Volunteer Connections- Giving

In this first post of API’s new “Volunteer Connections” series, Emmy, an API study abroad alum and recent volunteer in Guatemala, shares her story.

“Giving” by Emmy 

Outside the international arrivals section of the Guatemala City airport, a metal gate herded excited families. Faces, arms, and hands stretched beyond the metal barrier. I scanned the crowd for a sign with my name on it – EMMY. Spotted. My hosts shuttled me to what would be my new home.

Holaaaaaa… Chickee, my house mom, opened the metal gate and grabbed one of my bags. We headed toward home. Her house felt rustic and ancient – just like the Mayan ruins of Antigua. And my room was even better…comfy – with a volcano view. Every night, I fell asleep with the windows open – heavy head on the pillow, eyes on the view.

Emmy’s View

And believe me, my eyes were always heavy. There was so much to do in Antigua.

A Typical Day:

Begins at 7am with breakfast made by Chickee – usually, pancakes and a heaping plate of fruit. Papaya, mango, watermelon, strawberry, banana, and pineapple colored the plate like a geometric painting. I wish I took a picture…

But there was no time for photos between table conversations with Chickee. The Spanish lessons began – chatting about last night’s dreams, plans for the day, and los niños en la guardia infantil. Which is where I went next – to work and volunteer.

Every day was a challenge working with the infants; I had a lot to learn. It started with their breakfast– scooping and funneling mashed bread and peach yogurt into their tiny mouths. At first, while spoon feeding Valentina, I made more of a mess than she did. But by the end of the week, she didn’t want the mamis anymore – she wanted me. And Gabrielle climbed on my back begging ‘caballo! caballo!’ every…single…day. And Hector got jealous when I picked up Alejandro or Tati. The hardest part was walking out the door at the end of the week – when little Hosea tottled in his crib waving adiosss Mimi (which I believe meant Emmy).

After four hours every day, I was exhausted – but feeling the difference I had made, that light in their eyes at the slightest mention of each niño’s name, was so worth it. And I rushed home to another home-cooked meal and table conversation with Chickee. Lunch usually included my new favorite veggie salad – diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lemon, and salt. Usually frijoles negroes, and a carb like pasta or potatoes. Chickee easily accommodated to my vegetarian diet.

The rest of the day was mine to explore. I usually started at La Parque Central, with cheap juices, street dancers, benches for chatting, and awesome shops.

La Parque Central

La Parque Central

But the best shopping was done under the famous yellow arch. If you find the right store, prices are supposedly better than bartered prices (thank you for that tip, Spanish maestra Gloria). I found some secondhand huilpils for 50Q ($7) each.

The famous "Yellow Arch" and a secondhand huilpils find!

The famous “Yellow Arch” and a secondhand huilpils find!

But overall – I wandered. I found ruins, on ruins, on ruins. Chickee says that the law forbids people from ‘fixing’ the aging walls – they are condemned to ancient times. And will forever deteriorate –growing ever more historically pristine. And just a few more stumbled upon ruins. #casual.

Exploring Ruins

Exploring Ruins

Other afternoons, I participated in Zumba with local Antigua women. I also climbed a volcano, partook in Spanish lessons, and went on tours with the Spanish school. I rushed home for dinner by 7:15 yet again – excited for another plate of whatever Chickee cooked that evening. Every night, we sat and talked for over an hour. And at one point, even on the other side of the world, that question…that daunting question…came up again: What to do after college?

After college, I moved back home – bags, negative connotations, and all. But Chickee didn’t think that was a bad thing. Chickee, as well as my Spanish teacher and new friend Gloria, said that Chapinos usually move home after university studies. And it’s not shameful – actually, it’s honorable.

Now that the ‘child’ has been equipped with new skills, the child can more meaningfully contribute to the family. So I thought: maybe it’s not so bad that I don’t have some prestigious job in the city. Maybe, for now, it’s a blessing that I can stay home and help care for my sick Grandpa, and paint chairs for my mom, and mow the lawn for my dad.

All for the sake of goodness – rather than paychecks or benefits.

And maybe it’s an amazing opportunity to practice giving, without expecting anything at all.

To learn more about the Volunteer in Guatemala program that Emmy was a part of, click here:
Applications are accepted year-round!


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