Wednesday in Guatemala

After day 2 of the STEM activity, the children left an even deeper impact on me. They are so happy to learn, and help each other, and in general, are super happy. It is very astonishing to see children running around with holes in their shoes, and flies buzzing around them. It was really cool though, to see the children dressed in traditional Mayan clothing. I am very grateful that we got to interact with the children on this level, and that the teachers are so welcoming. The school buildings are very well constructed, but simple. The classrooms don’t have a lot, but are fairly well supplied. The decorations are all very cute and educational, and they have a lot of fun with them as well. The teachers do a lot of physical activities with the kids, like jumping and singing and dancing, and it is very cute to see. It is also a nice way for the kids to get energy out. I am excited for the other group to present their activity, so that I can just participate and help the children.

Building the onil stoves is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was under the impression that the pieces would be a lot heavier. However, we did not have to take them to the houses; we just put them together from the pieces already in the houses. The process is very simple, and you shouldn’t be intimidated by it. The homes here are very different from homes in the US, and what I am used to seeing. The people are also very different, they are extremely welcoming and grateful. Even though they do not have much, they still found ways to show gratitude, with bread or soda.

The scenery of Pana is absolutely breathtaking. The natural beauty of the lake and the volcanos make for incredible views. I especially love seeing all the gardens and crops growing, as well as the flowers that grow naturally everywhere. I have not seen many birds, but there are tons of dogs in the street. Views like this are hard to find back home.

Tuesday in Guatemala

Today we did our first STEM presentation. I was super nervous to lead the activity in Spanish. Everyone on my team did a great job preparing the supplies, and working with the children. It was much less scary when I actually did it. I love working with the children. Aside from our STEM project, I have really enjoyed Guatemala. The smells are so enticing, and it is hard to not eat the street food. I love the hustle and bustle of Panajachel. I think my favorite part is watching everyone drive around on motorcycles. Men, women, and children drive motorcycles, and I have seen up to four people on one. There were street vendors everywhere too. People were selling everything from pottery to bracelets, even knives and shot glasses. The first day I was very sick, and missed the trip to the market. Luckily, I still got to go wander a bit and buy some things to take home. I thought it would be a lot hotter, but the weather wasn’t so bad. I am fairly comfortable in light long sleeve shirts, and light pants. I recommend wearing linen.

The first night, we had dinner at a pizza place. It was good pizza, but not the traditional food I have been looking forward to. The drinks, however, were amazing, and I had a sort of smoothie drink called a Licaudo, with papaya and yoghurt. That was the highlight of the meal, and many other people grew to like them. The day I was sick I had a simple chicken soup with avocado, and it was delicious, it tasted like something my papi would make.

The hotel is nicer than I thought it would be. I love that it is open air, and the pool area is really nice. It reminds me of an oasis. There are also a lot of plants and flowers in the hotel, which I enjoy a lot. Our rooms are very basic, and we don’t really have hot water, but it feels nice after working all day. The hotel does have really good breakfast, and I look forward to the plantains every morning. So far, I am very grateful I have had the opportunity to come to Guatemala, and I look forward to all the other things we are going to do this year, and in future years.


Summary/Reflection – Prem Dahal

For my first study abroad, I did not know what to expect. Because it was service-learning project, I at least knew I will be making some impact in an individual community. More details were off course provided before we left for the trip.

Our group arrived in Panajachel on May 18th, 2019. Next day, we shopped around in Chichicastenango (Chichi) market. I expected chichi to be a simple, open top market of few acres. To my surprise, Chichi was huge, colorful, and had a roof. The market definitely brought back some childhood memories. As a child, I, like any other child, loved going to the market every Sunday with my dad. The market was very similar to the one in Chichi but had no roofing.  The bargaining, fruits and vegetables and market layout though was very similar. We also had a delicious and the best lunch of our trip that day. It was a buffet with choices more than one could ask for. Chicken, Pork, Beef, veggies, sweets, and off course Guacamole were some of the foods offered.

On Monday, we prepared for rest of the week. We met preschool teachers from Pena Blanca and Tierra Linda Preschools to prepare for the stem project. We also learned to install cookstoves, tested some water and interviewed few locals.

Rest of the week went by quickly and as planned. Our usual day started with cold shower, breakfast across the road and hitting the road everyday by around Nine. My personal favorites were the stem projects, the food, and feeding the elderly. These are some of the things that will always remain in my mind.

It was always fun to start our day with the kids at one of the schools. They always made me forget my tiredness or laziness and made me happy. I have heard and even seen on Facebook about children in developing countries being happy while not having enough to eat but seeing it in front of my eyes made me realize happiness is not about the materials we have, but how much we appreciate them.

Feeding the elderly gave a sense of pride in being able to make an impact on their lives. Not significant but still an impact. It also did however make me want to do more and think what we have done is not enough for them.

Before we left for the trip, I was a bit concerned about the food. I am a bit picky on foods and not very used to of eating different foods. However, I was never disappointed. It was like they knew what kind of food I am hoping to eat. Even when we did not have an option to choose, the food was always delicious.

This trip made a few positive impacts on my life. I will always think about the kids and the elderly before I waste my money on something I don’t need. I am also starting to appreciate what I have more, and I try to be happy regardless of the situation just like Miguel suggested.

Thank you Adithya and Rachel for leading this trip. Thank you for answering our questions and for pushing us to learn and do more. You guys made a difference in each of our lives. Thank you!! Have fun and good luck for the 2nd and 3rd year of the project.

This Is for Guatemala

I would like this post to be a personal thank you to the people I’ve met over the past few weeks. I have come to terms that I won’t write as heartfelt of a post as many of the girls on the trip, but I would like to thank you all for helping me learn so much which I have a passion for more than anything else. Never would I have thought I would’ve been a part of a team like this. On all previous teams I have been a part of I was always a leader of some form because of my experience, knowledge, or passion for hard work. There would always be some skillset I could offer that was unique to other team members. With our amazing team, I was not the most experienced, knowledgeable, or hardest worker. I was more often than not the least experienced, knowledgeable, or slowest worker.

Before leaving for Guatemala, I had never been West of the Mississippi River. I did not know any other languages. I was unsure of my personal strength and ability to overcome some of the challenges we would face in Guatemala. Over the past few weeks, I learned so much about travel and humanitarian engineering. Prior to leaving and while we were on flights many of my classmates helped me learn some Spanish and specific terms to be able to help the children with STEM projects. Many of you have helped me navigate airports and complete customs forms. I’ve received a lot of help reading Spanish in Pana (including some menus in English). I received a lot of good insight and advice on how to deal with illness. And most importantly you have all been so receptive to answering my hundreds of questions about all kinds of different things. I would not have had a successful trip and amazing experience if it were not for all of you helping me along the way.

One unique experience I had was being apart of the conversation with Miguel, the restaurant owner at the dinner with music. He shared many of his experiences with Rachel, Adithya, and I. He explained that Guatemala is not a poor country. They have oceans, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, amazing fruit and coffee, and plentiful natural resources. They live the life of millionaires. One of the biggest problems he identified is that some people have the mindset that they are poor and there is nothing they can do. His favorite thing about the United States was that many of us have the mindset that people can work hard and accomplish anything they want. He believed in the importance of inspiration. He wanted to go out and inspire his people.

Thank you all for leading me through my first international experience. Thank you all for teaching me so much about everything. Thank you all for having patience with me throughout the trip. Thank you all for being so resilient and displaying so much strength. Every day I continued to find so much inspiration from all of you. And the highest human act is to inspire.

Thank you, Matt Parsons

Back in the US

We have been home for a few days now, and I continue to constantly process the trip. Not only do thoughts flood my mind as I describe the fun memories to my friends and family, but also when I go through my daily life here: when I turn on the tap and the water is clear; when I turn on the shower and it is hot for as long as I’d like; when I need to pick something up from the store and I simply hop in my car.

Life is Guatemala is different, and we were able to hear stories of that from the people themselves through the interviews conducted each day on the trip. When I walk to the sink to fill up my water from the tap, I remember the woman that told us she has to walk 4-5 hours each direction to obtain water for her family everyday. When I take a shower, I remember the families that told us they use their pila for everything, including bathing because they do not have access to a shower. The pila is their lifeline, while my family is fortunate to have 3 sinks, 2 showers, and a washer and dryer for these chores. When I drive around town to do errands in my car, I think of the family that told us they have to get several rides into town in order to make it to a hospital to be treated for stomach illnesses. Method of transportation is never an area of concern for me. This experience put in perspective that activities I do everyday are barely a thought in my mind, while in other areas of the world, they are a daily source of physical and emotional strain.

I will be the first to say that I am genuinely enjoying the luxuries I didn’t have while abroad; they are comfortable and familiar. While I go through life now, I don’t need to constantly feel guilty for what I do have. Rather, I believe having these thoughts are a good reminder that while I am living my life in America, these realities still exist in Guatemala and other parts of the world. It reminds me that I shouldn’t use more than I need simply because I can, and that the world needs more selfless people to do so. Throughout my life, I hope to take trips for extended periods of time because I know giving up “comfortable and familiar” is more than worth it.

These thoughts can become dangerous if I look at these communities and only remember what they don’t have and forget what they do. The people of Guatemala have beautiful landscapes, with volcanos towering overhead and glimmering lakes that reflect the flora and fauna of the mountainside. They have the sweetest fruits that are better than anything you can pick up at your local Kroger. And most importantly, they have rich people; people that will give you more than they have and treat you to more than you deserve. They have a culture deeply rooted in their past that should not be changed by outsiders who think we have it all figured out. They love their children, with their deep brown eyes and gentle touch, and they teach their children to love you back just the same. I feel more than fortunate to have had the opportunity to interact with the Mayan people, and I hope that experience was not my last. Hasta pronto, Guatemala.


Day 8 – Reflecting n our Trip

As we boarded the plane to travel from Guatemala City to Houston, it would have been difficult not to take a moment to reflect on what we all had experienced during this trip. From our plane first landing in Guatemala City eight days ago to driving through the Guatemalan mountains to sampling multiple versions of the local Mayan dish “Pepian,” I appreciate everything I learned from Guatemala, and I am excited to take a moment to reflect on my favorite experiences from the trip.

My first favorite experience was working with the local Mayan children during our STEM lessons. Originally, I was not very good at working with the children, but by the time we completed our last lesson, I felt I had improved astronomically. I was more comfortable and confident both working with the children and speaking Spanish. I enjoyed both STEM lessons, and I felt both did a good job of engaging with the children.

My second favorite experience occurred in San Antonio just after we had finished installing an Eco Filter into a local home. The Mayan Families’ representative Natalia lead us just around a corner to a small artisan shop known for their ceramics. Rachel has mentioned earlier on the trip just how exquisite the ceramics were, so I was excited to actually see the shop. Upon entering, I was blown away by all of the bright, dazingly colors delicately incorporated into each work of art. I was especially enthralled by a large jug that was intricately decorated by a hummingbird resting on a bed of flowers. This piece caught my eye, and after borrowing a few Quetzals, I purchased the jug and started thinking just how I would package this fine piece, so I would not break it when travelling home. At this point, I have safely made it home with the jug intact, and I am still very happy with the purchase.

Considering both of these experiences, and everything else we experienced this trip, I appreciate what I was able to learn about both humanitarian engineering and Mayan culture. I now feel significantly more confident planning how to enter a foreign community and conduct a needs assessment in a manner that promotes sustainable economic development of that community. Also, I recognize how difficult it was for the local people to preserve their Mayan culture because they had to overcome a genocide of their people and the westernization of their culture. Looking forward, I now have a much stronger frame of reference of how to practice humanitarian engineering in a Central American country, which will greatly help with any future humanitarian engineering I will do.

Thank you to Rachel and Adythia for taking the time to lead this trip. I appreciate how dedicated and flexible you were in supporting the Mayan Families’ cause.


Taking it all in

And just like that, we are back in the US. I will be the first to admit that I am thoroughly enjoying clean water from sinks, hot showers, and an extremely comfortable bed without bugs. However, even though we didn’t have those things on the trip, I would do it again in a heartbeat. And maybe even for a longer period of time.

As we explored more of Pana and got to see the work Mayan Families does, I returned to an idea that’s been in my mind for a while – whether I could commit to a longer period of time working in rural areas similar to this. My roommate and I started asking almost everyone that lived there about their living conditions, how they got there, and how they like it. Of course, the universal answer was they love working there with the people and the views are unbeatable.  I also learned that there are so many fun things to do on the weekends/in your free time: paragliding, rock climbing, hiking volcanoes, camping, etc. Pana is a mix of locals and people from so many different places, inevitably you will meet people to do things with outside of work. In our own short time there, we met a crazy coffee shop owner from New York, a young professor from Poland, and two students from the US learning spanish there for the summer. We ran into people playing trivia at a local establishment; we played a full soccer game; it became less and less intimidating as the week went on, and I am beginning to feel more confident that I could do something like this. Most people at Mayan Families seemed to have landed in Pana because of the their similar passions, which I also share with them.

One of our main questions was if their apartments also had toilets that didn’t flush every morning, brown sink and shower water, and endless bug bites. Fortunately, we found that some of their places are the cutest houses with an unreal view of the lake. Others’ apartments seemed to have these problems once in a while, but they adjusted well and said that our hotel just seemed to be slacking. Additionally, they are able to get most of the food they want from the market to cook at home, and the difficult digestion problems were adjusted to as well. This was very comforting to us!

All in all, a piece of my heart was left in Pana. I grew extremely fond of the city, with all its exotic hole in the wall places. Even more so, the people, local or foreign, are so full with passion and have such interesting stories and lifestyles. It is true organized chaos, with so much potential. I cannot be grateful enough for the opportunity to go on this trip!

Go bucks!!

Kaylee 🙂

Our trip in review

I can’t believe the trip is over already! It went by so fast since we were constantly on the go and working. We’re currently in Houston for our layover, and I’m just beginning to have time to process what happened over the trip.

One thing that really stood out to me was the last day. Adithya and I installed an EcoFilter in a very small one room house with four people living there. Up until this point, the houses had all been dirt floors and still pretty poor, but nothing like this one. Things were hanging from the ceiling everywhere to make space for everything, and the cook stove was only two feet from where everyone sleeps. The bed was covered in flies and bugs, and it didn’t smell the best since so much was going on in such a little space. Before coming to San Antonio, we had tested the water and it wasn’t that bad in most of the houses, and that’s what we came to test. So, my thoughts in my head had these people living a better life than I originally thought. But, seeing this house I realized that just the cleanliness of their water doesn’t determine their standard of living.

We just barely saw a peek of what living in poverty is like in Guatemala, but we will never actually understand it–and that’s probably the hardest thing for me and something that has challenged me during this trip. Every community was so different in what they had and how they lived even though they are just a couple miles away. Since we will not truly understand what these people go through, it made me realize the importance of having multiple years on this trip, and partnering with an organization that is already working with these communities. Having communities that are so different challenges me with what future projects could be possible. It completely changed from my initial thoughts, especially with their water purity.

Anther thing I concluded from this trip is that everything stems from a lack of education. This really came into my mind after dinner Wednesday night, and I kept thinking about the last couple of days. Everything can relate back to this, and I believe that to really make a change this is where we should start. This is a challenge though, because they have so much to teach us as well as the other way around.

So, the next two years have some work on their plates, but I really believe that this year was necessary to their future success. We set a great baseline of how to communicate and help these amazing people, and I really believe we can figure out a solution for these communities, no matter how small or how big!

Day 7 – Our Final Moments

Here it is –  the last day of our trip. It’s crazy to think that these are our last views of the beauty of Guatemala. Today, Matt and I woke up early and took a walk down to Lake Atitlan. The view of the volcanoes was the clearest it had ever been, a perfect way to start our send off. After getting some ~sweet~ pics that will most likely end up on Instagram we headed back to the hotel to eat the most important meal of the day.

Soon, we were on our way to Peña Blanca to do the second iteration of the Energy STEM project. Who would have guessed that children trying to blow up balloons would be so cute? The lesson went great for both the older and younger classes and was an overall success. We waved goodbye to the preschool and headed over to Mayan Families to pick up Wendy for our trip to San Antonio.

The car ride over to San Antonio was the most fun one yet; we played Green Glass Door, Around the World, and Black Magic. It took almost the whole trip for some of us to get the rules to the games, and Rachel took all day to figure out Black Magic (to be fair, it was kind of hard). At first glance, San Antonio is a closely packed, colorful town. According to Natalia, two Dutch men got the whole community to paint their homes and businesses in bright colors and fun patterns.

While in San Antonio we installed two Ecofilters in separate homes. The first home was the smallest we had encountered on the entire trip and it was shocking to think about a family living in it. Down by the water we took a couple of OHIO pics and then headed over to a local pottery shop to pick out some pieces to bring home.

We ended the day by heading over to the Mayan Families Office to present our findings from our interviews & data collection as well as to give our recommendations for the future. They treated us to a delicious meal of tostados and pepián before sending us off with lots of hugs and heartfelt goodbyes.

This week has flown by at an incredible speed and I am going to miss this group of people and this country so much. I’ve been blessed to have had an experience change my perspective on myself and my actions as profoundly as this, and I sincerely plan on coming back to Guatemala – my journey here hasn’t ended yet.

Day 6- ALREADY?!

Day 6:

Today we did the usual ‘wake up, eat breakfast, and wait for Mayan Families’. It’s always a surprise to see which van we get, and also who is driving. Our drivers recently have been A LOT better than our one on Day 1. Nothing against him, but his driving almost gave me a heart attack!

Once we were all loaded up, we drove to Tierra Linda preschool for our activity. It was SO fun! The students were so active and loved participating. It also appeared that they understood the concept very well, which was one of our main goals.

After the preschool activity, we traveled to Peña Blanca to install some cookstoves. We divided up into teams (Adithya’s team being the best of course), and traveled to different homes. Each group installed 4 cookstoves, getting us to our total of 10 for the trip! I absolutely love installing cookstoves. It’s such a simple process and the families are so thankful. At the first house we went to, we learned some Kakchiquel! Simple phrases like “how are you” and “thank you” were quick and easy to get down!

Watch out everyone.. I’m going to be fluent in three languages!

After we installed the cookstoves, we went back to the Peña Blanca preschool for lunch and interviews. Then, we traveled back to Panajachel. Tonight is the big “soccer night”. A lot of us we’re excited for this, but others were in the mood for some shopping! I went shopping, of course, and got a cute new bookbag!

After shopping and the soccer game, we went to dinner! It was pouring. The roads looked equivalent to a river flowing.  The place we went to was AMAZING, though, and is for sure my favorite. The food and drinks are so delicious here! I got fajitas, and also a few friends and I got a nacho supreme. This place seemed very tropical as well! 

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and worked on our technical reports, Mayan Families presentations, and our videos.

We are all so tired, but this trip has been so humbling and interesting. We also have found good information about the water here in Guatemala, along with information about soil.

I love Guatemala so far, but I am looking forward to having some good ole American food when I get home (aka McDonalds).

Since this is my final journal….

Adios 🙂