I will preface this reflection by saying that in my short three months as the Marketing & Communications Manager here, in no way have I become an expert on Guatemala, nor am I an expert on Common Hope. Every day I continue to learn something new about this organization and the people it serves. My reflections are based on my own personal experiences and are not meant to reflect the mentality of our entire staff. That being said, I hope that some of you may identify with my recent (and first) trip to Guatemala and find that this place and these people connect us all in a very special way.
As the Marketing & Communications Manager, it is my job to communicate on behalf of the organization. In this role, I read stories and see pictures of our work on the ground everyday, but I did not fully understand the impact until I was able to witness it first-hand.
I was fortunate in that I was able to go to many of the communities we serve, including San Rafael el Arado, San Miguel Milpas Altas, New Hope, and San Miguel Escobar. It was a whirlwind two-week trip, and every single person I met and every community I visited impacted me in a way that is hard to describe. So I will stick to sharing the most impactful story from my visit with my sponsored student Blanca Angélica, who is six-years-old.
This story begins in San Rafael, an indigenous community where the people are still very tied to their traditional Mayan roots. It is also a community of extreme poverty. This is where my sponsored student, Blanca, and her family live. I had the privilege of visiting Blanca’s home and got to meet many of her family members. Her older brothers were working, but her father Juan returned from the fields to greet me, a gesture of extreme kindness and hospitality.
I sat with Juan, his wife Ana Ricarda, Blanca, and her older sister Ana Belinda and just talked. Juan told me how grateful he was for my sponsorship and expressed how important it was to their family. He went on to say that without the help from sponsors, his daughters would not be able to attend school. He wanted to make sure I knew that he supported their education and he even wanted to help Blanca write letters to me. He also encouraged me to continue studying Spanish so that when I returned, he and I could have an uninterrupted conversation that didn’t require a translator. Talk about a boost of extra encouragement.
As he was talking and thanking me, I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t deserve such gratitude. As a guiding sponsor, I pay $30 a month to support Blanca’s education. It’s $30 that I would otherwise spend on clothes, a new pair of shoes, or other frivolous things. In that moment, I became very aware of the inherent difference between my life and theirs. It was also in that moment that I fought back tears (that I continue to fight as I write this).
An hour with Blanca and her family seemed like a minute. Even though she was very shy, Blanca told me about school and how she loves to draw and color pictures. She promised to keep studying hard. I look forward to seeing her grow up and hopefully graduate one day, which is no small feat in San Rafael. In fact, this year we expect to see the very first high school graduate from that community.
Looking back, it’s such a hard emotional journey to describe. There I was sitting with this family who is so thankful for my support, yet I can’t help but think that it is me who should be thanking them. In one hour, this family moved me in a way that no other life experience has. I am not ashamed to say that when I returned to Antigua that afternoon, I sat in my room and broke down in tears. Perhaps it was seeing the way Blanca’s family lives, perhaps it was Juan’s words of gratitude, or perhaps it was the fact that I was developing a new perspective on my own life. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I believe it was more than likely a combination of all of those things.
Upon returning to the States, I realized how much this trip really did affect me. The families I met were warm, welcoming, and loving–even to a “gringa” who didn’t speak the language. I am forever grateful for all that I was able to experience in my short two weeks there and the people I met will forever hold a piece of my heart. I look forward to my next trip and I suspect I still have a lot to learn from the people of Guatemala.