Walking along side of the people: my experience in a Guatemalan town

By Angelina Capozzi
March 4, 2019

One group, one goal, one week, with a chance to make an impact not on just the people in Guatemala but on ourselves.

A week in Guatemala taught me more about compassion, love and solidarity than I’ve learned in my entire life. Going in to this trip, I was concerned about my Spanish. I spoke little to no Spanish and wanted to connect with the people but knew the difficulties.

Connecting with someone does not have to be through words but with intention and emotion. Nancy and Hamemmia, both Mayan children around 5 years old, knew I couldn’t communicate the way I wanted to. Yet simple actions like running around the circular flower beds playing tag showed the girls enough to trust me and that my intensions were pure. We played and laughed at silly things. They ran and tackled me to the ground giggling uncontrollably.

Nancy offered me a lick of her huge blue lollipop, and at that moment I realized this 5 year old who was coming from a developing country, with little in material goods to offer, still wanted to give me everything. I wanted to give both girls the world, but I knew money or candy were not going to make an impact. In the end I’m just one person who went to Guatemala and would be back in the United States in a week. But now I had the experiences to share and a voice that would demand to be listened to. When it was time for me to leave, both girls kept hugging me and kissing my cheek with sad expression of wanting to play longer. This small interaction impacted me. I felt so much love for these girls, I didn’t want to let them out of my arms.

You may ask where were their parents? In Guatemala parenting is very different. Older siblings take care of the younger ones. Both girls’ parents were inside the women’s center, which was built in 2011 by Father Greg Schaffer, the pastor of the church there. The mothers were working on weaving and cooking dishes to sell to make money for their families.

I was not a tourist and I did not want to be seen as one. This trip was to immerse myself into the culture and understand by listening to the people about their lives. To walk with them and not in front or behind. I worked on a wooden house during my trip. The first day I carried wood from the street to the site of where it would be built.

I was lucky enough to be put in the same home almost everyday. I saw the progress of the house, which started with nothing and ended with a two-room wooden home with windows, a door and a roof. The man who would live in the home worked with the group to also build the house. The other man, Rene, was from the mission. He taught us how to do each step and even though we were no where near as good as him he would always respond “muy bien” whenever we finished something. We learned words in Kaqchikel, the regional Mayan language, and laughed while trying to pronounce them.

At the end of one day the grandmother who would live in the new home grabbed Cabrini alumna Brittany Smith‘s hands and thanked us all for our work. It was a special moment of feeling accepted and appreciated.

The United States is a wonderful place to live but it does not have everything, and I challenge anyone to travel to a developing country, immerse yourself in the culture and walk along side of the people. If you do this you will understand what everyone on the trip does.

When people leave somewhere and try to come to the United States in the vast majority of times their intention is not to come and kill, rape, and take all the open jobs. They are running from the violence, poverty and malnutrition. I don’t think if you picked up everyone in Guatemala and put them into the United States they would be happy. Most do not want to leave the country they are from. Their country just needs help. People say it’s not our job to help these people because they are not “us.”

Who is this “us” we speak about? American people? The second word is so imperative. We are all people. I think America would learn that by helping these people in the end it would benefit themselves.

Angelina Capozzi

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