Student Inspired by Teachers
Today, my classmates and I witnessed an almost surreal poverty. I went to the nursery today, and almost all facets of it were extremely surprising. The biggest surprise came from the teachers. The teachers immediately instilled admiration in my heart as they exerted tremendous, and more importantly, genuine effort into their students.
This true passion for teaching radiated from them, and with each song and dance came an unbelievable wave of joy. The work of these modern day heroes is the relentless dedication for the advancement of the forgotten children, the children of the dumps. Success will only come in the hands of the teachers, and although these children live in dire conditions, if they have at least one blessing, it´s that they´re in good hands.
Before coming to this trip, I was told about how amazing the students were and their willingness to love and accept us. After six months of waiting, I was finally able to witness that first-hand. However, what I was not told about was the sheer altruism of the teachers. The patience they exhibited and their ability to inspire were truly amazing. I cannot express the emotions I felt from watching them work, but if I were to choose one phrase it would be…life-changing.
Thursday, June 23
As we arrived at the school, the students greeted us as if we are celebrities. All of the teachers have been cordial and have treated us with enormous respect. After a couple of hours with the children in the classroom, we departed along with the entire school to the soccer fields to see the school championships and play the SJJ vs. Coll School game.
Watching the kids play in their school championships was awesome because all of the students took advantage of the moment and looked as if they were having the time of their lives. In the soccer game between SJJ and the Coll School, the Coll School students came out strong and were focused to beat us Titans. After a 0-2 deficit, SJJ managed to bring the game back and tie it at 3-3. In suspense filled penalty kicks, the Titans became victorious, winning 2-0 in penalty kicks.
It was awesome to participate in the game and play against the students. All of the students were respectful and shook hands with us after the game. Today was an amazing day in which we managed to enjoy the moment, as well as complete the work for the school.
Friday, June 24
Today was our final day at the Coll School. Because the nursery was closed, all twenty SJJ students and the three teachers spent the morning at the Coll School, divided among the six grade levels [K-Sixth Grade] and continuing to assist with the construction of walls and rebuilding of benches within the school.
At 10:30, a large fiesta began for the 306 students at the Coll School. Students from the Coll School performed two dances, sharing with us both their talents and the culture of Guatemala. Afterwards, we shared a few words (see below) in Spanish to the kids and then sang and danced to a unique version of “Barbra Ann,” the classic Beach Boys’ song that we had practiced in previous days.
While the joyous fiesta brought an end to an amazing, inspiring week with the kids, we had difficulty saying goodbye to our classes and our beloved, bilingual security guard, Juan Carlos. We learned so much from the kids and teachers at the Coll School this week, and while saying goodbye is never easy, these people have taught us so much about love and hope for the future.
Similarly, we learned in the afternoon from a class of teens in the Paso a Paso program, an International Samaritan program dedicated to providing additional educational opportunities to students in the dump community who have graduated from the sixth grade, that these brave kids just like us in many ways are not afraid to dream big. Each of these Paso a Paso students look to overcome the odds and ultimately secure a job outside of the dump. Today was an incredibly emotional and inspirational day.
Here is the speech we gave to the kids (in Spanish, of course):
Thank you for welcoming us so graciously to your school and continuing to share your love with us throughout the week. This week, we came here to the Francisco Coll School as strangers. We leave today as friends and we consider you family. While you learn in a classroom, we learn about something just as important. You teach us how special love can be and what it can do to bring unity among cultures under God. Take the lessons you learn in the classroom and the world is yours. If there’s only one lesson you learn from us, we want it to be that you know we love you and believe you can do anything. We prepared this performance with the hope that it would bring a smile to your faces, which will be forever in our hearts.
Saturday, June 25
If one was ever curious about an interesting travel destination to visit while in Guatemala, Lake Atitlan is the place to go. Today we drove a grueling 3 hours to the lake; nevertheless, it was completely worth every second. Once we were arrived, we took a boat across the lake, traveling to Santiago Atitlan where we spent the day shopping. Every “store” was filled with items that seemed to be indigenous or native, pushing me to buy many of them. I was able to stand my ground and purchase only a few simple treasures. The boat ride back was just as amazing as the first, but the only bad part about the day was the 3 hour bus ride back because there was no lake to look forward to at the end of that trip. Overall, Lake Atitlan was a nice relaxing rest from the work that we had been doing.
Sunday, June 26
After boating across the beautiful Lake Atitlan on Saturday, we awoke prepared to celebrate Mass in San Antonio about an hour and a half away on Sunday. We enjoyed the countryside on the bus ride despite the dreary weather. Upon arriving in San Antonio, we heard the crackle of fireworks, which were set off to celebrate Corpus Christi. When we arrived, we found out Mass started earlier than we thought in San Antonio, so we decided to attend Mass back in Antigua.
The Church was decorated with brilliant colors and we admired both the differences and similarities between Mass in the U.S. and Mass in Latin America. After Mass, we enjoyed some of the most authentic Guatemalan food of the trip at a nice restaurant where a band played. When we finished lunch, we spent a couple hours bartering with the vendors in Antigua for soccer jerseys, artwork, and much more.
It was fun to see the most brutal barterers of the group, especially Ahmed who said, “I’m going to tell my mom there were mean vendors in Guatemala!” Ahmed was joking, of course. In the end, we were all satisfied with our purchases, most of which were much better prices than for similar items in the U.S. When the day in Antigua was finished, we returned to our retreat house in Guatemala City for food, fun, and sleep.
Monday, June 27
Today is Monday, the eighth day of our trip. This morning we awoke early to pile into the tour bus in order to make a five hour trip southwest to the country of San Salvador. The ride itself was quite trying, but our arrival made it more than worth it. We arrived at the Loyola Retreat House around four o’clock.
After unpacking our things and being assigned our rooms, we all stepped out to the courtyard to find one of the most beautiful views of, if not only the trip, our lifetimes. The city was a beautiful sight, accompanied by the awesome tropical trees and sounds of the beautiful venue. I am quite excited to see what is in store for tomorrow and our remaining time here at the Loyola Retreat House.
Tuesday, June 28
Today marks the bittersweet end to our indescribable experience. I think we are all ready to go home – we are all ready to see our family and our friends, but we will miss the friends we made at the Coll School and the nursery.
Today, we went to visit the San Salvadorian cathedral and the Romero Center in an El Salvadorian University. Having learned about Oscar Romero in class and having watched a movie about his life, we went into the center knowing at least something about him. However, going into the chapel he was assassinated in and hearing the words he implored right before he was shot impacted me (and the rest of us) way more than a book or a Hollywood interpretation ever could.
Romero truly was a worker, as we all are, and he planted the seed that the master-builder, God, wanted to be planted; the fact that he took his worker role on so justly and courageously is a lesson for all. Visiting the center truly cemented that idea in all of us.
As we leave Guatemala and El Salvador, we will remember the kids we met, interacted with, and loved for the rest of our lives. These past ten days have created a seed of service imbedded in all of us – one that will continue to grow for the rest of our lives.
Watch for more photographs from the SJJ service trip at Facebook Group.