I have had a very busy, exciting, and exhausting few weeks exploring numerous programs in two main NGOs in Antigua, Guatemala.
I have visited schools, participated in different youth activity and empowerment programs, participated in a women’s/mother’s support group, participated in a parenting workshop and support group, shadowed social workers in the field who were visiting families, and I have attended a special “at risk” youth rehabilitation program focused on improving and building academic skills.
I am very thankful that the workers and communities in both organizations have welcomed me and have really allowed me to explore their organizations and see the work that they do to help children and families.
Both organizations are interestingly similar in their mission and programs. Both organizations have a strong emphasis on education where their main focus is to encourage and support children to attend school.
Organization A supports education through a sponsorship and scholarship program where children and their families are given money to help support the children’s. education. The money is supposed to help keep the children in school rather than at work and assist them with the costs of uniforms and books. Social workers check on the children every month, checking their books, attendance records, and grades. If the children do not attend school or are struggling with grades, the social workers then offer a variety of services from therapy sessions with the organization’s psychologist to different youth programs.
In this program, children are supported and the emphasis is on finishing primary school (up to sixth grade). Many children in this program struggle to continue school after sixth grade. Unfortunately the government doesn’t provide much support for education after sixth grade, so many children are unable to afford and access high school. Also by that age many of the children are then considered to be of “working age” by their families and so many children are then expected to help contribute to the family’s finances by working.
Organization B focus on education by supporting children with the aim of them graduating from high school. This organization operates two schools for the most needy families in the area. One school is on the organization’s main campus, provides students with free breakfast and lunch, and offers classes for students up to sixth grade. The second school is close to the organization and is an alternative school for non-traditionally aged students and students struggling with behavioral issues. This school provides an education through the end of high school. Organization B also is partnered with six schools and provides homework support programs for all six schools.
Organization A and Organization B have developed numerous other programs to assist families and children with challenges and struggles that would interfere with their access and success in school. From support groups, medical clinics, psychological services, social work services, workshops, youth activities, and housing projects there are many ways for children and families to receive the help that they need to continue their education and address their challenges and struggles.
I have been lucky to observe and participate in many of these programs, projects, and services.
I have spent time with the house building projects where workers and groups of volunteers spend a few days building a one room house to help families living in severe conditions. Organization A’s program builds houses with concrete foundations and each house is built within three days. Organization B builds houses that are movable.
There are also a variety of different support programs for children of all ages.
I spent time with a “sisters” group where a facilitator discusses important themes and ideas from stereotypes and women in the media to domestic violence and relationships. This group provides an amazing opportunity and support system for the girls in the project, as they talk about important issues that they have and will face while also empowering them to be strong women within their communities.
I also spent time with a leaders group where children in the project focus on a variety of team building and skill building activities and exercises. This program helps to support, empower, encourage, and inspire the children to become involved, active, and positive members of their communities.
On Saturdays I spent time at a youth program that teaches the children about a variety of topics including sexual education. After educational and creative activities, the children then have the opportunity to socialize and play sports. One Saturday after the main educational program and activities, Alejandra and I taught a group of students a variety of different “American” dances from the “Cupid shuffle” and the “wobble” to the “cotton eye Jo.”
I also attended a special rehabilitation program for young kids who were struggling in school. This program was run by a psychologist in the organization with activities that focused on building and strengthening different skills to help with school such as memory, attention, organization, concentration and motivation. I was impressed by how creative the activities were and how the children really enjoyed them!
I also attended different support and skills programs for parents.
I participated in a support group for women and mothers where women would meet and discuss a variety of topics from domestic violence to codependency. This program not only helps women with a variety of different personal struggles but it also provides an incentive program where women who attended the program were then eligible to receive additional resources including food services.
I also spent time with an incredible parenting program that focused on both parents and children. Every Thursday for three hours facilitators run a special educational program for parents and children that help to address parenting issues and struggles including establishing boundaries and different disciplinary techniques. The program includes time specifically for parents, programming for children, and activities where parents and children are interacting together. With fun activities and enthusiastic and knowledgeable facilitators, I truly enjoyed this program and believe that it is a great tool to help address and prevent child abuse, maltreatment, and neglect. This program provides the support and education necessary to help struggling parents.
I also spent a day with a center for malnourished babies where I was able to help feed, change, and play with babies as they continue along their journey of growing and becoming healthier.
Away from the organization campuses, I also had the incredible opportunity to venture out with social workers for home visits in the small pueblos around Antigua. I was inspired by seeing how passionate, kind, and supportive the young social workers were and how they truly cared about the children and families. However, at times the visits were difficult as I experienced how some of the families live in absolute poverty in unimaginably difficult conditions.
After spending time with families, women, and children in these different programs, I am further inspired by how they are learning, growing, and thriving despite facing difficult challenges and struggles.
It is amazing to see how passionate the social workers, international volunteers, and staff are and how hard they work to help make a difference in the lives of so many.
It is also interesting to understand how these organizations and programs have developed and continue to develop to take on such a variety of different projects and programs.
I hope that these programs continue to grow and further help families and communities because there is still so many people in need.
I also hope that Guatemala will be able to address the corruption and problems in their government, political system, and economy.
I hope that the people of Guatemala will someday experience a more supportive and less corrupt government and political system that will be able to truly invest in their children, families, and communities.
Overall I am very thankful for the opportunity to spend time with these organizations and for all of the incredible memories getting to know so many amazing women, children, and families.
I am also thankful for the opportunity to spend my time with such wonderful people throughout my time in Guatemala.
My host family, my new friend Alejandra, and my housemates have been incredibly supportive and helpful as they help me to explore my project and Guatemala. I appreciate how they have embraced and accepted me for all that I am and that they have helped to support me as I have struggled with the challenges, insecurities, and anxieties of returning home soon.
I also feel very lucky that I met Julio. He has become a great friend and has gone above and beyond in showing me so much of his beautiful country.
We went to Guatemala City together.
We climbed Volcano Pacaya, roasted marshmallows at a volcanic crater, went out into a lake with a rowboat that is an old crater filled with water, and we even went zip-lining.
Thank you for your kindness, support, and encouragement. Thank you for making me feel appreciated and valued and for reminding me of important lessons that I have learned throughout my travel year.
It is amazing how many incredible memories and how many unforgettable friendships and relationships I have made during my short time in Guatemala.
With less than a week left of my fellowship year I am excited to spend my next few days beginning to process my travel year and my return home while relaxing on the black sand beaches of Monterrico.