I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we agreed to volunteer with Cooperative for Education this summer. If anything I had a bit of a guilty conscience since I had literally grilled the people at CoEd when they first emailed us and I hoped they didn’t think I was a big jerk. Don’t get me wrong – we were both really excited about the prospect of returning to Guatemala, but I had to make sure that CoEd was an organization that we could get behind 100% before we committed to traveling with them.
Years prior, we took our first real international trip together to Guatemala, and we had fallen in love with the country and the people during our brief & spontaneous journey there. So yes, we definitely wanted to go back, but when CoEd asked if we wanted to volunteer with them I had to make sure they were a non-profit doing real work. I peppered them with about every question I could think of. I wanted to make sure they were legit and working to better the lives of Guatemalan students, not just a fly by night company trying to jump on the volunteer vacation bandwagon. Of course, they passed with flying colors. Everyone I spoke with from CoED was extremely passionate and devoted to the organizations cause of breaking they cycle of poverty through education programs.
So off we went in a great big plane to the tiny mountainous country that already held a strong place in our hearts. I was nervous. This trip was different. Of course, we were there to promote CoEd’s work and make people more aware of its role in Guatemala, but they were a non-profit. They had a handful of intensely caring, selfless people working for them in both Ohio & Guatemala City. Each working tirelessly towards a common goal of bettering eduction for the kids of Guatemala. So yeah, I was nervous. I knew we could promote them but could we really do it? Could we also use our photography and stories to change the lives of these kids? Could we not only promote CoEd and their schools but also give people a sneak peek into the lives of these families and kids? I wondered – could we do CoEd and the kids of Guatemala justice?
I also wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew we would be volunteering, but I was used to manual labor on my volunteer trips and there wouldn’t be any of that on this trip. This type of volunteering was closer to the heart–the kind that involves laughter, school work and trying to communicate with kids (from 5 – 17 years old) without a common language. I used to speak Spanish fluently, the keywords in that sentence being used to. Besides cervezas y frijoles, Randy speaks none. Would we just sit in silence with these kids? How would we talk to them?
It turns out I didn’t need to be nervous at all. Everyone at CoEd was amazing. They went out of their way to make sure we were all informed and comfortable. They translated for us when we needed it, which strangely was not that often. I’ve realized there is a unwritten traveler’s code: even when there is no common language you still manage to find a way to communicate with others. And Guatemala is a perfect place for that because the people are so warm, friendly and willing to help out, they instantly put you at ease. It’s easy to forget that you don’t speak the language.
Then there’s the kids, the beautiful, hysterical energizer bunny kids–they really don’t care what language you speak, they just want to hang out with you, play with you and hug you; language doesn’t matter to them.
Spending a week with the kids across Guatemala and CoEd was easily the most heartwarming travel experience that Randy and I have had. This is why we’ve been highlighting our Guatemala stories this week and why we are raising $2,000 for the Panajxit school. We believe in this cause and these kids. You probably don’t know this but Beers & Beans started 5 years ago and one of the driving forces behind it was to be a vessel to not only do good but also to highlight the good people in the world. Now we are getting that chance to do just that. It’s pretty exciting!
The Panajxit school was one of our favorites–the kids were so cute! They loved running around showing us different aspects of their lives. There was a lot of giggling at this school! This is also the school where Randy gave his technology speech and it was here at Panajxit that we also got to meet a lot of the student’s parents. Some of them even took the day off work to meet us and tell us about the impact that the CoEd programs have had on their lives of their children. It was quite an honor to see that parents had not only taken the day off to meet us, but also to personally express their heartfelt thanks. It would be safe to say that more than a few tears were shed at this school.
Life is not easy in Guatemala. Although, it’s a beautiful country, most of the citizens live in poverty. Half of the children at this school have parents who are illiterate; they cannot even read or write their own name. Think about that for minute. If half of the people you knew couldn’t read or write, life would be very different.
In Guatemala opportunities don’t come very often. While the children are mostly exuberant and happy, occasionally they look stern and many years older than they really are. I think this has been apparent in all of the photos we’ve published thus far. There’s an easy, excited smile and then seconds later a tough exterior, which I think they get from watching and imitating their parents. I imagine it’s extremely tough to be a Guatemalan parent. It’s clear they love their children to no end, but it isn’t easy to provide for large families and to give opportunities to your children when you have none yourself.
I’ve put together a photo essay of some of my favorite photos from Panajxit. They all reflect moments that I remember–the giggling girls who thought Randy was cute, the goofball boys that wanted to ham it up for the camera, the families who wanted their photos taken while waiting in the fields for their children, but still did not smile, the green cornfields and bright blue Guatemalan skies.
These are the children of Panajxit. These are their parents and siblings. These are their views each day as they walk to school. These are the kids we are raising money for. 100% of all the donations we raise goes directly here, to this school and to the computer stations we are funding for these kids.
I hope you enjoy the photos and this little sneak peek into Panajxit. If you want to help a great cause this year, we would greatly appreciate the donation towards our 2k goal ($255 raised so far!). Simply click the donate button below or feel free to learn more about our fundraiser and our Guatemala raffle giveaway (yep, you get an entry into the raffle when you donate)!
Of course, you can also volunteer yourself with CoEd. There are still spaces available for the February 2013 tour and then you can visit Guatemala, meet and hug these kids for yourself!
I hope you enjoy these photos. Please consider sharing this post with your friends and family. Happy Holidays!
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*Please remember all photos on this website, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and property of Beers and Beans Travel Website & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you do want to use one of them please contact me first. Thanks!
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