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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)