GO! Guatemala Los Ninos
By Michelle FlorCruz, Fordham College at Rose Hill, Class of 2012
From left to right : Jess Bostwick FCRH '12, Heather Lothrop FCRH '11, Sami Suleiman FCRH '12, Shannon Considine FCRH '12, Alessondra Villegas FCRH '13, Michelle FlorCruz FCRH '12, Anna Tarkington FCRH '11, Gina Signorile FRCH '11, Sully Ramirez GSB '13
Fordham's Global Outreach (GO!) program sends teams of students around the country and the world to learn about issues of social, economic, political and environmental injustice through communal projects. Last month, the GO! Guatemala team traveled to the Central American country, where they spent their spring break improving primary school infrastructure, building community kitchens and helping create gardens. The team also learned about the ancient Mayan culture through exploring village life with local community members. Team member Michelle FlorCruz shares her experiences.
On March 12, our team of 12 students arrived in Guatemala City and hit the ground running. We loaded up the bus and headed to Chipocolaj, where the community greeted us at the town's school. We sat on benches in front of a sign: "Bienvenidos a Chipocolaj." The school's makeshift stage was decorated with a traditional, intricate Guatemalan tapestry and freshly picked flowers. The students, with help from their principal and teacher, Señora Feliz, performed for us, and before long, we joined in with them, dancing hand-in-hand. It was a nice introduction to the welcoming spirit of Chipocolaj.
Rolling Up Our Sleeves
Over the next three days, we painted the school's classrooms, kitchen and bathroom, and made cement to pave a path. The physical progress we made at the school was visible; and we had bruises and paint-stained skin to show for it. As the school changed physically, my team members and I were changing emotionally. By our final day at the school, going to Chipocolaj had become part of our routine. We instinctually filled buckets of water before going to the bathroom; we cleared the tables when it was lunchtime; and we always made time to play after we worked.
Erin Atwell Fordham Grad IPED '11, Heather Lothrop, Jessica Bostwick, Alessondra Villegas, Christy Moehrle FCRH '11, Cathy Landry FCRH '14, Anna Tarkington, Sami Suleiman, Michelle FlorCruz, Shannon Considine, Gina Signorile
Our days in Chipocolaj were split into work hours and learning sessions, which gave us a chance to gain insight into the lives of our hosts. We met a man who recounted the process of trying to immigrate to the United States illegally. The presentations were nothing short of eye opening. It was easy for us to think that all these people needed was help with their school. It was harder to hear their stories of struggle, of enduring physical and emotional pain.
Some of the most rewarding experiences we had involved the children. Every day we were there, the children were by our side, with paint-rollers in hand. Having the children with us on a daily basis made the labor seem much less laborious. While we exchanged songs and jokes in mostly broken Spanish, the work went by quickly. The children would imitate us and laugh at us, just as they did with their classmates.
Mayan Ruins and Active Volcanoes
During two days of our stay, we focused on cultural immersion. We visited one of Guatemala's most famous Mayan ruin sites, Mixco Viejo. While standing on the ruins, looking at the breathtaking landscapes, our guide spoke of the importance of listening to nature, and what it means to be a human living in the natural world. We were overcome with a sense of peace and spirituality. We spent our last day in Antigua, considered the tourist capital of Guatemala. The view on the way up the Pacaya Volcano repeatedly took our collective breath away. The scenery was like nothing we had seen before.
The Sensory Experience
Our senses were overloaded, and it will take some time for all of us to process all we experienced. We heard the heartbreaking stories of two people who lived through the Civil War in Guatemala. We saw the homes of the families whose children attended the school where we worked. We smelled the fragrant flowers that little girls would pick and place in our hair. We tasted the flavorful and hearty traditional dishes of Guatemala. But most of all we felt. We felt the pain and suffering of the people who had lost loved ones in the Civil War. But we also felt the joy and warmth of a community that has since come together. We felt ourselves become emotionally invested in the community that we had only been a part of for a few days. Saying our goodbyes was bittersweet. The children put on another performance, and the parents presented us with small tokens of their appreciation. Leaving the site, some of us had tears in our eyes, but all of us had smiles on our faces.
To learn more about Global Outreach, students can visit our website at www.fordham.edu/go or visit the offices in the McGinley Center at the Rose Hill campus or on the second floor of Lowenstein Center at the Lincoln Center campus. Information sessions are held at the beginning of each academic year to provide information about the program and its specific projects.