The heat blew strongly onto my face as I exited the airport into Guatemala City, anxiously looking for someone holding a “Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS)” sign. A man named Willy, who I soon learned was my group advisor for the CCS Teen Volunteer Abroad Program, soon greeted me and brought me to the van that would bring me to Xela, a different city in Guatemala.
As we drove up the mountain towards Xela in our van, I could not help but stare in awe at my surroundings. The mountains and landscapes encircling us were stunning. Even more extraordinary were the people and the life I witnessed. I saw ladies carrying baskets of food from the market—balanced on their heads. I saw little babies strapped onto their mothers’ backs. I saw children running around and playing in bare feet. I took out my camera to take pictures, but it was impossible to fully portray the experience with my camera.
At night, we finally arrived at our house we were staying at in Xela. My group consisted of twelve teenagers, all from different parts of the world. Avery was a girl from Nashville, Tennessee. Mark was a boy from northern California. Paulina was a Mexican girl who attended an international school in Shang-hai, China. As for myself, I was a typical girl from typical suburbia in central New Jersey. We were so unfamiliar with each others’ backgrounds, and I remember being shy and worried about fitting in. Those feelings immediately disappeared our first night together in the living room. We all sat together, in a circle, and started talking. And that was the first night we became best friends, as if we had known each other forever.
Our purpose in Guatemala was to do volunteer work, and our volunteer placement was in an orphanage twenty minutes away from our home base. I would never forget the first time I set foot into that orphanage. The walls were old and crumbling. Our volunteer group mixed blue and white paint to make the color of the sky, and used brushes to paint the walls.
As I was busy painting a wall, I heard a little orphan boy tap me and yell out, “Denta!”, and then he ran away laughing. I realized that he and the other children were playing tag, and I laughed and ran to join them. I ended up playing jumprope for the first time in years, and a little boy named Joel taught me a Guatemalan game called “Zapatita.” That day it hit me: these poor children that you read about in books are actual people. They are not simply a number, or a part of a Millennium Development Goal to be solved by the United Nations. They are real children, with games, friends, and feelings. And it felt so great to interact with them, and to see how they lived.
Everyday in Guatemala was better than the previous day. The bond between me and the rest of the group grew stronger at every moment we spent together. We had countless inside jokes; I will never ever forget our McDonalds rap (“I want a double cheeseburger and hold the lettuce, don’t be frontin’ son, no seeds on the bun…”).
Overall, the experience in Guatemala was the best in my life. It brought me to a world with an astonishing culture and gorgeous landscape. It allowed me to interact with a different type of people in a different language, and realize that we were all still the same. It brought together the closest group of friends, who were in tears when we had to separate on the last day.
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