Name: Kaitlyn Hill
Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service
I traveled to Panajachel, Guatemala with a group of students from OSU who are in my scholar’s program; humanitarian engineering scholars. In preparation, we worked together to engineer solutions in order to aid the extremely impoverished. In Panajachel, the team completed comparative studies, carried out STEM education projects for many school-age children, and installed cook stoves in many families’ homes.
I had never had the opportunity to go out of the country or experience any other cultures or people outside of the United States. This was a new and exciting chance for me to merge my passion for helping others with my love of engineering. I had the chance to experience a community, very unlike any community that I have ever been to, while applying my knowledge and engineering skills to benefit the people who live there. This was exciting for me.
This trip allowed me to gain a new perspective on life. There are many things the I, and the people around me, take advantage of everyday that those living in Guatemala do not have. It’s interesting because although we may have more, here in America, the people of Guatemala seem like they are genuinely happier than us. Most families don’t even have the luxury of electricity yet were so kind and generous to everyone around them. The children were especially joyful and full of life and energy. It made me realize how little material items really matter when it comes to living a happy and meaningful life. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip and experience the beautiful country of Guatemala and its kind people.
While in Guatemala, I had the opportunity to meet and help several impoverished families that lived in the Lake Atitlan region. One of the key aspects of the trip that made the experience so great was traveling around the lake region to build cook stoves and meet many of the extremely impoverished families. Many families cook in their homes with an open flame. Not only does that cause a safety hazard, especially in homes with very small children, but breathing in the smoke constantly is very harmful for a person’s lungs. Cooking with an open flame is also very financially taxing for a family, as it requires the need for a lot of fire wood, which can be expensive. Having a cook stove is a much safer and cheaper method of cooking. It was very rewarding to provide this for the families. Seeing the mother’s joy in each family was priceless and made me feel like I had truly made a difference in the family’s life. Below is a picture of Mateo and a picture of the cook stove that we built in his home. We had the opportunity to meet Mateo and his family when we installed the cook stove for them. He was very sweet and waved to us as we were leaving.
Another key aspect of the trip was traveling to different elementary and middle schools and working with the students on a STEM project. It was incredible just how smart the children really were. The language barrier did make it challenging, however. The children speak the native language of Kaqchikel in their homes. Many learn Spanish, but many of these students did not understand Spanish very well yet, as they were still young. It made the project difficult in the beginning but relationships were able to be made using smiles and gestures. The children were so sweet and caught onto the project impeccably fast, despite the language barrier. I was truly touched by each and every one of the children I met and worked with over the week. They were some of the happiest and purest souls I feel I will ever meet for the rest of my life.
The final key aspect of the trip that made it life changing was hiking up Indian Nose. This was one of my favorite things I have ever gotten to do in my life. I thoroughly enjoy outdoor adventures and hiking, and the views of Guatemala that we were able to see were like nothing you would ever see in America. On one of the days we were in Guatemala, we were able to explore the country and really appreciate its magnificent beauty. We hiked up about 2230m above sea level and some 620m above San Pedro. The views over the lake were absolutely breathtaking, like many of the sites all over Guatemala. Below is a picture that was taken of me sitting on the “nose” and top of the mountain.
Although this was not particularly an academic study abroad trip, I was constantly learning. This experience gave me a ton of life lessons that has since changed me as a person and shaped me for my future. I am currently an engineering student at The Ohio State University. It may seem like going to Guatemala to help those in need is completely unrelated to pursuing a career as an engineer, but when you look closely, they have their similarities.
While in Guatemala, we installed cook stoves in several different families’ homes. This was a great project that utilized my problem-solving and engineering skills while providing a service to the natives. My skills of communication and collaboration were tested many times, but improved greatly throughout the trip. My methods of communication and my Spanish grew stronger through working with the Mayan families in Guatemala. Engineering and service are both challenges that have unexpected consequences. In both situations, you have to think on your feet if something grows wrong, and the more experience you have, the more confident you will become with your actions. Going through these challenges allowed me to trust myself in unforeseen situations.