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Central America: A Traveler’s Story

Mara Van Ells joined fifteen other travelers on the Traterra Central America Exploration this August and can’t stop thinking about it. This trip was life-changing for the entire group and Mara explains why: More than anything, visiting Guatemala inspired me to want to do more service projects and go on more service trips.

I traveled to Central America because my younger cousins Alaina, 12, and Willow, 16, had raised funds to renovate a bathroom at Nueva Providencia, a small elementary school in the village of Santiago, Guatemala. I made the trip with all the women on my mom’s side of the family: my aunt Lisa and her daughters (my cousins Alaina and Willow), my aunt Rhonda, my grandma Betty and my mom Valerie.

My experience in Guatemala and Honduras was priceless. It was my first time visiting another country (that is, if you don’t count a trip to Ixtapa, Mexico in which I hardly left the resort, or the times I took a couple steps over the Canadian border while at International Music Camp.) The trip was eye opening: it made me appreciate the opportunities I have and made me want to help others less fortunate than myself. Exploring another country inspired me to continue expanding my horizons and immersing myself in other cultures.

When we visited the village of Santiago in Guatemala, it was painful to see how poor some of the people were. Some of the villagers selling trinkets to tourists seemed truly desperate and it broke my heart.

It was almost always a shock to find out how old children were when I asked, “Cuantos anos tienes?” (“How many years do you have?”) I always guessed the children were a few years younger than they actually were because of their small size.

Jake Weisenthal, a representative from Pueblo a Pueblo, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable solutions to pressing community problems, told us that over 65 percent of children in Solola, the municipality which includes Santiago, are malnourished.

I was astonished to see how few materials the students had. The bathroom at Nueva Providencia was appalling. The students didn’t have access to running water and the toilet was little more than a raised hole in a dirt floor.

The students also needed education in basic hygiene. Jake told us that most water-borne parasites and bacteria are transmitted by contact with fecal matter. He said the problem is particularly relevant in rural Guatemala.

Although the state of the schools made me sad, there were other things to celebrate. We visited the first Santiago elementary school library as well as toured another school’s sustainable fruit and vegetable garden. The garden was started by Pueblo a Pueblo, but will eventually be maintained by the students and staff.

The children at Nuevo Providencia were excited to see us and appeared happy to receive the school supplies we brought for them. I had so much fun interacting with them, even though my Spanish leaves much to be desired.

Traveling to Guatemala was fun and enlightening. It was hard work and it was worth it. I believe everyone should visit another country, experience another culture and help others.

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