How did you come to volunteer here at Common Hope?
I arrived in Guatemala almost a year before I joined Common Hope. I barely spoke a word of Spanish and had only intended to pass through for a matter of weeks, continuing my journey through Mexico and eventually flying up to start work in Vancouver, Canada. Within days of arriving in Antigua, I knew I wanted to stay. I spent the year traveling throughout Central America, studying and volunteering in Honduras and Guatemala. When I heard about the opportunity to join Common Hope for a year, it was perfect timing and after a short visit home for a big family wedding, I flew back out. I’m currently half way through my yearlong post, and the travel bug still hasn’t caught me, so I can see myself here for much longer than that.
What has surprised you the most about working with Common Hope?
We are almost 100% funded by individual donors, the majority of this from our sponsorship program. One of my roles is to translate sponsorship visits, often where sponsors come from abroad to meet their family for the very first time. This is a really special experience, and I am constantly taken aback by the openness of families to welcome visitors into their homes and their lives. Sponsors are very highly regarded, often providing emotional support as well as their monthly donation through letters and photos, and families and children are normally really excited, and sometimes nervous, to meet their sponsor. People with very little in the way of material things will often give whatever they can in thanks, avocados from their own crops or pictures and paintings drawn by the children. On one of my favorite visits, the little girl’s birthday had been a month earlier than her sponsor’s visit, but the family waited to celebrate the day together. Everyone was bursting with excitement, and friends and extended family had all come to meet their little daughter’s sponsor. During the visit, we sang happy birthday, ate cake and home-made tamales, and jumped out of our skin when firecrackers exploded outside the house (a typical birthday celebration!). The family had even prepared a special juice drink with bottled water so as not to upset our sensitive foreign stomachs! It is this enormous generosity that just melts your heart every time.
What is a new skill you have learned through living in Guatemala?
I’ve learned to negotiate, to barter, to bargain. Market shopping is a skill in itself. Prices are rarely fixed, and the rule of thumb is blondes pay more. A lot more. Jostling back and forth over prices, bluffing disinterest in something you reeeeeeally want so as not to pay ten times the price and using a smile to close the deal is all part of the fun now. I’m sure I still pay more than the average shopper but at least I have fun in trying!
What do you want people back home to know about your experience here?
I would love for people to learn about life here in Guatemala. This is a beautiful country and I love it as much as I love Scotland. But the families we work with often come from conditions that many people could barely imagine; we just don’t have poverty on this scale in the UK. Sure, times can be hard. But you wouldn’t find a family of seven, braving torrential rains in a shack made of corn stalks, sleeping huddled together on a mud floor, struggling to feed their children, with little hope of an education and no access to health care. Organizations like Common Hope are a lifeline, and I am so proud to be a part of something so amazing.
Has anything happened during your time here that will make your life different?
I always wanted to learn Spanish, and I always wanted to visit Latin America. However if you had told me five years ago that I’d be living in Guatemala, working for Common Hope, speaking Spanish every day and loving every second, I’m not sure I would have believed you. There is not one single thing that has made my life different, but a combination of everything. I have met some incredibly inspirational people, felt unbelievably happy and seen some painfully sad situations, and made lifelong friends. What the last year has taught me is just to be open, because a new adventure awaits around every corner.