This year, my school allowed students to choose from four countries for a volunteer abroad opportunity: Spain, South Africa, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Among these, the country that captured my attention was Guatemala. I understood that Guatemala is a relatively young country with a culture quite unfamiliar to me, so I decided to do as much research as I could to gain some background knowledge before the trip. I thought this was a perfect opportunity for me to volunteer and do something meaningful while also visiting a new country and experiencing a foreign culture.
On my first day in Guatemala, everything was amusing and welcoming. The first thing we did was help construct a water pipe system for a house. Since water pipes need to be placed underground, we started digging first, using shovels, picks, and mattocks. When I first started this work, the ground was bare. As I worked more and more, I felt a sense of achievement as I was able to shape and complete the water pipe system to a certain extent. Even though the intense heat and sunlight of Guatemala was tormenting, the children’s innocent smiles motivated us to keep working hard.
|[Our team working on the construction site. Photo: Jaeyeon Won]|
|[Mixing cement on the construction site. Photo: Jaeyeon Won]|
In addition to the labor part of this journey, we also visited the local school to observe students’ classes and teach English. With the help of my teammate, who was fluent in Spanish, we taught students colors, numbers, and some basic expressions such as “Hello, my name is ____,” “Good morning,” and “I love _____” in English. At a certain point, we were teaching the students English as much as they were teaching us Spanish. Now, I know how to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish. I was moved by the fact that regardless of your background, you can always learn something new. From the Spanish-speaking students, I began to understand the meaning behind volunteering and how this service program can be seen both as a trip to help people in need as well as an opportunity to reflect upon ourselves. This particular experience of two-way learning was really impressive, making the trip an unforgettable one for me. After the English class was over, there was a short recess and I was able to go outside and play soccer with the students.
|[Playing soccer with kids during break time. Photo: Jaeyeon Won]|
|[Teaching English to elementary school students at a local school. Photo: Jaeyeon Won]|
After 10 days in Guatemala, it was time for me to say goodbye. As I met many people and experienced different cultures, I became attached to Guatemala and was sad to leave this wonderful country. At the end of my journey, I recalled those past 10 days and thought about what I had learned from the trip. From the experiences I had with the people I served in Guatemala, I learned that there is a considerable number of people who live in underserved conditions, and they are in need of immediate help.
|[A last-minute commemorative photo with the team members. Photo: Jaeyeon Won]|
As growing teenagers, it is our responsibility to provide hope for the less fortunate children around the world. I have admiration for these people who, despite living in difficult conditions, stay strong and try their best to live in happiness while not giving up on their lives. I believe there is something we can learn from the resilience of these people and that is why these volunteering trips are meaningful.
St. Michael’s Catholic Academy
Jaeyeon Won firstname.lastname@example.org