Alumni Spotlight: Harrison Sims

Harrison Sims is 23 years old, an avid Boston sports fan from Plymouth, Massachusetts, and graduated from Hamilton College '11 with a degree in Biology. He is currently attending Tufts University as a part-time student, and hopes to one day attend medical school.

Volunteering in Guatemala

Morning: I would wake up at 6:30, proceed through my normal morning routine (shower, brush my teeth, etc), and head downstairs for breakfast at about 7:00. Breakfast would include things like eggs, frijoles, fried plantains, pancakes, amongst several other Guatemalan favorites.

After breakfast, I walked 10 minutes down the road to my bus stop, and took the bus to the medical clinic in Alotenango (a small village outside of Antigua).

I would arrive at the clinic around 8:00 and work right up until noon. My work inside the clinic varied, and to be honest, I would need about 8 pages of text to fully describe my experience. However, some of the most frequent things included administering injections, treating wounds, distributing medication, and completing pre-consultation.

Afternoon: At noon, I would walk back up the hill and take the bus back to Antigua. I would then walk back to my house and sit down for lunch, which was served right around 1:00. My first week in Guatemala, my afternoons were consumed by Spanish classes, but the 23 weeks after that, I had the afternoons free.

After lunch, I would either write in my blog, go to the local gym, or do something random such as go to the market. It was nice having afternoons free, so that I could immerse myself even further into the culture, even if it meant I was just walking around. In fact, I worked in a wine and tobacco shop for 3.5 months, 3-4 times a week; so I would often times go straight to “work” immediately after lunch.

Evening: When I wasn’t working in the wine shop, I would eat dinner with the family and other volunteers between 7 and 8:00. Fortunately, my homestay mom worked in the food industry, so she was a good cook. I’m not saying that I was a huge fan of Guatemalan food by any means, (it’s quite different from what we’re used to in the USA) but at least she knew what she was doing.

After dinner, depending on the day of the week, I would either watch a movie and call it a night, or “experience the social scene”. Antigua has a wide selection of restaurants/bars, and especially after being there for so long, I had a good lay of the land.

Highlights: It is extremely difficult to choose ONE highlight from my 6-month stay, as there were several; however, I do have one moment in mind. A common misconception in the English language, is that the word “highlight” is associated with something “positive”. In actuality, the word is simply referring to “something significant.”

Exploring  Guatemala

Therefore (and I hate to dampen the mood), the “highlight” of my trip began as negative, and gradually became a positive. About halfway through my stay in Guatemala, a mother brought in her extremely malnourished 8-month old child. The mother was completely out of it, and the baby was horribly dehydrated, and dirty.

I’m not going to get into much detail on here, but the child was rushed to the hospital where he passed away days later. It was the most emotional and depressing experience of my life; but it made me appreciate what I had. It gave me a perspective on life, that I probably would never have attained had I stayed within the boundaries of the USA.

The highlight of my overall experience, was leaving. Let me explain. Throughout my 24-week volunteer experience, there were several rewarding moments, especially considering I was working in a medical clinic. However, it wasn’t until the final week, when I said my goodbyes, that I realized how much of an impact I had on these people’s lives.

To see the nurses crying while saying “thank you so much for everything you’ve done” really hit home, not to mention the relationships I had with my homestay family. My family included a mother, a father, and two girls (7 and 10 years old), and I can honestly consider them part of my family now.