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A First-Hand Look at a Service Learning Trip to Guatemala

On March 4th, 2018, I traveled to Zona 3 in Guatemala City with Seton Hill faculty and a group of students from Saint Vincent College for a weeklong service immersion trip through International Samaritan. International Samaritan is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides opportunities to experience life first-hand in “trash dump” communities in Central America through service immersion trips. Their goals are to raise awareness and change perspectives regarding poverty in the communities that surround the garbage dumps.

“One of the greatest challenges for our group was leaving the children of Santa Clara and Francisco Coll and our new friends from Paso y Paso at the end of the week.”

 Our typical day in Guatemala began at 7 a.m. with prayer and reflection at Casa Veritas, a Jesuit retreat house in Guatemala City where we stayed for the week. The Sisters at Casa Veritas provided breakfast everyday which consisted of traditional Guatemalan fare, such as plantains, tortillas, eggs, and black beans. Between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., the group separated between Santa Clara Nursery and Francisco Coll School. The group at the nursery worked as teachers’ aids. At Francisco Coll, part of the group taught English classes, and my part of the group taught Physical Education classes. We then worked on our service project - painting two buildings and a mural at Francisco Coll School - until 4pm. When we returned to Casa Veritas, we enjoyed traditional Guatemalan dinners, again provided by the Sisters, which consisted of dishes such as chiles rellenos and tamales. We ended each day with time set aside for evening reflection and prayer.

On our last day in Guatemala, we took a day trip to Antigua with a group of about 15 students from Paso y Paso, which is a scholarship program that had been set up by International Samaritan to encourage students to stay in school and pursue college. While in Antigua, we toured an old monastery, visited a chocolate museum, ate a delicious lunch at a restaurant named La fonda de la calle real, and received the help of the Paso y Paso students when bargaining at an open air market. The day ended with an afternoon coffee at a café located at the base of a volcano.

Tory Burke, an undergraduate student studying Anthropology and Sociology at Saint Vincent College, noted the transformative nature of this trip. “I do not know what I will be doing in the future… What I do know is that I am a different person today than I was yesterday, and I am happy about it.”

One of the greatest challenges for our group was leaving the children of Santa Clara and Francisco Coll and our new friends from Paso y Paso at the end of the week. Personally, the students showed me compassion, light, and the spirit of giving no matter what you have or do not have. Most importantly, they revived my inner child through inspirational play and innocence. On our final night, we reflected on how every single person we met in Guatemala touched our hearts with their kindness and patience despite language barriers.  

‘So here we are,’ I thought at the time. ‘Here we are with our tears, our experiences, our new friends, and our newfound appreciation for Guatemalan culture.’ We sat in a circle and said the Lord’s prayer Spanish together for the last time. I’m not sure if anyone could have anticipated the impact that this week had on us.

"Serving internationally with a nonprofit like International Samaritan offers Seton Hill students an incredible opportunity to share their gifts and talents with the global community, to learn from diverse people living in challenging contexts, and to develop a sense of cultural humility and intercultural linguistic competence,” says Associate Professor of Spanish and Dean of the School of Humanities at Seton Hill Debra Faszer-McMahon, Ph.D. “I love seeing how students grow and thrive through our service trips, and my hope is that it gives them a foundation to continue to serve and learn in many international contexts throughout their working life.”  

Photo above: Dr. Debra Faszer-McMahon (far right) sits next to Samantha Robbins and other students who participated in the trip to Guatemala.