What inspired you to volunteer abroad with IVHQ?
Hilma: One of my retirement goals was to volunteer abroad. Some time ago I read a review from a teenage daughter who accompanied her RN mother to Guatemala in a volunteering program. The teenager was very impressed with her volunteering experience; she attributed her career choice to its positive impact.
My grandson Nate, is about the same age of that young lady (celebrated his 17th birthday recently). He needed to get out of his comfort zone, see and help others who maybe less fortunate. He was willing to accompany me on a volunteering program and so after careful thought, his parents and I agreed that Guatemala was an excellent choice; near to our country, great climate and an interesting history. I had visited many volunteer sites on the web and compared cost, safety testimonials and credentials; IVHQ was "top of the Class," plus they would return the registration fee if cancellation was done within a reasonable time.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Hilma: Our day usually began with a hot shower, a hearty breakfast of fruits and fresh bread adorning the table and our choice, usually of eggs, hot cereal and hot beverage, thanks to our housemother. The first week we volunteered at an after school- program (Proyecto Genesis) located in Estancia de la Virgen, a town about 50 minutes outside Antigua.
We were picked up at 1pm in an open truck and driven to cinder block buildings with about 30 enthusiastic children, aged 3 - 13 (for many, this is their only opportunity to be in school). We were given the opportunity to assist other volunteers in teaching English, give out nutritional snacks and later play games. My grandson was delighted to assist hands-on teaching computer skills. Three hours went fast and soon we were again on the road, passing such memorable towns and historical ruins, returning back to Antigua at 6pm.
The next two weeks we volunteered in the construction of a new school. We were up at 6am to travel about 35-45 minutes to the construction site. The trip included a bus ride to the town of Santa Maria. The last leg was in a tuc-tuc (three wheeled cab ) or 10-15 minutes walk to the site. The latter affords some Kodak moments that I will never forget.
4 hours/day, 5 days/week we were cutting and bending steel into hoops, used to reinforce the construction, move excess soil from one classroom to another as instructed, mixed concrete, stacked building blocks, gravel, cement and other materials used in construction. It was fast work with volunteers from USA, Canada, England, and Russia.
Progress was seen daily and everyone took pride, knowing that they were part of something that would bring great benefit, and hopefully be there for a long time. Two weeks went fast and we came away with a lot of pictures to tell the story.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Hilma: The whole program was a life enhancing experience for me. For a 69-year-old woman to work shoulder to shoulder with her 17-year- old grandson on a project that will be enhancing the life of others.......without pay, was well worth it. The glorious reward was for his parents to joyfully report that "the Guatemala trip did wonders for Nate." They said that he was more focused on his school work and more communicative with his family. I must also mention the joy and the privilege to make small contribution in the giving of a little of my time, yet being able to visit some of the most unique sites in God's creation. That was unique and special for me.
What was the hardest or most challenging part of your experience?
Hilma: The biggest challenge was my not being able to communicate in Spanish. The dedicated IVHQ/Gua. staff were very helpful in bridging the language barrier, as were some of the locals. Thus, I arrived knowing little or no Spanish and left being able to communicate in sentences.
Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?
Hilma: When you live with people, you are able to learn and appreciate their culture and realize that there are a great many more similarities than differences in the peoples of the world. People are people everywhere we go in this world. You may be a little different in physical appearance in the color of your skin, your hair, your eyes and your language; yet if you have a true heart and a giving spirit, this will shine through. I would encourage anyone with a heart for helping, a caring spirit, to try volunteering. You may surprise yourself....I did.