Experiencing community in Guatemala

By Erica Abbott
March 11, 2015

A view of Lake Atitlan from a lookout (Erica Abbott / News Editor)
A view of Lake Atitlan from a lookout (Erica Abbott / News Editor)

There are moments in life where we are put to the test. Moments where we encounter obstacles–everyone has them.

Over spring break, two faculty members, one Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart, one Cabrini missioner and 11 students traveled to Guatemala–the land of eternal spring. On the surface, Guatemala is a paradise: you see cherry blossom trees dotting the sides of roads, feel the cool breeze and gaze at the fluffy white clouds floating over beautiful Lake Atitlan.

On the surface, it is a paradise. But truly open up your eyes and you will see just how much poverty exists throughout the country.

Many people might be unwilling to purposely put themselves in an uncomfortable situation. But every spring break, students intentionally give up their break to serve others and put themselves to the test. In Guatemala, we chose to work with the Friends of San Lucas Mission to work hand-in-hand with residents of San Lucas, many of whom live in extreme poverty. However, we also saw strong people who were working hard to rise out of poverty.

In Guatemala, we immersed ourselves in the culture, while completely changing our own lifestyle. They do not have potable water; therefore, we had to continually refill our bottle with spring water. We had to use the same spring water to brush our teeth. But the people who actually live there do not have that option.

You cannot flush paper down the toilet because they do not have water treatment plants. Rather we have to throw it out in a wastebasket. Quite possibly one of the more shocking aspects to many technology-obsessed Americans is that an Internet connection is hard to come by. Being able to even use our phones for photographs was a luxury. Many visitors did not fluently speak Spanish.

Our North American luxuries eventually became second thoughts though. The purpose of this trip is not meant to be some spring break getaway–it is an opportunity to work in solidarity with the people of Guatemala and immerse ourselves in their culture.

During our week-long trip, we picked weeds from a coffee plantation, visited the various projects around the towns, met teachers and students in Chichicastenango and transported materials to build houses and stoves.

By far the most challenging day for me was transporting cinder blocks and bricks to families in Nueva Providencia. These families are some of the most vulnerable and would normally build an open fire in the middle of their dirt floor in order to cook. The materials would be used to make a stove. Walking to the houses was easy–it was the walk back up that was the real challenge.

Making our way back to where the materials were, we walked up steep paths, crossed a bridge and, of most difficulty, made our way up the final steep path that was at an angle of around 45 degrees. We struggled while the people we worked with did everything effortlessly. But they never made us feel like our work was futile–they were grateful.

The welcoming spirit of the people was always present. That was one of the hardest parts about leaving. The children ran up to you while you were working to give you a high five or repeatedly shouted thank yous. Driving through San Lucas, “Hola” was a word often spoken, with a smile.

Their sense of community is amazing. You feel their sense of solidarity and a connection that would be hard  to come by in the U.S. Imagine if we broke down feelings of separation just on the streets of Philadelphia: how much of an impact a simple “hello” could have.

The first night, we were strangers in an unknown country, unsure of the obstacles we would encounter. But by the end of the week, it felt bittersweet knowing that we would soon be leaving. The stories of the people and the experiences of the people will forever live in our hearts and sharing the eye-opening experiences with others.

The facade of the church at the mission. (Erica Abbott / News Editor)
The facade of the church at the mission. (Erica Abbott / News Editor)
(Amy Held / Photo Editor)
(Amy Held / Photo Editor)

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Erica Abbott

Hi my name is Erica Abbott and I am the News Editor for the Loquitur this year. I am currently a junior Communication major, Spanish minor. I am also a social buzz editorial intern with Business 2 Community. I am very interested in the arts, social media, photography and writing.

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