For my STEP Signature Project, I got the opportunity to spend a week in Antigua, Guatemala. While there, I not only got to explore the sights and sounds of this beautiful country, but I also got the chance to learn about its economic system and the idea of poverty within Guatemala. Over half of this country’s population in below the poverty line, living outside, without a roof over their heads, without plumbing or running water. Through Constru Casa, a non-profit based in Guatemala, I was able to assist in the building of a one bedroom, one bathroom, cinderblock house for an amazing family who deserved nothing less.
Because of STEP and Buck-I-SERV, I was lucky enough to get to travel abroad for the first time in my life. Being an out-of-state student, money has always been tight, so I never really had the means necessary to travel outside of the United States. I am so grateful that I was presented with this opportunity. It allowed me to appreciate the world around me and all of the opportunities that have been placed in front of me my entire life. I came from a smaller town where my family would be considered lower, middle-class. I would have never considered myself or my family well-off. Coming to Guatemala, however, showed me just how fortunate I have been throughout my entire life, even having less than the average person. The average student in Guatemala only makes it to second or third grade. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to further my education at Ohio State. Though I complain about the workload and loans and everything that comes along with obtaining that college degree, I have learned to appreciate the fact that I am at this point in my life. A lot of people all across the globe will never be able to further their education to the point in which I have thus far. I cannot take for granted all of the opportunities our education system has presented me so far in my life.
Going abroad for the first time also allowed me to appreciate the beauty and culture around me much more, noticing things that I would have never thought twice about before this trip. Each and every day of that week-long trip, I was able to spend a majority of my day outside. I got to bask in the warm weather and the sunshine, while also doing something that I love, which is helping those around me. Living in the Midwest, I am faced with all four seasons in a week span, sometimes in one day. I will complain all of winter for it being too cold, and then will complain all of summer for it being too hot. I will spend a lot of time inside, with air-conditioning. I never really appreciated all the possible beauty around me, even in Columbus, Ohio. There is so much that this world has to offer and before this trip, I never really took advantage of it. You only live this life once and because of this trip, I have learned to appreciate those little things in life so much more, taking advantage of the warm summer days, exploring this city that I have called home the past three years.
During our trip, we stayed in Antigua, which is a tourism-centric city of Guatemala. When volunteering and building the houses, we traveled about 20 minutes outside of the city to Alotenango. It was crazy to me how stark of a difference there was between where we were staying and where we were working. The quality of living just dropped; I had never witnessed conditions like that before. Seeing how these people live on a day to day basis just made me appreciate everything I have been given throughout my life. Though I was never well-off, I always had a roof over my head, running water, heat and electricity. I never had to worry about shelter during bad weather. I never had to worry about when I would eat next or when I would get to bathe myself. Seeing the conditions in which a majority of their population had to live made me realize and understand all the privileges that come along with living in the United States.
Even with these horrible conditions, these families never took anything for granted. They were always happy, always appreciative, even of the smallest things. On our last day of volunteering, we stopped at a market beforehand and picked up some presents for our families. Since we were on a budget, it was nothing big. We got our mom a floppy hat and a blanket and got the kids bubbles, water guns, and one toy each. If I were to hand my ten-year-old cousin a water gun and bubbles, she would probably question my choice of gifts and would go back to playing on her phone. The smiles that lit up these kids’ faces made that trip entirely worth it. We helped them fill up their water guns and they enjoyed themselves for hours afterwards. Working with this family, living and taking in this culture for a week, showed me how important it is to focus on the positives and to appreciate everything that life has to offer. These families were living in horrible conditions, but not once did I see them complain. They embraced what they had, took pride in their family, and put in the effort to better that home for themselves and their children.
The work ethic of these families is something else that absolutely blew my mind. One of the children in our family has just turned six. Even though he was small, he still put in as much effort as he possibly could to help us in our endeavors to build that house. He carried those cinderblocks up the hill, cinderblocks that even I struggled to carry, without hesitation. Our mother did the same. She was much smaller and shorter than me, yet her strength was ten times what I could ever have. She mixed that cement, carried the cinderblocks, put in the work, and never wanted to stop. She would tell us to take breaks and have a snack, but would then continue to work like that was all that mattered. I am so used to a world where people put in the least amount of effort necessary to get the job done. The society that we live in encourages this as we need to constantly be doing many things at once. These families had a strength inside of them that pushed them beyond their physical limits, a strength in which I never possessed. I have always worked for what I have wanted, but my life never depended on it. Their lives and their futures depended on the work and the effort that they were willing to put in. That was going to be their home, their future, and they made sure to put their heart and souls into it. Never again will I take for granted the opportunities that I have come across, opportunities that would not be possible if it were not for the hard work and dedication that my parents and I put into my life and my future.
Learning to appreciate everything around me, to appreciate all the opportunities I have been fortunate enough to experience throughout my entire life, will allow me to notice those little things even more, which will in turn allow me to take advantage of all this world has to offer, instead of being lazy and letting it all go to waste. I have always appreciated everything I have been afforded in this life, but I never realized how good I have it until I saw how a lot of the world lives. I will complain about school, hating having to sit around in class, listening to teachers drone on about subjects that may bore me. After seeing the education system in Guatemala and how many people do not have the opportunity to get a formal education makes me appreciate mine so much more. Yes, it may be annoying at times, but I am so lucky to be able to pursue something in which I am passionate about, something that I wish to turn into a career. I live a life where I am able to turn those passions into professions. A lot of people do not get that lucky, and instead will work wherever there is work, work that will help their family live and survive. This trip definitely opened my eyes to ideas that I was blind to before, and helped me appreciate everything that I have been fortunate enough to experience in these twenty-one years of life. This trip will have an impact on me for the rest of my life, not only pushing to find and appreciate those little positives, but also opening me up to new ideas and ways of thinking.