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My volunteering in Guatemala

After almost a year of volunteering in Africa, I decided to return to more Latin lands, rich in culture and full of history. Yes, to return to those lands saturated with sunshine, dotted with a thousand colours, with picturesque and unusual landscapes, to resume the warm and fraternal tradition of welcoming its people.

This year, however, I have opted preferentially for Central America which, to be honest, I do not know much more about than South America where I took an active part in humanitarian projects several years ago.

The journey begins precisely in Mexico where I spent a month’s holiday before heading leisurely, slowly and calmly to the site of my next project: Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. A Tz’utujil village populated by fishermen and artisans located on the shores of Lake Atitlán (considered by NYT magazine as the second most beautiful lake in the world, and believe me, this is far from a joke!) It sits on a majestic volcanic mountain range, and I lack the words to describe such splendor! Nothing but the journey from the Mexican border to central Guatemala that gradually unfolds spectacular scenery is well worth it. A bus trip that multiplies improbable panoramas, unsettled perspectives, zigzags around the mountains and suddenly sinks at 1 500 metres into Lake Atitlán. Extraordinary!

After crossing the lake by boat to get to Santiago, I am totally immersed in my new universe, the family of Lolita and Chonita. And what a joy to live in a simple and supportive family. They always have a detail, a gesture, a smile to make you feel at home. Open-minded and prone to good humor, their members contribute “fiercely” to the quality of our stay. A house where other international volunteers (mainly from Europe and North America) discover each other and live together. A meeting place that gives rise to additional professional events (excursions, evenings, sports events…). In short, only happiness. ¡Pura Vida!

Now, the project itself. Integration into the region’s public schools, in collaboration with the national Ministry of Education A well-established project which only lacks the input of our energies and knowledge. We are obviously welcome here and even more so, but the aim is to adapt mainly to the local model and then to share our knowledge and different cultures. The reception of all the educational personnel, makes us understand very quickly the joy they experience in receiving us. The joy of the students also meets our expectations. Aware of the privilege that it means for them to receive teachers from abroad, and eager to get such teachers, they are very involved in their school work. Applied, thirsty for knowledge, perceptive, respectful, smiling and funny, the students contribute powerfully to our local participation and insertion, also to our well-being and vitality when teaching during our instance. Or how to discover the pleasure of teaching, of sharing knowledge. Yes, I say “share”, because, without a doubt, we often receive much more than we can offer.

An experience of volunteering that lives at the sweet rhythm of the lake and its ancestral traditions. A cultural exchange that does not lack sense, on the contrary, because during the whole duration of our stay, we are an integral part of the community, of that peculiar people with unique habits and language.

Apart from this exceptional experience, the NGO One, Two… Tree! offers us every week a long weekend of 3 days (Fridays are non-working days!) A perfect opportunity to visit Antigua, considered as one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Latin America, the Acatenango volcano (and its majestic peaks!), Guatemala City (the capital) or simply other lake shores… In short, you will quickly understand that there is a lot to do in the region, on weekdays as well as on leisure days. Here it is impossible to get bored.

Eric Ferrante