This past summer, I spent a month in Antigua, Guatemala volunteering in a daycare for working single mothers (working parents). I aided the teachers in providing a safe and loving environment for the children while helping with daily activities. Through taking on this responsibility and traveling alone I was able to further develop my leadership skills and independence.
My time in Guatemala was eye opening to say the least. It is one thing to be aware of underprivileged populations, but to live like a local in one of those areas is much different. I was able to get to know many locals and make meaningful relationships that broadened my outlook on life. I often let my anxiety control my decisions, but I was able to learn to let go and enjoy life as it comes. I am the type of person who always needs a plan; after getting to know other volunteers and surround myself with different people I realized that is not the only way to live. I learned about other cultures, religions, and countries. Hearing the other volunteer’s and local’s stories was inspiring and lead to one of my biggest take aways from the trip: Life is just too short to limit it/yourself to a pre-determined plan; there are so many other things out in the world that one cannot possibly pencil in, and consider themselves “happy” or “fulfilled”.
I often made spontaneous trips while there, and had the most freeing/adventurous experience. I have the rest of my life to be in the workforce, but there are only so many opportunities to travel, immerse one’s self in a new culture, and enjoy life. I constantly challenged myself to try new things and go with the flow. I kept a journal throughout my trip and I was able to see myself grow and move more and more out of my comfort zone until I had finally broken that anxious barrier.
I had the opportunity to get to know the women I worked with at the daycare pretty well. I mainly worked with two ladies everyday in the toddler area, Reina and Senora Melida. They shared their stories with me and asked me about my life here, and it just amazed me how cheerful and hardworking they were after everything that had happened to them. Reina, who was my age, was balancing having a full time job and going to high school. She told me that her parents had no money to send her to school so for a few years she had to take a step back from her studies and focus on helping provide for her family. She now was able to go back to school, but was very behind for her age. She said she had dreams of becoming a doctor, and though she was the best in her class she did not have the money for medical school. Reina told me she would probably have to settle and find something in business/finance, and though that was still very respectable it was not her dream. She had brothers and sisters to feed and had to be practical. It broke my heart to see someone so motivated who yearned for something more, but was forced to let go of their dreams. It made me appreciate the amazing opportunities Ohio State has given me, and the memories I have made. That night I also messaged my mother thanking her for always supporting me and forcing me to take risks and follow my dreams. Senora Melida had been previously been a professor before coming to work at the day care. Her husband who lived far away for a long time due to work had become ill so she had to move there to take care of him so she switched jobs. Well now, she had injured her shoulder and she had to get surgery, which would cause her to lose a few month of work while recovering. She shared that she was scared not just to leave for the surgery, but also because since her husband was ill she was the main provider in her home; with both out of work she did not know how they were going to even buy groceries. Though, the next few months of her life were going to be very stressful no one could ever guess because she was always so positive and loving towards everyone. She was one of the best teachers in the day care and made each child feel important. They both taught me to be present, grateful, and take what is handed to me and make the most of it.
All of the experiences and things I learned in Guatemala have made such a positive impact in my life. Throughout this trip, I learned new things about myself and stepped out of my comfort zone. I have gained a new view on life and have learned to embrace the path I am on in life and take it as it comes. I truly appreciate all that I am blessed with. It is so easy to get caught up on small setbacks and obstacles, but in the grand scheme of things most of the time they are not as important as they seem in the moment. I hope to continue to have this new joyful outlook and will never forget the people I met on my trip. Guatemala was indescribably and I would highly recommend it to anyone to go at least once to this country where its people are so open and loving. I will never forget this once in a lifetime trip, and am looking forward to when I can return.