Written by Kylie Palacios after a two-week internship in Guatemala
Whenever I come back from a trip, whether it be camping locally or travelling abroad, I always have a routine answer to the question, “How was your trip?” There is always one particular story that I feel the need to share with everyone because it was “such an incredible experience”- another one of my key phrases.
Guatemala is the exception to the rule.
My first day home, seeing my family anxiously waiting for me to describe my experiences, I was at a loss for words. Too many moments flooded my mind, and I couldn’t narrow it down to one particular highlight. “We… built chicken coops,” I started, and from there stories just poured out of me. I spoke of the chicken buses and hitchhiking and our other forms of transportation, knowing how foreign they would sound to my friends and family. I mentioned the early mornings when we would be walking along the streets before the sun rose, smiling a chirpy “Buenos días” to anyone we passed by. I reminisced the excessive amount of tortillas, hard-boiled eggs, and tamales we were fed, giving my parents a laugh when I refused to eat anything pertaining to those foods for the next few weeks. And I talked about the girls.
I really didn’t know where to begin with the girls in the program. “They’re just, like, so joyful” were my exact words. “Like, ugh I can’t even make a comparison to anyone here because no one in the States shares that same worldview as our girls over there.” (It wasn’t until a friend pointed it out to me that I became aware that I referred to the girls as “our girls”; it was impossible not to fall in love with them.) The amount of selflessness shining through these girls made me want to cry. Not out of sadness- although some of their stories were tragic- but I wanted to cry because I had never lived like these girls had.
I had never been at risk of being given up because my mother was sick like Micaela. She and her mother Reina spent the majority of their lives sleeping on the dirt under a weak shelter, feeling the cold water seep through their clothes during the rainy season. Yet when Micaela shared her story with us, voice shaking, every other word out of her mouth was “Gracias a Dios.” Thanks to God. By American standards, she was the epitome of a third-world child, fourteen years old and hauling firewood for miles to create a fire for food. Yet she was thankful for the few possessions that she did have. Her heart was overflowing with thanks for the bed she now sleeps on and for the chicken coop we built her.
I wish her story was the worst-case scenario, the token story we shared to make the town of Cajolá, Guatemala seem worse-off than it actually was. But it’s not. Marcela was abandoned by her mother for another man, leaving her with her elderly grandparents. Leslie is hesitant and timid because she is afraid of men after traumatic events that happened to her mom. The other girls in the city have similar stories. That being said, however, Micaela constantly jokes with us and helps her mother in any way she can, never complaining about her situation. Marcela aspires to be a nurse someday, and studies feverously to reach her goal. And Leslie, who probably spoke a total of five sentences the whole time we were with her, completely transforms when she recites poetry. She became a confident, theatrical young woman as she brought a poem about roses to life for Lisa and me.
All of these girls, as well as many others in the town and neighboring towns, are finding hope in the education that they are receiving. It is such a privilege to be able to do my part, no matter how small, to help support these girls and their dreams for the future. I cannot wait to return and see how the Estudia con Amor program continues to empower the most joyous group of girls I’ve ever met.