Service Learning in Guatemala

Name: Maggie Noschang

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

As a member of The Ohio State University’s Humanitarian Engineering Program, I traveled to the area of Panajachel, Guatemala for a week over the past summer. While in country we interviewed local women and researched water filters in order to assist a local nonprofit, Mayan Families, and prepare a comparative technical report. We researched filters based on type of filter, availability in Guatemala, price, and maintenance, in order to recommend the best water filtration system that we could to be distributed to the families in the area.

This experience opened my eyes to many things.  I had never been out of the United States before, and this trip challenged and broadened my view of the world by exposing me to levels of poverty that I have only heard about. The living conditions of the Guatemalan people in the villages we visited are very different than what I had ever experienced before and it changed my perspective on poverty and its effects on people.

Clean water that is safe to drink and use immediately is a luxury that I have come accustomed to in the United States, but for many Guatemalans this is not something they have ever had the chance to experience. Many of the women whom we interviewed commented on how the water filter that they had received from the Mayan Families nonprofit was life changing for them. Originally the women had to clean their water by boiling it or not even cleaning it at all before drinking it. Once they had received their water filter, they commented on how their family wasn’t sick as much anymore. It is very unfortunate that we live in a world today that people don’t have access to some of the most basic necessities of life such as clean and safe drinking water.

I knew that the work we were doing with the water filter research was important, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of its importance until after we had begun to interview the women in the Guatemalan villages. They were so thankful for our work and our research that many of the women offered us gifts such as beaded bracelets in order to thank us. Many of the women were giving us bracelets that they could have sold for money in the markets, but instead they were willing to give it to us in order to thank us for just interviewing them. They were so appreciative of the fact that we were trying to help them that they were willing to give up something that they could have to make a living. This is something that really took me by surprise, and I will never forget.  It made me realize how I should take the time in my life to be more thankful for all that I have and that others do for me.

As well as interviewing and conducting research we also assisted other members in our group with their projects such as STEM education lessons in the preschools and installing cook stoves in many homes. One thing that stood out to me was the fact that the indigenous children of Guatemala are already at a disadvantage before they even enter school at the preschool level. Since many of their parents only speak the indigenous Mayan language and not much Spanish, the children only know the same. However, the government run kindergarten classrooms are taught in Spanish. As a result, the indigenous children are more likely to fail their first year in school, and the young girls were even more likely to make it through less schooling than the boys in the long run because they are needed in the home. The education system in Guatemala is very different than the education system in the United States, and it made me appreciate the value of my education because many young women don’t have access to the education that I have been able to receive.

This experience helped me to realize that I as an engineering student with the technical experience and education that I have received through The Ohio State University can apply my knowledge to help improve the lives of others.  I have always been interested in humanitarian engineering, or the division of engineering that addresses and solves problems that improve the lives of people. It is a type of engineering that often serves marginalized people in order to improve their welfare and quality of living. This experience helped me to reaffirm that I want to continue my humanitarian engineering effort as a big part of my future and career.


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