Xela, GuatemalaCentral America Mar 3rd, 2018 to Mar 11th, 2018
Trip Logistics & Participation Requirements:
We will embark on our journey on the morning of Saturday, March 3rd by flying into Guatemala City, where our amazing friend and chauffeur for the week, Armando, will be waiting for us. We will drive to Antigua and get settled in for the night, then on Sunday we will head to Xela, where we will spend majority of the week volunteering with Primeros Pasos on a variety of projects. The site where we will be staying during the week is a beautiful hostel, owned by a local family in Xela. It is fully furnished with plenty of beds, group spaces, bathrooms (with hot showers), a spacious kitchen, and more (if you have any questions please reach out to the site leaders or visit their website here). For food, we plan to buy our own groceries and prepare our meals in the house kitchen. Other nights, while in Antigua and at Lago Atitlan, we will eat out at local restaurants and visit a local market. On Friday evening, we will depart Xela and drive to Lago Atitlan, an absolutely amazing volcanic lake, famous amongst tourists for its breathtaking natural beauty, and spend the remainder of our time there exploring the area and enjoying the lake. On Sunday, we will drive back to Guatemala City and fly back to the states, to finish out our trip.
Participants should look forward to a hard but fulfilling week of service! Spanish ability is not necessary, but is highly recommended, as it will greatly improve your ability to learn from and get to know the people we will be working with.
Everyday from Monday to Friday we will be working with our partner organization Primeros Pasos. Primeros Pasos aims to improve quality of life in the Palajunoj Valley, by providing affordable and reliable medical and dental services and educational programs such as the Nutrition Recuperation Program and Children’s Health Education initiatives. During the week, we will partner up with the staff, helping with any projects that they need us to do, some of these can include building clean cookstoves for some of the nutrition program participants, repainting the clinic, and supporting clinic operations (pharmacy, nutrition/education program, etc).
The area that is now Guatemala was once the center of the Mayan civilization, until the Spanish conquest of the Mayans. Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 1821, but what followed was nearly a century of chronic instability. Most recently, the country was entangled in a brutal civil war (1960-1996) between US-backed dictators and leftist rebels. The war was ended with a United Nations agreement that installed Guatemala’s existing democracy. Although their democracy continues to hold strong, the country is one of the poorest in Latin America, ranking 31st out of 33 Latin American countries of the Human Development index. Much of the population is indigenous, and there are high levels of poverty throughout the country. 44% of the country lives in rural indigenous areas where 7 out of 10 are poor. In addition, Guatemala has the 4th highest level of malnutrition in the world.
Some of the major industries in Guatemala include fruits, vegetables, clothes, and tourism. Guatemala has a large economy, a unique climate that supports an array of ecosystems, and has been called a biodiversity hotspot. Guatemala also supports a rich culture, characterized by a fusion of Indigenous and Spanish customs.
Primeros Pasos was founded in 2002 to help improve the health and well being of the rural communities in the Palajunoj Valley. The Palajunoj Valley lies just outside of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, commonly referred to as Xela. The population that is almost entirely rural and 95% of the population is Indigenous Quiche Mayan. Despite its proximity to the city of Quetzaltenango, many lack access to basic services such as running water and healthcare. The organization Primeros Pasos was created when an abandoned mission clinic was revitalized and began giving free medical services and health education to local children. Since then the organization has expanded and now offers comprehensive medical and dental care, as well as nutritional education programs to those in the valley.
Although our trip is focused on service, we are also planning several recreational activities! After our arrival on Saturday, we will spend some time exploring the city of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and acclimating ourselves to the culture of Guatemala. After our work days our done in Xela, we also have activities planned such as a salsa dancing class and several talks from locals. Finally, we will conclude our trip by traveling to the beautiful and peaceful Lago Atitlan, where we will have time for activities such as kayaking, swimming, and more!
About the Site Leaders:
TJ is a 2nd year student on the pre-comm track and hopes to study finance at McIntire. He is from just outside of Boston, which is a wicked cool city. His ASB trip was to Puerto Rico last year, so he is excited to work with Primeros Pasos in Guatemala for the first time this year! TJ loves playing and listening to music (unless it’s country) and loves meeting new people.
Leila is a 3rd year student majoring in American Studies and Portuguese. Leila’s family is from El Salvador, a very small country in Central America that actually neighbors Guatemala, however she was born and raised in Washington, D.C.! Leila loves to exercise, play sports, listen to music, hang out with friends, and cook. She and TJ met on the ASB trip last year to Puerto Rico and she is excited to work hard and eat lots of local food while in Guatemala!