A Little Volunteering…Sweet Faces of Xela’s Children

It’s the warmth and sheer, innocent love that emanates from children that draws me back to volunteering over and over again.Guatemalan Children

My first ride to the guardería, or day care center, took me 20 minutes outside of Xela and into the significantly more petite town of Llanos del Pinal, a small village nestled under the cloud capped Santa Maria volcano. That first day I walked into the guardería I was completely at a loss for what this experience would entail and had the those first-day-of-school jitters as I walked toward the dusky rose tinted building. Reading about Sharks!

A tentative knock on the door to the guardería and soon the door was flung open to reveal 30 small and tanned faces of greeting all lit up with a glimmer of hope at the sight of me. These children didn’t know me yet but the expectation in their faces was palatable and yet somehow each child managed to stay rooted into their seat as I introduced myself to the caregivers and was told that it was homework time and I could help out by walking around the room and checking homework.

That was the start.

Fast forward just one day and these children had no more cautious expectations and boundaries – the moment I jumped down from the brightly colored chicken bus in front of the guarderia several faces peeped out of the shuttered windows while others audibly argued and fought to quickly unlatch the inside lock and usher me inside. Xela Guarderia (15)

Then it was a broken chorus of “Buenas Dias insert terribly mutilated name of choice here.”

But I never had time (or really the desire) to correct the chorus of ‘Seenans” and “Chenins” that only sounded vaguely reminiscent of my actual given name (Shannon) because I was soon struggling to keep my balance under the weight of a tiny hugs and a dozen wet little kisses pressed firmly against my cheek.

Working on a Project with the Kids

Project time...untangling the knots first!

In the two weeks of my visit these children gave me their hearts and warmly welcomed me in every day – and purely because of me. There was no motivation of seeking candy, or a spare quetzal (the Guatemalan currency) they just wanted my undivided attention, something that they so rarely get from the understandably busy adults in their lives.

I spent my days running multiplication tables with the older kids (try me on my Spanish numbers now and I am lighting fast!) and correcting handwriting and basic math with the little ones.

Dancing Dirvishes

The girls loved to twirl!

This experience is a marked difference to volunteering at the monastery last year in Nepal because of my time limitation this time around but I was really grateful that I still feel like my special skill set was making a difference – internet is scarce in this town so I helped research international currencies via the internet for one school project and worked with the kids developing other homework projects throughout the two weeks.

One of the chief reasons that I chose my specific language school in Xela was because I could work with the kids even with just a two week time commitment (most Pop Wuj students just go once a week while they take classes but you can choose to go as little or often as you want!).

Volunteering outside of Xela really centered my Guatemalan experience – I was able to travel into a smaller town and get a feel for a whole different side to the country. The children at the guardería often come from broken homes (that’s part of Pop Wuj’s mission with the day care center’s, to help single mothers care for their children while they work) and they were so willing to openly and without a tinge restraint welcome me into their lives. Giving back and volunteering has been, and continues to be, some of the most positive and favorite memories from my round the world travels.

And because I loved it so, enjoy some more photos (most taken by the kids!)

Guatemalan ChildTangled String and a Child Hamming it UpKids at the Day CareGuatemalan Kids

Homework Time at the DaycareProject Time!

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15 Responses to A Little Volunteering…Sweet Faces of Xela’s Children

  1. Dina VagabondQuest June 9, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    Not so far, we've been around Europe, Australia, and New Zealand most of the time. Touching the more needing places only for short trips. But I wish to do it when we travel slow in the places that helps are needed.

    • ShannonOD June 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

      Excellent! Once you make it to Asia let me know if you need any help finding
      something :-)

  2. Dina VagabondQuest June 8, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    A heartwarming post :) Thanks for sharing with us!

    • ShannonOD June 9, 2010 at 3:52 am #

      Volunteering is simply so rewarding. Are you guys volunteering along the way
      at all?

  3. Erica Kuschel June 4, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    A friend of mine went and studied in Xela and she said she loved it. Hubby and I are also looking to spend some time there. How did you find time to study and volunteer? What was the schedule like?

    • ShannonOD June 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

      The basic schedule at most of them is to take classes for 5 hours in the morning and then you can volunteer in the evenings, or they have cultural lectures some days, movies on others – it's not too stressful :-) Def worth doing; let me know when you head that way!

  4. Abby June 3, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Spending time with kids on trips can be so re-energizing. These children are soo cute! I love the twirlers… I just love this. I so hope they're learning what they need to. Schools in these countries are so all over the place, and they often spend such a small portion of the day actually learning and being creative. Looking forward to hearing more!

    • ShannonOD June 5, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

      Thanks Abby! :-) Once we started the twirling it was something they wanted to do every day! lol, It's definitely hard to see how they are schooled and the gap there in their education…some of the 11 year olds had never memorized their times tables and were starting long division..I was shocked.

  5. GotPassport June 3, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Love the pictures, love what you are doing with your time and attention! What a great role model you are!!

    • ShannonOD June 3, 2010 at 7:29 am #

      Thank you! The pics make me smile every time I look at them because most of them were taken by the little ones! I appreciate your kind words – giving back truly does just make the travel experience entirely different as you guys say all of the time! :-)

  6. Audrey June 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Adorable photos!! Sounds like a wonderful experience! We recommend studying Spanish in Xela to people for just this reason – the schools there allow access to volunteer programs even if you don't have a long period of time (e..g, 1-2 weeks). This type of volunteering really allows you to have a human and deep connection with a place.

    • ShannonOD June 3, 2010 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks Audrey, I really did thoroughly enjoy submersing with the kids – and I am so happy that I took your rec and studied in Xela – in the two weeks before I left for Xela a handful of other travelers continually discouraged me from going there (I think they were the “party scene” people) so I held out knowing that you guys were likely more along my travel style :-) Couldn't be happier with the choice!

  7. Maggie June 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Oh my goodness! You're killing me with these adorable photos. I just want to hug each and every one of these kids. Sounds like a fabulous and valuable experience.

    • ShannonOD June 3, 2010 at 7:26 am #

      Thank you Maggie! It was pretty fantastic and really reinforced my love for volunteering on the road and really taking time to foster more human to human interactions…plus I just love the faces of all of these kids everday! :-)

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