What’s it like to spend a month volunteering in Guatemala? Ara Cho, an undergrad at the University of Missouri, Kentucky double-majoring in sociology and psychology, shares some highlights of her experience abroad:
Beginnings with Good Neighbors Guatemala
I stepped out of the airport into a crowd of people. It was incredibly busy, there were shop owners selling souvenirs and gifts all along the streets, and the atmosphere around me was full of life. I’ll always remember these sights and sounds when I arrived l in Guatemala for the first time.
There’s an African proverb I like: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.” My passion is people and I believe that everyone has their own mark to make on this world. Some marks are broad and some are small, but they all make a difference.
I first heard about Good Neighbors from a friend who teaches abroad in Guatemala and knew two Good Neighbors Guatemala interns. I learned about the organization through them and called the office to set up an interview—I was accepted as an intern and started my one month of service on May 21st.
I love that even though Good Neighbors works in more than 30 countries, each country creates projects that accommodate specific goals and causes to its demogrphic. In Guatemala, I focused on Project Cookstoves, an initiative where Good Neighbors builds new stoves for families. Globally, about three billion people cook on primitive cookstoves made from little more than wood and dirt, and there are about 1.9 million deaths caused by smoke inhalation. Children also have to walk miles to collect firewood instead of attending school.
Seeing Project Cookstoves firsthand: A trip to Acatenango
One of my favorite experiences during my internship was going down to the community of Acatenango and meeting the families we were building cookstoves for. They were incredibly welcoming, inviting us into their homes and offering us black bean soup and homemade tortillas. Every home was different–some big and some small–but what they all had in common was their primitive cookstoves. I only stepped into the kitchen for a few minutes and my eyes were already watering and my throat was burning. The walls were charred black from smoke. Residents here manage to cook on these stoves three times a day, and it takes a huge toll on their bodies and on the environment. I saw firsthand how important a new cookstove was and I’ll never forget that.
Office life and next steps
When I wasn’t out in the field, I helped out in the operations department. I designed templates and promotional posts for social media, and it felt nice to bring out my creativity for a good cause. I also went around town with the staff and dropped off donation boxes at local stores so we could collect extra funds from shoppers for our community development and educational projects.
Most importantly, though, I loved the people I worked with during my internship. I was only there for a month, but everyone does so much–research, phone calls, meetings–and I can’t believe I only saw a glimpse of what they take on year-round. There was a great joy to the office, too: laughter, inside jokes, music, and yes, the occasional dancing.
Now that I’m back in the states, I’ll be starting school again soon and finishing my college degree. Volunteering with Good Neighbors Guatemala was truly a privilege. I learned so much and am so glad to share this experience with you.
Thanks so much, Ara! Learn more about how you can volunteer in Guatemala with us or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.