A country so lovely and intriguing to me that I would have the urge to go twice – that is Guatemala. The first time was in high school: a visit to a rural orphanage where we helped with small tasks, such as gardening, painting or preparing meals. My week at the orphanage was moving and the relationships I made with the students there are mostly still ongoing today, but after some time of reflection I felt like I hadn’t made as big of an impact as I could have. At this point I was applying to university and moving on with all parts of my life, while secretly dreaming of my next trip to Guatemala.
During my second year at Queen’s, I reconnected with a friend from my previous trip and we started searching for some way to return to Guatemala that summer. After much contemplation, we settled on a trip held by Students Offering Support (SOS). Our project with SOS involved building a classroom at a primary school. It meant hard work, such as mixing cement by hand and framing the rooftop in the summer heat, but it was all worth it. Working at a school meant there were hundreds of energetic primary students running around at recess and wanting to play with the new visitors, and served as a daily reminder of why we were putting in the hard work to extend this schooling opportunity to more children in the community.
SOS also gave us many opportunities to connect with the community on our time off from the building site. In addition to helping in English classes at the school, we visited local families where we learned how to make tortillas and coffee, took a chocolate making class, and got Spanish lessons. We also had the opportunity to climb up an active volcano, and do yoga at a lodge in the mountains. It was a great balance between working and exploring, and no free time was wasted.
Overall, going on an SOS trip will push you physically and mentally. The tasks you work on are not small – but you are reminded every day of why you are putting in the work when you are greeted by the happy students or grateful teachers and parents you see. When you are there, you become totally immersed with the community, which takes you in with open arms and shares its amazing culture with you. Your time with SOS will help you build a special bond with the other trip members as you work together to help provide a better educational setting for children in Latin America. You will inspire each other to continue to give back, and in many cases, get to watch together as the SOS project you worked on is completed and the students get to utilize it for the first time.