My STEP Experience with Buck-I-SERV: Constru Casa

Name: Victoria VonSeggern

Type of Project: Service-Learning & Community Service

During spring break of 2018, I went on a Buck-I-SERV trip working with Contru Casa to build houses in Alotenango, Guatemala. During that time the group of 12 other students and I, divided up into three groups and built three houses made of cinder block, cement, and tin roofs.

Before going on my trip, I had realized that there were many people in the world that were much worse off than I, or anyone I know, was here in the United States. I just had not realized the drastic degree of difference in living situations compared to not only how we live in the United States, but how different it was 20 minutes just outside of a city within the country. Through many evening discussions with my group we found so much that we were privileged to have. We realized we are even privileged to have the ability to be in debt to go to college, as many children there never even reach high school. We are privileged for the food we have and the resources we have, such as water treatment plants and waste processing centers. So many small things that we take for granted, but many people have to live without. Even without many of the comforts that we believe are necessary to live, the people often appeared to be happy and continued to work hard. I realized that I had never met people that worked as hard as the families I met worked to take care of and provide for each other. Many children sold items in the streets to help provide for their families, something that is not seen in the United States as we are able to have child labor laws put in place. Knowing that this kind of poverty exists is so very different from truly seeing and experiencing how extreme it truly is.

There are many events, both big and small, that I experienced on my trip that had significant impacts on the way I viewed the world. My initial experience in the country was first exiting the airport, where little stands were set up with both adults and children attempting to sell little souvenirs or knickknacks to everyone exiting the airport. Next, while leaving to airport to head to our home for the week, we rode in a van with all of our luggage strapped to the top, with no air conditioning in the car. These first two scenes were not that utterly shocking, but definitely something that was generally different from home, where we would more than likely have the luggage safely stowed away in the trunk and have air conditioning on full blast because of the heat. Driving to the town we were staying in, we saw many villages with lots of barbed wire and fencing along the way. When we arrived at our host family’s home, it seemed nice but very different from here, there were no televisions, the homes were open to the outdoors with hallways that did not have roofs to let in fresh air and light. Many small details of the home seemed like they did not have that much compared to us, but the shock of how different people were living just 20 minutes away was astounding and the realization that the people living within the city that we stayed in were also privileged in comparison to many people within the country.

The first day, on provided a few, small cultural differences, but the true feeling of privilege set in a little later in the week as we worked with the families to build their new homes. Before visiting the sites, we were informed of the monthly income of the families that we were helping, it was amazing to hear that most of them made less money in a month than we had each brought for the week there, considering that one of the families even had six children to care for. When we arrived on site, we truly realized how little they had. One family had a small home that was already in place but not nearly large enough for the two parents and six children, another lived with some of their neighbors, and one family did not have anything at all, besides some tin propped up to provide a little shelter. At my site the first day of building was very difficult as we adjusted to the heat and hard work, but all of the family that was capable chipped in. We carried hundreds of cinder-blocks up a hill and the mother, neighbors, and some of the younger children helped us carry them. The kids worked without complaint, even while we struggled to make it up the hill each time. I was baffled by how hard everyone here was willing to work and how great their sense of community was, as their neighbors would stop by and help move items as needed.

As my group grew to know our family even with a large language barrier, we experienced how eager they were to give even though to us, they had very little. They would provide us with drinks and offer us food as we worked, even when we bought them drinks in return they would continue to share with us. We were surprised by their generosity and felt guilty taking from those that we realized had much less than us. Another small moment that made an impact was when my trip leader was showing the younger kids Snapchat. Although we knew they had not really experienced technology as much as it is incorporated into our lives, it was very entertaining to see the kids laugh out of surprise from a filter being put on their faces on the tiny screen. The filters from many different social media sources along with our access to technology is generally take for granted, but seeing their faces light up and hearing them laugh with joy reminded me of how much I truly have. I realized that I do not always consider using technology such as a social media site as something that I am truly privileged to have. I had an understanding of my privilege to a degree beforehand, but the actual experience really made it set in. Throughout the week I met and saw many people that worked very hard, but still had what I would consider little to show for their work, causing me to feel more grateful for everything I have in life. Every day in Guatemala I learned more about myself and how lucky and grateful I am to have the rights and privileges that I am able to experience every day, here in the United States.

After returning home from my trip I am reminded every day of how much I have and the desire I have to give back and help more people. I have always been motivated to help those in need but realizing how bad life truly is for some people has motivated me even further. I would like to continue to work on more trips, both domestic and international trips to help others. Before going on this trip, I did not realize how significant the impact different service opportunities could be, but now I realize that trying to help in any way possible can make a large impact on many lives. I will take this experience with me through many of my future life experiences and I would like to continue to be involved in service work. Before graduating I would like to go on another Buck-I-SERV trip and after I am out of school I would like to find a program to volunteer with, both locally and in other places within the country and around the world. I am extremely grateful for the trip that I was able to go on, the people I met, and the new perspectives that I have after returning from such and impactful service trip.