|Jocotenango nr Antigua, Guatemala.|
This July a group of 13 students and 2 members of staff travelled all the way to Guatemala for a 3 week volunteering placement with the charity, Education for the Children.
Most students didn’t know anyone else on the trip before they signed up, but by the end of a 26 hour journey everyone was getting on like a house on fire. The first few days were spent exploring and inducting us into our new surroundings. The charity’s Volunteering Coordinator, Ana, took us on an orientation walk of our home for the 3 weeks, Antigua, a beautifully rustic colonial town shadowed by volcanoes, before showing us around the school and introducing us to the other volunteers.
|View of Antigua after a hike to Cerro de la Cruz.|
|Volunteers Zac, Fatima, Jaii and Sipihwe with two school students.|
Of course, we came for one big reason, to help EFTC in their mission of trying to make a difference to the lives of local children, empowering them through education. Our tasks volunteering at the school were diverse, from giving the scholarship room a new lease of life with a few coats of paint to assisting with classroom sessions. The school had pupils from reception aged, about 5 years old, to High School aged children, but also provides learning spaces for their University level students to complete their assignments. Many volunteers quickly developed a bond with their class, despite not knowing a lot of Spanish. We enjoyed teaching them British playground games and sharing a bit about where we come from. One volunteer prepared a short presentation telling the kids in his class about everything British from what we eat to the Queen, which went down a storm! The kids couldn’t believe we don’t have volcanoes in the UK.
Whilst we were there the money we raised had helped towards giving 3 families brand new roofs for their houses, which are much needed as many of the children at the school live in poverty. Many of us found the volunteering experience quite emotional, seeing just how little these people had was truly humbling and definitely makes you evaluate how much we really need all the ‘stuff’ we surround ourselves with in western society. We expected the housing to be poor, but we found them to be little more than four walls of corrugated iron with a leaky roof on top, dotted with a few possessions and a floor of mud that’s washed downhill during one of the frequent torrential rainstorms. Before we could help replace the roof all the equipment had to be carried up the steep hill leading to houses, then holes for supporting beams were dug before finally removing and replacing the old rusted roof. The whole process took about 4 days to complete.
|The transformation begins.|
We volunteer at the school on weekdays, from 8am-2pm and have free time late afternoons and weekends, so there’s plenty of time to explore this beautiful and largely overlooked country. On Mondays and Thursdays we had 1-2-1 Spanish lessons, which helped us in our role in the classroom. Everyone found the lessons really useful, even those who didn’t have much confidence really enjoyed the lessons and got stuck in with the help of our friendly, encouraging tutors. As a bit of a tourist hot-spot there’s loads to do in Antigua, from going back in time exploring the old ruined churches, to honing our haggling skills when shopping the markets. At weekend we had the chance to visit further afield, taking trips to Monterrico beach, where we had fun battling the biggest waves we’ve ever seen, before taking a relaxing boat ride through the mangroves to spot some wildlife.
|The view of Volcan Pacaya.|
Some of our group opted for a bit more adventure by daring to climb some of Guatemala’s active volcanoes, a day up Volcan Pacaya, and an epic 2 day trek up twin peaked Volcan Acatenango. We saw a few minor eruptions, and used the heat of a solidified lava flow at Pacaya to toast marshmallows! There was also a visit to beautiful Lake Atitlan and the surrounding villages and a chocolate making workshop, as Guatemala’s Mayan people were the first to appreciate the uses of the Cacao bean.
|Zac and Elissa hiking up Volcan Acatenango.|
Who knew three weeks could go so fast! Some volunteers chose to keep supporting the work of the charity once they left by sponsoring a child at the School. You can choose from food, education or full sponsorship, depending on how much you can afford. We all feel that we’ve learnt so much from the opportunity, and what we’ve experienced will stay with us from many years to come. Many of the group are already thinking about a return trip…