Laura’s volunteering in Guatemala
“What I liked most about the project was that I was able to help the children and quickly realized that I was having a direct impact on their lives and education. In my 5 weeks, I really made a difference for the children, and that makes me very happy in retrospect.”
Laura supported the Teaching Project in Antigua, Guatemala as a volunteer for five weeks. She had an unforgettable time with the children at school and learned a lot about the Guatemalan way of life and culture. She shares her impressions with us in this experience report.
I always wanted to do volunteer work in South or Central America. However, due to the pandemic, I temporarily put my plans on hold and postponed them to “sometime later”. When the situation eased and the travel restriction was relaxed, I spontaneously decided that I wanted to go before I graduated and take this experience with me. I registered my trip with WanderWorld about 6 weeks before departure. It felt like everything went very quickly: booking flights, collecting and printing documents, checking vaccinations, etc. Before departure, it was important for me to be as prepared as possible for everything and every situation so that I could really just enjoy my time there and not have to worry about insurance, credit card, etc.
MY FIRST DAYS
After a journey of about 20 hours, I arrived in Antigua in the evening. The next day Alejandro picked me up at my accommodation for the introduction day. He gave me a first guided tour of the city. We went to eat together, to the supermarket and to the bank. I was able to withdraw money and also got my SIM card right away, which I could use to make phone calls and access the internet outside of my accommodation. In the first days I was totally excited about Antigua. Everything was so exciting and thrilling and I liked it too! I quickly got to know other WanderWorld volunteers from other projects, so I was never alone.
A NORMAL DAY IN THE PROJECT
For my project at the school in San Lorenzo El Cubo, I got up at 06:30 every day. At 07:00 I went to the bus terminal, where the bus left around 07:25. Most of the time the bus ride took 30 minutes because of the morning traffic and after that I had to walk about 10 minutes to the school.
Once we arrived there, we had classes until 09:30. During this time we did different things: learning letters and numbers with the children, reading, painting, handicrafts and computer lessons. After that there was a half hour break and all students, teachers and volunteers got a hot meal with a drink and dessert. The food was freshly prepared every day by the mothers of the school children and tasted very good.
After the break we continued with the lessons. Often we had English lessons for 60 minutes after the break and continued learning afterwards. The children were picked up by their parents at 12:00. After class I often stayed longer to help the teachers prepare the materials for the next days. Most of the time I was back in Antigua around 2:00 pm.
I had a lot of fun working with the children. The children were cheerful every day and had fun and enjoyed learning new things. On the very first day, I was welcomed openly and the children always wanted to play with me or for me to sit next to them and help them. The staff at the school were very kind and helpful. The first few days I was accompanied to the school by a staff member so that I could get to know the way. In general, the teachers were totally friendly and very grateful for my help. They told me a lot about life in Guatemala. So I learned a lot about the living conditions and circumstances, which made me feel like more than just a tourist. I got to know a lot about life there and I am grateful for that.
MY FREE TIME
Antigua is a very diverse city and a suitable starting point for weekend trips. I was on the road with friends every weekend and was able to travel (almost) all of Guatemala during this time. For example, we visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal, went to the big market in Chichicastenango and to the beautiful lake Atitlán. Absolutely recommendable is also the overnight stay on the volcano Acatenango. It was very special to see the active volcano Fuego erupting about 3 km away as the crow flies. But also in Antigua itself there is a lot to experience: I attended a chocolate workshop and made the famous “Quitapenas” (worry dolls) at a Guatemalan woman’s home. I also made tortillas myself, strolled through the market in Antigua, went souvenir shopping and took a yoga class. Also, I went bar hopping with friends in the many bars, went partying and visited the village of Hobbitenango, which is not far away. In Antigua you can also eat really delicious food in one of the many restaurants and cafes. I never got bored during my time there.
I stayed in a guesthouse in Antigua and had my own room there. This consisted of an anteroom where there was a small sofa and a shelf. The second room had a large bed, a window and another shelf. The bathroom was directly across from my room and was shared with 2 other rooms. There was also a large kitchen that had everything you needed and I cooked in it quite often. The guesthouse had a very nice courtyard with lots of plants and a great painting. But my personal highlight was the roof terrace, where you had a view over all of Antigua and the three volcanoes. I spent several afternoons there in the sun. Another volunteer also stayed there for a longer time, otherwise most of the other guests were only there for a few nights.
WHAT I WAS ABLE TO GIVE TO THE PROJECT
I was with the teaching project for 5 weeks and in this short time I realized how much I helped on site. The teachers were incredibly grateful for my help and the children took me very much to their hearts. The living conditions there are completely different than here in Germany. Since the children and their families are poor, they were grateful to have the opportunity to attend this school. This is exactly why the work of volunteers is so important. The children need support in almost all areas, because they hardly have time at home to study or repeat for school. Sometimes they have to help in the household, work, take care of other siblings or similar. Accordingly, they have gaps that need to be filled in school. At this point, I was able to help a lot and, for example, work specifically with children who had more difficulties than others, while the teacher continued to work with the other students.
Especially on my last day, I had the feeling that the children got used to my presence. All of them thanked me for my help and patience as they said goodbye. Many told me that they had learned a lot from me and were looking forward to my return.
What I liked most about the project was that I was able to help the children and quickly realized that I had a direct impact on their lives and education. In my 5 weeks, I really made a difference for the children and that makes me very happy in retrospect.
SAFETY ON SITE
In Antigua, I felt safe most of the time. It is a very touristy city, which means you don’t notice that you are not from Guatemala. I never went home alone in the evenings; I was always with at least one other person. In everyday life, I made sure to carry my valuables close to my body. I always had a fanny pack with me that had my cell phone, cash, and keys. I always left my credit card in my accommodation except when I went to withdraw money.
In general, the same safety tips apply there as everywhere else: don’t walk the streets alone at night, take good care of your valuables, and don’t act particularly conspicuous. Antigua is generally a safe city and with these tips hardly anything can go wrong.
MY TIP FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS
In my opinion, a stay abroad in Latin America is always a good idea. The mentality of the people, the landscape, the customs and traditions are completely different than here in Europe and that makes it a very exciting experience. What struck me the most was the friendliness of the inhabitants. Everyone was helpful and always helped when you had a question. This is not a matter of course, at least in Germany, and that’s why I was impressed. Everything was more casual and everyone was more relaxed. You don’t worry so much and just do what you feel like doing. So many tourists from all over the world travel to Latin America, so you meet new people on every corner. As an open person, you hardly have any problems getting into conversation with others. In the future, I would like to visit many more countries in Latin America, because each is special in its own way and therefore unique.