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

Spring 2013 Alternative Break in Guatemala

George Mason Students Take a Long View of Service Partnerships

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Just 15 minutes outside of the university town Quetzaltenango, there isn't much electricity and almost no indoor plumbing to be found for the approximately 500 families living in the rural indigenous community of Xecanchavox. Largely unrecognized and unincorporated into the Guatemalan national public infrastructure, the village struggles to maintain a free education system for its residents. After sixth grade, private schools in Quetzaltenango are the only option for more schooling. Most residents are unable to continue with their education.

Arriving on March 8th, a team of 12 George Mason students met with organizers from Kamalbe Spanish School in Quetzaltenango (a hub for service and volunteering), and were quickly sent in to Escuela Oratorio Xecanchavox to give the overwhelmed teachers a few days to relax. Team members taught lessons on reading and writing, geography, Guatemalan history, environmental practices, and non-violence. After classes were over, the AB team spent their afternoons on a variety of projects—erecting a soccer goal, a volleyball court, painting murals, and gardening.

As the trip drew to a close, school and community leaders sat down with the team to work on sustaining a working relationship. "We were told, 'Our door is always open for you.' We talked about the work to be done, and have already begun planning future trips. We don't want George Mason students to be remembered as tourists just popping in to take pictures and leave," said team member Rachel Nohe.

In a joyful, at times emotional, send-off, the community cooked and shared a large meal with the team. "Saying goodbye was really hard. Even though we had only been there a few days, the whole community had taken us in so much that we were all crying as we left," said Nohe. In a final goodbye, members of the community performed a traditional indigenous dance. "It was a really special moment. I know that I'll remember that forever."

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