Service-Learning and Community Service
My STEP Signature Project consisted of an international service trip to Antigua, Guatemala with Ohio State’s Buck-I-SERV program. In Guatemala we partnered with a non-profit organization known as Constru Casa where we worked to improve the living conditions for families there. During our stay we were able to build an additional room onto one of the schools there which was called Niños de Guatemala.
This signature project was an opportunity of a lifetime for me in which I will be forever grateful for. This trip marked several big first time events in my life as I have never been out of the country or have even flown on a plane before. It was truly an eye opening experience to travel to a third world country as my first out of the country experience. Before this service trip I hadn’t been too keenly aware of the lifestyles of developing counties, but this experience has definitely allowed me to become more understanding and appreciative of my surroundings. I didn’t really know what to expect at the start of this project, but I had imagined my stay in Guatemala to have been more rugged and challenging than what it actually was. Having grown up in a developed first world country my whole life, I had pictured my experience to look like the images I had seen on television of undeveloped nations. I had tried to prepare myself for any anticipated hardships or challenges that I thought would face us in regards to our living conditions. However, I was extremely surprised with the arrangement of our host family’s house. It was a very nice stay where everyone had their own beds, enough food, and even running water for the restroom and showers. Although I know that this wasn’t the case for the majority of families living in Guatemala. We were residing in a touristy town know as Antigua and many of the homes there were nicer than what we witnessed on our travels to other parts of the country.
From this experience, I learned that it is important to not take the simple things in life for granted. So many of people here in the United States have access to clean water and food and live in safe, stable homes. However, the number of people who can make that claim in Guatemala are just a few and they would comprise a minority subset of the population. By completing this STEP Signature Project I am now more aware and appreciative of the life that I live here in the United States and want to help make more of a difference in the lives of others who may not have it as fortunate as we do. I am more willing to participate in future Buck-I-SERV trips after this one as I have been able to better recognize the positive impact these service trips make on the organizations and people that they are assisting. Living conditions can improve globally through increased health promotion and collaboration with others while taking advantage of the advancements in technology along with further education opportunities.
As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon my arrival in Guatemala as I have never been outside of the country. I was greatly surprised once I got there though and saw Guatemala City for the first time. The first thing I noticed as I stepped off the plane was the heat that surrounded us. It was hard to put into perspective that this eighty to ninety degree weather we was experiencing was their everyday setting and that it was even their winter season. The city was busy and was packed with street solicitors and homeless individuals and families. The infrastructure there was much different than anything I have ever experienced in my life. The side of the main highway was just lined with these small shacks that people had assembled from abandoned and excess pieces of wood and metal. The air quality in the city was also very poor as smog was present throughout from the pollution as they were without any means of proper sanitation regulations. Traffic laws were also not abided by there as motorcycles weaved in and out of all traffic and horns were used for all means of communication, good and bad. I was surprised that there were as many vehicles in the city that there was because I thought that with it being a third world country, technology such as automobiles would have been more scarce. Guatemala is more of a developing country though and wasn’t at all what I had envisioned the city would have been like.
I was amazed by the city of Antigua, Guatemala. The roads were set up in a grid fashion with streets only running parallel and perpendicular throughout. There was also a large, beautiful town square located in the center where many families could be found trying to sell their handmade crafts and woven accessories along with fruit vendors and other vegetable and food sellers. This was one of the main sources of income for many families in this area as Antigua is known for being more of a tourist city. I was further surprised with the host arrangements during our stay there. I had imagined our stay to have been what one may consider rugged but our host family was extremely amazing and so kind and generous throughout our stay. She had a wonderful home where she had enough beds for all twelve of us on the Buck-I-SERV trip and even had indoor plumbing with three working bathrooms. The hospitality that was provided to us on this trip by the Guatemalans also greatly contributed toward my experience on my signature project.
While working at the construction site at the school we were able to interact with masons and kids as well during our breaks. I speak very little Spanish but was still able to make out certain phrases and play along with the children at the school. This was probably my favorite part of the trip being able to engage with the people that we were helping. It was rewarding to see the kids that go to the school and see how happy they were to be there and have this opportunity. I also hold a great amount of respect and admiration for the work ethic of these masons and the labor they put into their jobs day in and day out. They are some of the hardest physical workers out of anyone I’ve ever met and I aspire to further develop and strengthen my work ethic like theirs. The teachers, masons, and helpers at the school were all also very appreciative of the work we did to help with the addition of an extra room to the school. They were so kind and it was nice to see that our work and service was going to help improve the living conditions and the educational process for those in Antigua, Guatemala.
This was an opportunity I’m so glad I was able to take because I would have never experienced anything like this if I never went to OSU and got involved in the STEP program and became interested in the Buck-I-SERV service trips that they offer. This was transformational for me because I got to experience another country that I would have otherwise never traveled too. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do a service learning project for my STEP signature project and when I came across Buck-I-SERV and their summer trips I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so grateful to attend a school that has a program like STEP that makes it possible for students to achieve their goals while providing financial support. This service trip has impacted me and my life and the future for the better. I now possess this greater sense of awareness and appreciation for the things in life that I would have normally taken for granted. I’m extremely grateful to have grown up in the environment that I have and to have got where I am today. I will carry this mindset with me into the future as I continue to grow and reach toward my academic and career goals. Along the way, I hope to get involved in an organization like this again and further broaden my perspective of the world around me. As I continue my education to become a health care professional, I also like to think that I will strongly advocate for health promotion. I know that the experience, knowledge, and awareness that I’ve gained from this international service trip will help me in the future and that I in turn can use it to help make a positive difference and impact on the lives of others.