assignments while most of us then took a nap. We had a choice then to stay at the hotel or walk around the town. Dinner was a buffet of chicken and corn tortillas. After dinner we had a group reflection on our feelings with seeing children on the streets. Today was mostly a day of travel and time to relax from the busy schedule at home base.
Today we woke up excited for the day at chichicastenango market. We learned that it is the largest market on the western hemisphere. After a crash course on pick-pocketing safety and procedures, we crammed into the buses and left for the market. It was a windy two hour drive up and down the mountain to our destination. We unloaded the bus at a hotel near the market. Immediately we saw people trying to sell items to us. No matter how many times the staff could tell us about the market, we never really knew how overwhelming it was until we were right in the middle of it. We separated into small groups to complete our shopping. For about three hours we wandered the streets shopping and observing. Armfuls of bags, we met up at the hotel at 1pm to have lunch. We had a choice of chicken, beef, or fish. It was fun to talk about our purchases and how we haggled for lower prices. Because it was raining, we had a small delay of departure, but in no time we were back on the vans going back to xela. When we arrived, everyone was really tired, but we made it through dinner before a quick nap time. Then we all watched a TED talk regarding stereotypes and the dangers of a single story. It was a good time to reflect on what we thought of Guatemala before and after traveling here and how we need to be careful before a we judge a different place or nationality. That night we also popped some popcorn for the group and gathered around for the movie ¨step up revolution” before heading off to bed.
June 26th Written by Allison Hagler
Today we woke up to a hot breakfast of watermelon and scrambled eggs. We packed our bags and headed to the school for another long day of service. This time we switched the groups up in order to work with different people. We are making lots of progress with our projects. We are almost finished with putting cement on the walls, the kitchen looks completely different with fresh paint, and many desks have been repainted and sanded covering any scratches or writing. From speaking with locals and the staff, our spanish has definitely improved and we are now able to communicate with more confidence. Satisfied with our work, we headed back to base for lunch of spaghetti and pineapple (upon olivia’s request). From lunch, we drove an hour away to a small church. The bright yellow walls definitely stood out in the otherwise quiet town. The tour guide told us about the symbolism of the statues on the front and how the history of the mayan-catholic people plays into the architecture. One tradition we learned was that during a festival, a rope was strung from the top of the church to a large pole about 100 yards away. Volunteers dressed as monkeys would then walk from one side to the other lacking a safety net or harnesses. Once they reached the middle of the rope (halfway from the earth to the sky), they would find themselves. After a steep climb, we went inside a house where we sat in a circle. This was the home of a man who practices the tradition. The man came out remaining anonymous dressed as a monkey and welcomed us with a traditional dance. It was really interesting to see how this town preserved their history and culture. Another steep climb led us to a woman´s house. This woman is one of the ten families who continue to hand-make traditional dress. We walk in to see her sewing on a beautiful pattern around the neckline of a shirt. We learned that the clothes she makes is for the festival. Because it takes about three months to make each one, people typically only own one for the festivals. Some of us were able to try on the hand-made outfits and help her weave the patterns on. One last steep hike led us to the tour guides house where we were given fresh bread and hot chocolate to thank us for growing the tourism in the area. Finally, a brisk walk down the mountain led us back to the vans. Today was the day that we have been looking forward to from the beginning. We piled out of the vans to the mall containing the most amazing store. Walmart. Although we love the local food, it was nice to have some American snacks again. From walmart, we went back home to a dinner of pasta and pesto before we crashed in bed from an exhausting day.
Today we were awakened with breakfast burritos, fresh pineapple and bread. The night before, Orlando informed us that the next few mornings will be spent at a daycare nearby to make up for the lack of english teaching. As soon as we arrived at the daycare, we were greeted with hundreds of hugs and smiles. We began our mural on one of the walls in the courtyard. The children were excited for us to read to them and give piggy-back rides. About two hours in we separated into different classrooms to teach english through different games. After saying our goodbyes, we went back to the base for lunch of chicken and tortillas. From lunch, we left for the hot springs. The windy drive led us to the top of the mountain. The hot springs, as we learned, is heated naturally from a nearby volcano. It was a relaxing break from all of the hard work we have been doing. Dinner back at the base was tacos and plantains. We were all exhausted after dinner so we crashed in bed.
Blog by Allison Hagler
Today was the second and last day at the daycare so we woke up excited to see the kids. Breakfast of eggs and ham before loading into the bus. We finished up the mural and created closer bonds with the kids. The night before we had created a lesson plan to teach the different groups of kids. While the younger groups played games including english, the older ones were given a more complex lesson. It was hard to say goodbye because we all fell in love with their hugs and laughter. From the daycare, we had lunch back home of ribs and mashed potatoes. We loaded back into the bus shortly after and went to a small restaurant where we would have a salsa dancing lesson. It was a lot of fun to try the traditional dance. Afterwards, we had french fries and soda from the restaurant. We went back to home base and was greeted by a dinner of tamales with salsa. We had a workshop tonight where we were given an anthropological viewpoint of the united states culture. It felt weird to see how other people see what we consider normal. It taught us to describe guatemala as if we were talking about the States to avoid ¨the fishbowl effect of ¨us”and ẗhem”. We headed off to bed to rest for another busy day.
We all woke up excited from the smell of pancakes cooking. Because rain cancelled zip lining earlier in the trip, it was rescheduled for today. We piled into the vans for another long drive up the mountain. We geared up and went into another truck that would take us to the first spot to zip from. The views were breathtaking as we flew over the mountains. We also however, encountered a new type of mosquito which is smaller and more discrete. It was sad when we reached the last zip line where we saw the truck waiting to take us back down. We went back to home base for lunch of cooked vegetables and rice. We were told that we were then going to the shelter for girls that have been sexually abused mostly by someone in their own family. It was heartbreaking yet inspiring to walk through the doors to see all of the girls. The house was large with lots of bright colors and butterflies. We were told that the government had created this safe place and oversee the progress. While it was great to see the safe place for these girls, we also learned that this was one of the only women’s shelter in the entire country. Our hearts were touched when we walked through the room for the girls with babies. The other room was for ¨princesses” whose abuse did not result in bearing a child. With somber hearts we left the shelter to have a reflection back at base. We talked through our feelings about the shelter while processing what we saw. Dinner of hamburgers were the uplift that we needed. We headed to bed thinking of what games we can play tomorrow with the girls.
This morning’s breakfast of eggs and plantains woke us up for another trip to the shelter. From the reflection the night before, we were able to process our feelings with the group. We were pleasantly surprised when the girls welcomed us with open arms. While some of us made friendship bracelets with them, the other half of us played soccer with them outside. We were inspired by the amount of strength they portrayed. Reminiscing on our time spent at the school, daycare, and shelter, it was surprising how much we grew as leaders and individuals. Although we are here to serve others, I know we all feel that the children changed us. A tearful goodbye as we headed back home, and then one last stop at the school to clean up our projects for the next group. Lunch back home was watermelon and seasoned beef with potato salad. After lunch, we were given a cooking lesson by the cooking staff here at base. We made our dinner of tamales. A couple of us convinced Orlando to allow us to order pizza as well. Waiting for our tamales to cook, we got to listen to an ex-guerrilla tell his story of Guatemala’s history. It was shocking to see the United States’ part in the massacre of thousands of locals. It was also a wake-up call to see that the States does not always tell the other side of the story in order to cover up the wrong we committed. We found out that the speaker is still dedicated and active for human rights in Guatemala. Dinner of pizza and homemade tamales was a fantastic ending to the day.
This morning we woke up and had a breakfast of french toast. It was strange to not go to service. But we headed out for a hike up a volcano. It took about an hour to drive to a small town where three trucks waited to take us to the beginning of the hike. After piling in, we went up a bumpy path. From there, we began hiking up the volcano. For some if us it was easier because they had been acclimated to the altitude from back home in the states, while for the rest of us it was a struggle. It was all worth it in the end when we could see the lake sitting in the middle of the volcano. The views were stunning. When we reached the lake, we were able to participate in a traditional religious ceremony. I speak for all of us when I say it is something we will never forget. The hike down was less grueling and we had snacks to hold us over. The trucks then took us back down to the vans where we headed back to homebase. At home, we had our last lunch at the base of chicken with fresh fruit. It was a sad time packing because we knew we only had a small amount of time left with the people we have got so close to. After our last homemade dinner of chicken fried rice, we gathered in the living room. We watched part of a documentary about the challenge with service trips like ours and finding the balance between helping and imposing on different cultures. We all had a group discussion on how we felt about the trip and how much we grew. This trip was genuinely life changing and I know that we are all so grateful for the wonderful staff that helped us through our experience.