For my STEP project, I traveled to Guatemala with Buck-I-Serv to work with some great community organizations. We worked closely with Constru Casa, which is a program that families who live in poor conditions can apply to, and they will choose one family at a time to build a home for them. They must show that they are working and have to pay a small portion of the home back to the organization over a certain amount of time. So with Buck-I-Serv, we volunteered and helped build a home for a very wonderful single mom, who was taking care of her daughter, son, and grandson. They lived with dirt floors, no real bathroom, contaminated drinking water, and rusted sheet metal walls of the home. We worked with three masons that guided us on and delegated jobs to each of us to try to speed this process along. Some of which involved moving over 1200 cinder blocks down a long path, wheel barreling dirt and stones, making concrete and filling in the blocks, and much more. Needless to say it kicked our butts every day. But when our time was done there, we had helped finish more than half of the home, which was in a faster time than they normally are done in. Not long after we left, they finished the house. The family was so grateful and I am so happy for them. On our off days, to which we had two, we went to Pacaya (an active volcano), climbed it, and roasted marshmallows on it. We also visited Lake Atitlan which was absolutely breathtaking.
There was something about the people and the atmosphere in Guatemala that was different. It took me some time to figure out what it was and why I felt so comfortable there. I learned a lot from the people. At the work site, a lot of the locals gathered outside of the path to the house, where we would haul our dirt and rocks from. I could not speak Spanish, but some people on the trip with me understood what they would say. One of my trip members told me that they were talking drama, about who was getting the house and why would they get it. It made me realize that there is not much for them to do. Some work their butts off, but their economy is very low and their area is very poor. To pass time, they live off of each other. They live off of family. Everyone knows everyone. And, what I think is a very important thing is that, they are always there for each other. They do not forget who their family and friends are. They give when they have so little to give. I remember while I, and about three others were hammering some cinder blocks, the neighbor mom sent her son over to us with some fresh cut watermelon. And I can remember it was the sweetest watermelon I had ever tasted. Maybe it was because it was blistering hot and I was wearing work clothes, or maybe it was because there was more to it. It was not just a slice of watermelon, it was an act of kindness and giving from those who have nothing to give. I will never forget that.
One night at dinner, our host family gave us a lecture on love. They may have given some of the best advice I have ever heard. They are such sweet and gentle people. They make you want to be like them. Just like the village people, they made us our own. We became their family. Our host mom made us wonderful food every morning for breakfast, packed our lunches for the work site everyday, and made us dinner every night. Here, we had some of the best conversations and we learned the most.
My views have changed on the world. There are different problems at every part of the world. And sometimes you cannot always fix them, but one step at a time, things can get better. Living in America has been a privilege. I had always believed that it used to be a right since I was born and raised here. Now I know that it is not a right, it is a privilege. It is a privilege to have clean water. It is a privilege to have a home to live in. It is a privilege to have safety and security. It is a privilege to have jobs. It is a privilege to have freedoms. It is amazing. I asked our host family if they had ever been to America. They said they had been to Cincinnati before. They went to a Reds baseball game and had hamburgers bigger than their face, and Skyline Chili. They were amazed how we ate, and how life was so different. I asked if they would ever come back, and they said they would love to, but it is to expensive. That really enhanced my views on how diverse we all are, and how countries can be so close, yet so different. It made me appreciate what I had growing up.
We were able to interact with the village people. Work was work, but it was laid back too. There were village boys that lived at the end of the street. One was Victor, and he would always come around us when we were working. He loved being around us and meeting all of us. Sometimes he even tried to help us. There were days his older brother came around too. They were both young, their ages, I cannot recall. One day, Victor did not come over, but his brother did and he sat and talked with us. He told one of the girls that was able to speak Spanish that his parents have him in school, but after this year, they cannot afford it, and Victor has never been to school. The cost of school was I think $120 per semester. Now to us, that seems like so little money, but to them it was so much. It was absolutely heart breaking. It made us want to all contribute and help pay for him and his brother to go to school because it costs so little for us. But we knew if we did that, everyone would want us to, and that is not what our mission in Guatemala was, as bad as we wanted to help. It made think. How can these kids be so happy all the time, yet not have anything? They had dreams too, and they knew they would not fulfill them because of their lack of wealth. It was truly inspiring being around so many happy people. Happy they are alive. Happy they have clothes to wear. Happy they have a home, even if it is not a stable home. Just simply happy. It made me realize that sometimes I let things that I cannot have get to me and I shouldn’t. They can be so happy with so little. I have so much compared to them, and about half of the happiness. How could that be? It made me reevaluate what life is really about. Making changes for a happier me. Being more grateful for the things that I have and the opportunities that I receive.
On our last day at the work site, Victor asked us when we were coming back to build his family a home. I think that made most of us tear up. His home was probably one of the worst homes on the street. Instead of sheet metal walls, his home was bamboo held together by rope. You could see right through it. It was very sad. We all miss Victor. He brought some positive thoughts and attitude to the site. We got to know him and teach him English too. We worked on colors. Someday he will get an education. I firmly believe that. Although there is nothing I can do for that kid now, I pray for him and his family.
My experiences in Guatemala are ones that I will take everywhere I go. Being there, it made me realize how fortunate I am to have what I do. It made me realize that you cannot always get what you want. It made me want to help people more, because I have the resources to, and I can. This is going to help me with my career plans and future goals because I am a pre-med student. I will be helping people my whole life. There is no saying the type of people I will come across. But I will probably cross paths with fortunate, not fortunate, rich or poor. I have the respect for them and how they do what they have to in order to make their lives better. I want to help more and volunteer more. I want to make a difference in others’ lives. I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, and I know that the experiences I had were meant to show me that, I have a long ways to go, and there are more people I can help. And with that I will. Proud to be a Buckeye.