Cabrini students work alongside Mayan people in Guatemala

By Amanda Carson
February 4, 2010

To submerge themselves within the Mayan culture, motivated Cabrini students to travel to Guatemala. Their assumption that the trip would focus on touring the surrounding area, however, was incorrect.

“I didn’t know I signed up to carry boulders,” Michelle Costa, sophomore communication major, said, with humor in her voice.

Six Cabrini students Traci Beltz, Michelle Costa, Kelsey Kastrava, Melissa Moore, Jenn Prutzer and Lauren Sliva experienced the typical working day for Guatemalans over their Christmas break. Accompanied by Dr. Jerry Zurek, chair of the communication department, and Dr. Raquel Green, assistant professor of Spanish, who helped translate, the students spent seven days working in various site locations.

“Each work shift was different for us. I think that there was only one time that we did the exact same thing twice,” Traci Beltz, senior exercise science major, said.

The students would wake up each morning and would work for three hours, break and then work for three hours in the afternoon. Their ultimate goal was to help build a road by moving rocks, but they also cleaned a school, helped build a women’s center and picked coffee.

These simple tasks were much appreciated by those who live in a country that lacks basic infrastructure.

“When we spoke to the townspeople we saw how appreciative they were,” Kelsey Kastrava, sophomore communication major, said.

Each day the students got to interact with a different Mayan worker, most of whom only had a grade school education.

“Being able to work alongside of the Mayans was the most rewarding part of the trip. Learning how to do all of the daily jobs that they do without the modern technology that we take for granted was very eye opening,” Beltz said.

Beltz also said it was interesting that, although the Mayans only had a grade school education, they were doing jobs that would require a college degree in America.

“As much as we complained about the work it’s what these people do only to make $2 a day,” Costa said.

For the entirety of the trip the students were surrounded by the mission of the San Lucas community.

They would begin and finish their days at the Mission Center where they would reflect on what they learned.

For some, the trip reinforced aspects of social justice that they learned in their Engagements with the Common Good courses.

“It made the people we read about come to life,” Costa said.

Others saw sites that were completely unimaginable.

“When we ate at the center the doors were always open and children would just stand at the doors and stare at the bountiful food. I realized I could go up two times, while these people were actually hungry,” Kastrava said.

By the end of the trip the students had gained a sense of understanding for the lives that people in countries with extreme poverty face.

“The trip to Guatemala is a wonderful way to really get into a culture and get to understand the people,” Beltz said.

“Despite all the hardships they faced during their 35-year civil war, I think they are the most brave and high spirited people. They only smile and think about what tomorrow will bring and work to better the lives of future Guatemalans,” Costa said.

Amanda Carson

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