A reflection by Kent Brown
My wife, Annie, and I had been looking for several years for an opportunity to go on a mission-oriented vacation with our twin teen-age boys, Daniel and Joshua. We looked into several options, but the one that ended up fitting our goals and schedule was the 2013 Friends of Guatemala service trip to support the Hope School in Guatemala City. It was a great choice. The boys weren’t sure at first if hard work in a poverty-stricken area was the way they wanted to spend the last weeks of summer vacation,
but they were quickly won over by:
- the excellent planning of the trip, mixing service, fun, and cultural experiences in an adventurous but safe way
- the close camaraderie and teamwork with the other volunteers
- the smiling faces and great hearts of the children and teachers we served
- the natural beauty of Guatemala
The trip started off with an overnight stay with a host family to connect more with the culture. As Americans it was eye-opening to see the lifestyle of a Guatemalan family, the foods they eat (lots of beans!), and what their houses are like, and the generosity they extended to us as their visitors. The next experience was actually going to the school to work. We felt safe the entire time and could tell from the reception in the railroad community that the HOPE School is very much respected and appreciated. What stood out about the students was their cheerfulness and joy, despite their difficult life circumstances. It was fun to see them interact with the teen volunteers playing football (soccer) in the playground. The construction work seemed daunting for the time we had, but we all worked together creatively as a team and accomplished a lot and felt we left the school a better place for the students. The teachers do an amazing job organizing and decorating the schoolhouse to provide a positive learning environment. And they somehow kept the attention of the children even while we were doing major construction on the classroom walls! After finishing the work we had 3 days to go to some beautiful areas of Guatemala and to enjoy more of the Mayan food and culture. I found myself so inspired that I spent a lot of the travel time between villages cramming on the Spanish language so I could interact more with the people. (Of course it’s much more effective to brush up beforehand.) While we had a great time on this trip, it ended up being much more than just a one-time experience. We have truly become “friends of Guatemala” and intend to continue to partner with FOG to support this great work through fund-raising and hopefully future service trips. What we really like about FOG as a charity is that:
- The needs are real. Children growing up in the railroad tracks do not otherwise have affordable options for education.
- Education really seems to be the best long-term answer to poverty. It’s not a quick fix, but it gives children the opportunity to build a productive, self-sustaining life for themselves.
- There is no administrative overhead to FOG. All the money goes directly to teachers, teaching materials, and the maintenance of the school. All the administration and even most of the construction on the school are done by volunteers.
- The philosophy is not just to do a few good deeds, but to build a long-term friendship with the teachers and children in the school. Many of the volunteers have been going for several years and got to hear stories of children they had known who had grown up and gone on to attend university.