Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Volunteer Trip in Guatemala?
Brandon: The pictures speak for themselves, Guatemala is a beautiful country filled with a diversity of scenery, wildlife, and people. But with that diversity comes an assortment of communal problems.
And those problems need attention, which is why I decided to volunteer abroad in Guatemala. When you volunteer, you are sowing seeds of stewardship, faith, and hope into communities around the world.
Volunteering also benefits you as an individual. I decided to volunteer abroad with Volunteer Trip because they offered the best opportunity to achieve my volunteer goals, and at a great price.
Living on student budget, Volunteer Trip was very affordable and provided excellent in-country support. The program director was easily accessible and provided me with all the online and personal resources I needed.
I felt very comfortable going into the program and was 100% satisfied with my experience upon completion. In the span of one week, I interacted with amazing people from ages 8 to 80.
I was privileged enough to sit with indigenous people, converse with community elders, and sing with Guatemalan school children. I have been so blessed by these encounters while volunteering and received more than I think I gave them.
I discovered that we are more alike than different, full of compassion rather than hate, and full of peace, not violence. Through volunteering, I discovered the happiness that service to others brings.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Brandon: Each day at 8 a.m. I was at Saint Pedro Hospital. Saint Pedro, located in Antigua, Guatemala, is an institution of support and rehabilitation for community members who have been abandoned and/or require health and care services.
I worked alongside medical staff in providing health services to the special needs population at the hospital. Such services included preparing meals, educational activities, and performing daily hygienic tasks. In addition, I helped with basic facility upkeep and socially interacted with the patients, most of whom were disabled.
By noon, I was at recess with the adolescent patients. We would watch movies, play computer games, and make arts and crafts. After my work at the hospital, I would go to Don Alvarado Academy, a local children’s school, to teach English.
At school, the students and I engaged in classroom activities, such as writing, listening, and speaking skills. Additionally, I helped students with other school projects and homework. Through teaching in Guatemala, I feel that I helped contribute positive social development to the lives of the students and hospital patients.
What did you wish you knew before going to Guatemala?
Brandon: You should take pictures, and lots of them! Time flies, and once it’s gone, there is no getting it back.
Fortunately, a picture can capture the moment in memory forever. I took pictures during my trip, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.
Most of my family and friends wanted to hear about my experiences and see pictures of the places I visited. Moreover, your pictures will help you remember the interesting people you met and communities you helped.
Tell me about one person you met.
Brandon: My first day volunteering, I was introduced to a gentleman named Oscar. Oscar was in his late 60’s, blind, and in a wheelchair.
Weeks prior to meeting Oscar, he began being a hassle to the hospital staff. He would fight doctors, curse at nurses, and refuse his dialysis treatment.
But there was one thing that Oscar admired the most, speaking English. His room was filled with Michael Jackson albums, English literature, and pictures from his travels in the United States.
As the only English speaker in the ward, I was asked to meet Oscar. The staff hoped my interaction with him would help break his recent crude behavior, and fortunately, it did.
Upon meeting Oscar, I said hello and his face lit up with excitement. We must have talked non-stop for three hours that day.
Oscar told me about his travels around the world when he was younger, having visited more states in the U.S. than me. Shockingly, he had also been incarcerated in over three different countries.
One thing that I took away from meeting Oscar was the advice he gave me on how to live a good life. He said to always surround yourself with positive people. The company you keep is a mirror image of who you are and an indicator of where you will go.
What was the best moment of the entire trip?
Brandon: Being introduced to a new environment can be traumatic for anyone; it’s like the first day at a new job or walking into your first college class. Starting a volunteering position was no exception. My first day working at the hospital in Guatemala took getting used to.
My department consisted of more than thirty patients, all with different personalities, trying to determine who I was, where I was from, etc… The challenge I faced was getting out of my comfort zone and getting to know the patients.
Most of my initial interactions with patients consisted of me speaking and receiving a confused, unwelcoming stare in return. Though discouraging at times, I continued to work with the patients and try to make some sort of connection. Days passed and it was not until the seventh day that I saw a change.
By the last day at the hospital, I was basically a celebrity among the patients. The majority knew me by name, would call me over to shake their hand every morning, and even requested I help them instead of their assigned nurse. In that moment, I felt I had finally broken down personal barriers and made a connection with the community. That was the best moment of my entire trip.