Name: Rongsheng Ning
Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service
During the summer, I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala on a week-long BUCK-I-SERV trip with seven fellow Buckeyes to work alongside with two non-profit organizations: Constru Casa and HANDS. The goal was to construct sustainable houses for Guatemalan families to improve their housing and living conditions. Specific tasks consisted of digging foundations, mixing concrete, and laying blocks with the aid of a skilled mason.
As this is the first time I set foot in an unfamiliar country, I was a little hesitant to explore the culture and landscape that Guatemala has to offer due to my initial assumptions on developing nations. Before the trip, I have always imagined developing nations to be violent and unsafe. This notion changed as I have realized how sincere and kind the Guatemalans are from interacting with our host family Enrique and Elvira to the family I worked with.
Enrique and Elvira treated our group like family. On the first day, they showed us around Antigua and immersed us with the beauty of their city from its colored houses and paved street to several Spanish Baroque styled colonial churches. They helped maintained our rooms and provided us with three delicious meals a day with some history behind several of their homemade traditional Guatemalan dishes. In addition, they gave us great recommendations on where to enjoy traditional Guatemalan dishes, purchase souvenirs, and learn salsa dancing. Their kindness truly made Guatemala felt like home.
The families and the masons we worked with were equally kind as Enrique and Elvira. Although both the families and masons did not speak English, we were able to manage the language barrier due to everyone’s patience towards one another. We worked from 8 AM to 4 PM each day. The mason gave us specific instructions on each task by demonstrating them. Several tasks included using pliers to tie wires around the rebar as support for the foundation of the house, making concrete through mixing cement and sand along with gravel and water, and chipping holes into concrete blocks with hatchets to allow access for the rebar. If a mistake was made, such as breaking the concrete block by applying too much force on the hatchet, the mason and families were forgiving and are only concern about our safety. During the work there, I am amazed at the dedication and hard work everyone contributed, including the families’ six-year old child, to bringing their new home to life.
Through these interactions, my STEP experience transformed me through changing my outlook on life. After witnessing everyone’s kindness, the experience has changed my views on my initial assumptions for developing countries. Now, I view them as peaceful and safe. I also became more thankful for all the “little things” that we take for granted in life as seeing the Guatemalans content with their life with what little they have.
By realizing how little I knew about developing countries made me want to expand my awareness about other countries, giving me the desire to explore every detail of it to uncover its beauties. In addition, I realized the importance of having the right mindset to be happy with what I have as there are people out there in the world struggling to put food on their table and to have roof over their heads. Overall, I would like to thank STEP for providing me the opportunity to experience this service learning and community service experience that enabled me to help families in Guatemala through constructing sustainable homes and exploring the rich culture that Guatemala has to offer.