Social Action and Integrative Learning
School of Integrative Studies | College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Alternative Break Partnership in Guatemala

Students Support Local Education Initiatives

by Sarah Parshall

Guatemala teaching

Over winter break in 2010, Mason’s Alternative Break program launched a partnership with the community in Quetzaltenango (indigenous name, Xela) Guatemala. Each January, Mason students travel to volunteer with La Comunidad Spanish School and Kamalbe Community Center in Xecanchavox.

The community of Xecanchavox has about 4,000 inhabitants. It is set high in the mountains of the Totonicapan region at 8,139 feet. While most homes and businesses have electricity, few homes have running water. Residents must travel to a pila, a large cement sink, in order to retrieve water for their homes. In Xecanchavox, many houses are scattered between cornfields. Most of the families live off the land and maintain their farms solely through their own labor without use of modern machinery.

Volunteers teach lessons to the children with a focus on nutrition, basic English, and the environment. The goal is for the lessons to be both practical and educational. “Education is an area where this community has been underserved,” David Mazariegos, community coordinator states. An estimated 25% of the children in the community cannot go to school since they have to work to support their families. Students who have the opportunity to go to school, must travel to another city in order to receive their education.

Mason’s Alternative Breaks teams have had meaningful experiences in the past years working with the community in Xecanchavox. During the trips, students develop special bonds with the children of Xecanchavox. David Mazariegos says that many times the children will ask when the George Mason students will be returning. David notes, “This is an experience like non-other because you get to see the poverty, the beauty and the strength of Guatemala. It’s inspiring for people to see others who work so hard and have so little, yet with such motivation to learn and always smiling.” 

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