Service-Learning in Panajachel, Guatemala

Name: Taylor Ware

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

I participated in a service-learning trip organized through my scholars program, Humanitarian Engineering Scholars to Panajachel, Guatemala for a one-week immersion experience in June. During our time in Panajachel, we worked with a small, nonprofit organization called Mayan Families. We helped Mayan Families with a wide range of projects, such as comparative studies in water filtration, cook stoves, and solar lights, grey water treatment, and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. I focused mainly on K-12 STEM education. By bringing STEM education to Guatemala, I hoped to get young children excited about science and math. By exposing them to the field of engineering, I also hoped to inspire some to pursue degrees in the STEM field.

In completion of my STEP Signature Project, I would not say that my view of the world was changed/transformed because I was already aware of these things going on around the world. I will say that my understanding of these things did become deeper and clearer though. My realization of how privileged and fortunate I am grew greater. In addition, this trip reminded me of how many things I take for granted, especially the small things like clean water and a bed to sleep in every night. This trip encouraged me to be thankful for the things I have especially the small things because someone out there doesn’t have them and would be more than happy to have these things.

Being thrown into a new culture with different languages, traditions, ideas, and people was very challenging, but it helped deepen my views on the world, specifically other countries around me. Experiencing a new culture like this forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and exposed me to a different way of life. In addition, considering that Guatemala is a third world country and over half of the country is living in poverty I was able to realize how privileged I am and how many things I take for granted, especially the small things. For example, most families we visited only had one bed. These families were typically made up of the parents, three to four children, and sometimes the grandparents. Most times, these large families would all sleep in one bed or sometimes the children would have to sleep on the floor. This helped me realize how I take such small things for granted like having a bed. This definitely helped change my perspective on life.

In addition, I realized that the people who have the least are always willing to give the most. It is amazing to say how many people in America have so much, but aren’t even willing to lend a dollar to a friend. In Guatemala, some members of my group interviewed a woman to see how she felt about certain products in her home, such as a water filter, solar light, and her cook stove. At the end of the interview our group offered her some flashlights and small things just to thank her for her time. Later that day, the woman found us and gave our entire group homemade bracelets that she sells in order to make a living for free. She was also willing to sell us additional bracelets at a discounted price. It was very moving to witness this woman’s selflessness and how she was willing to give these bracelets to us for free when it was very possible that she may not even have enough money to pay for her next meal.

Overall, it was very transformational to just witness the living conditions that most Guatemalans lived in. I believe it was even more transformational to see how happy most Guatemalans were. Just walking around in Guatemala, you never failed to see a smiling face and someone waving to you just to say hello. I feel like often times in America, people are not very friendly and are often frowning or rude to people that they do not even know. It’s a shame that having less makes you more grateful for your life and a happier person. This made me realize that materialistic things do not make your life better, but they seem to make you forget how grateful you are.

The service-learning trip to Panajachel, Guatemala has greatly impacted my life. It has helped me find my passion and encouraged me to stay focused in pursuing my passion. This passion is to help people, whether they be in the same country as me or in a third world country far away from me. I want to have an impact on someone and their life directly.

In addition, the trip has definitely had major academic impacts on my life, especially regarding my major. During my time in Guatemala, Mayan Families expressed that they have a great need for nurses and doctors. Majority of the indigenous people in Guatemala are malnourished and also do not have access to proper healthcare. This has inspired me to change my major from Engineering to Biology. There are lots of advancements in engineering and its connection with third world countries. Therefore, I plan to major in Biology where I can learn more about nutrition and the proper nutrients that people need. This could also be a gateway to studying nursing. I hope to finish my education and return to Guatemala in the future and work with Mayan Families once again.

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