Tag Archives: High school clubs

How One Week In Guatemala Changed My Life

It’s National Volunteer Week and we’re thrilled to share a first-hand experience from one of our amazing volunteers who traveled into the field with us.  Below is a personal essay from Joseph Lee, a high school volunteer who spent a week building new cookstoves for families in Guatemala.  Thanks for sharing your story, Joe!

Joe standing in front of new cookstove

Joe proudly displaying a new cookstove’s donor tile inscribed with his name

Written by Joe Lee, President of the Project Cookstoves Club at Van Nuys High School 

I still remember the first time I set foot inside a traditional home in Guatemala—a country I had no idea would eventually hold a special place in my heart. It was early August in 2014, and I had just stepped off the plane to begin a week of volunteer service with nine other students—eight of whom I had just met that same day. The air was thick, yet the sun shined beautifully that morning. And as we anxiously took our first steps into the vast city, all ten of us were loaded inside a white van that was headed straight for the Good Neighbors Guatemala headquarters.  I looked around the packed vehicle to the nine other students—still strangers to me. We all had the same look on our faces:  tired and apprehensive. Although we didn’t know anything about each other, we all had one thing in common: we were about to embark on an adventure that would ultimately shift our perceptions of the world.


Arrival into Acatenango.

After a long drive to the rural side of the country, our naps were interrupted by the van’s sudden stop, signaling our arrival in Acatenango. Slowly making my way down the broken streets of the community, I immediately felt foreign and alienated by an environment that was so different from my own. How did I end up in a place like this? What on earth am I doing here? My mind was racing with these questions. We arrived at a small, run-down house that resembled almost all the other houses in the village. “Come inside,” said Jorge, our team leader as he beckoned us in with warm gestures. One by one, we each stepped in past the single narrow door that brought us into the modest and humble life of a Guatemalan family.


A family in Acatenango stands next to their traditional cookstove. My fellow volunteers and I built them a brand new stove during our trip!

I still remember this moment very clearly. Entering the dark and cramped room, I was inundated by a strong, suffocating cloud of smoke that instantly watered my eyes to the point of soft tears. My breaths became heavier, and I felt a pungent burn in my eyes. Out of desperation, I turned to locate the source of the smoke, and there it was: a cookstove, unlike any other, brewing a simple family meal. And, suddenly, the struggles and torments that I had learned about prior to my arrival became a cold reality.


Another traditional cookstove I saw in Acatenango.

I am a first-hand witness to a crisis that prevails in Guatemala to this day. Project Cookstoves is a Good Neighbors project with a mission to save the lives of millions of Guatemalans who suffer from their traditional stoves. These stoves, which provide daily meals for families, as well as warmth in the home, release toxic fumes that gradually fill each crevice of their cramped home. For a standard house with only one room, the effects are detrimental. Those exposed to the toxic exhaust, including children, immediately begin to feel congested and, thus, find difficulties in breathing, leading to cardiovascular disease, emphysema and lung cancer. According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, there are nearly 5,200 deaths per year in Guatemala alone that are the result of household air pollutants, and over 9.6 million whose health and lives are directly affected. To mitigate this unhealthy exposure, Good Neighbors dedicates itself to building better, safer, and more energy-efficient cookstoves through this project.

Joe pushing a wheelbarrow with soil needed for cookstove

Me pushing a wheelbarrow with soil needed for the new cookstove.

As a student myself, I first became involved with Good Neighbors through my mom, who heard about the organization through her close friend. In the one week that I spent with their team, I participated in multiple activities. Every day from morning to early evening, we visited ten different families in total and worked vigorously to build brand new cookstoves for each one of them. The process involved hours of cement-making, brick-laying, and cookstove-building. We were guided by a local Guatemalan bricklayer, who expertly built each stove. After a long day of working, we would then return to the city, where we ate dinner, washed up, and hung out with one another in the hotel. This part of the day, for me, was always special because it allowed me to spend time with my team. I always found out something new about everyone, and I began to realize that we weren’t so different from each other. By the end of the week, the team became more than a group of random misfits; it was the beginning of new friendships that I know are going to last a lifetime.

Mixing cement with (l-r) Ryan, Nitya, Sunwoo and me.

Guatemala is a beautiful and fascinating country. But it is also a place that is desperately in need of help. While millions of people lead comfortable lives worrying about what kind of clothes they’re going to wear or when they’re going to obtain the latest gadget, the residents of rural Guatemala–as well as many other third-world nations–are struggling to cook a simple family meal without getting harmed by its negative effects. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that we stand up and make a difference. If we learn to break out of our local confinements and reach out to those who don’t reap the same benefits, the world would be a radically different place. If we don’t rise up and catalyze a change, then no one will. One helping hand, one willing body can make all the difference.

Taking a break with kids from Acatenango (back row l-r: William, Nitya, and me)

A finished cookstove I helped build, donated in my name!

Today, I am still a part of the movement for change in Guatemala. After experiencing a profound conviction from this volunteer trip, I was inspired to educate my peers and raise awareness in my local community. Thus, the Project Cookstoves club was formed at Van Nuys High School. I believe that anyone can make a difference in the world–it all starts with a willing heart. I highly recommend this volunteer trip to all those who want to lend a helping hand. I am confident that it will change your view of this world, as it did to mine.

Me (standing, on right) leading our Project Cookstoves Club at Van Nuys High School.

Wow, thank you Joe for sharing your experience with us.  We are so grateful to have you volunteer with us!  Do YOU want to be inspired, like Joe was?  Click here to read more about how you can volunteer in Guatemala!

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Flowers for Water

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Here’s a sweet Throwback Thursday for you all: in February, the amazing students at Irvine High School raised $250 by selling corsages and boutonnieres for their Winter Formal!

Good Neighbors Club President Grace Yoon and her mom handmade sets for their friends and classmates, and the club members promoted pre-orders in the weeks leading up to the dance. Eleven couples placed orders and got to choose their flowers and ribbon colors ahead of time.  The money raised will go directly to our Water For Life project, which builds clean water wells for communities in Africa and the Caribbean.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset The students putting on their corsages before heading off to the dance! How cute do they all look? (Takes us right back to those high school days.) And because they’re awesome, these students are planning to host this fundraiser again for their Spring Dance and Prom, too!

Read more about our other Good Neighbors Club high school students here.

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Our Crescenta Valley High School Club!

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In case you didn’t already know, our team is running the LA Marathon this Sunday—just three days away from now, which is nuts! To show some support, the students at Crescenta Valley High School’s Good Neighbors club spent their lunch hour creating awesome posters for our runners. Joshua, Gina, Annie, Hogan, and Sunho had their meeting in an art classroom and decorated posters with an array of colorful markers and craft supplies. Joshua and Sunho will be coming out to Sunday’s marathon, so we can’t wait to see them there, cheering on our team!

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And now, 3  fun facts about Crescenta Valley High:

#1: Our former donor management assistant Winfred and intern Eugene went to high school there!

#2: Their Good Neighbors club currently partners with four other high schools to raise money for clean water wells in Africa.

#3: In December, they sold breakfast burritos as a fundraiser!

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Yeah, they’re pretty great. Thanks so much, guys!

Learn more about our LA Marathon team and why we’re running.

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Our High School Volunteers Are Awesome

Coolest kids: Van Nuys High School’s Good Neighbors club

We have some pretty awesome young people doing some pretty awesome things for Good Neighbors.

Take, for example, our high school clubs.

Last year, we launched a program for high school students to create Good Neighbors clubs on their campuses and fundraise for our projects around the world. Some of the high schools that got involved included Van Nuys High School, Chaminade College Prepatory, El Camino High School, Crescenta Valley High School, and Granada Hills Charter. Combined, these schools raised more than $9,000 for our Water For Life project to build three wells in Chad, Africa this past year!

They also know how to show their support for our LA Marathon team. (In case you didn’t already know, we’re running the marathon to fundraise for our Project Cookstoves!) And considering that it’s 26.2 miles, it’s safe to say our team could use a little encouragement.

So this past Monday, the Van Nuys High School club got together and made adorable posters to cheer on our LA Marathon team:

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We can’t wait to see these students and their posters along the route on the big day. Thank you for being so awesome, guys!

If you’d like to support our LA Marathon team, you can donate here. And if you’re interested in volunteering with Good Neighbors or want to start a campus club of your own, e-mail us at volunteer@goodneighbors.org.


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