I started this journey thinking of it as just another school trip that would only give a little break from the everyday hectic Toronto life. But, the streets, the villages and most importantly the people of Guatemala changed my entire experience. They opened their lives, homes and hearts to us and welcomed us in as one of their own. Their faces, smiles and stories have inspired me and will remain close to me forever. This photo essay is a way to spread their stories and lessons.
In Antigua, I met this amazing super woman who is a wife, a mother, a daughter, a coffee farmer, coffee cooperative member and a businesswoman. She is one of the first woman to enter an all male coffee cooperative and today harvests coffee on her own land and exports majority of her coffee to United States. She is strong, focused and hardworking. She represents ultimate female power.
This 60-year-old man wakes up at 4 in the morning and works harder than anyone of us could imagine. He has raised 11 kids with little money and little food. Yet through it all, he has remained happy and smiling. His strong will, honesty and sense of duty towards his family is a lesson for one and all.
SYLVIA FROM SYLVIA’S COSMETICS
Sylvia’s life story has touched me the most. She started working at the tender age of 10. Her mother physically abused her if “[she] didn’t earn enough”. She lived on the streets and ensured her survival by doing whatever little work she could lay her hands on. Unable to have finished her own education, she now ensures that her kids have to never go through the same hardships. According to Sylvia, her eldest daughter’s graduation ceremony was “the best day of [her] life”.
Here is Sylvia pictured with her kids (below).
WILLIE FROM RED CAFÈ
What I thought would be a casual lunch turned out to be a real life lesson for me. Willie’s life story spanning from his guerrilla fighting days to his political asylum in the United States to now owning Red café in his native country teaches that life goes through a lot of turbulence but those that land strong out of it are the ultimate winners. He now works to keep his Mayan culture alive and his country self-sufficient. Willie has taught me how important it is to “love our roots” and “respect our culture.”
Here is Willie (in red) sharing his story with the group (to the right)
WILSON FROM XELA
As our group was struggling to find directions to the Xela cemetery, a young man came running from across the street ready to help. Wilson answered all our questions and directed us through the mystery that was Xela. We owe the success of the princessitas to this kind and helpful stranger.
My next Guatemala visit would have a definite stop to this Spanish school in Xela. Escuela Lapaz is a Spanish school run by two sisters who are one of the most kind and welcoming women I have ever met.
Here is our group eating dinner prepared by them (see below).
KIDS OF XELA
In general in Guatemala, kids are given a lot of responsibilities at a very young age. From doing chores around the house, running errands, buying food from local markets, taking care of the little ones and even working on the fields many Guatemalan kids have what seems like, full time jobs.
Here is a picture of Mayan kids performing their local tribal dance for us.
Mayan civilization is one of the five oldest civilizations on this earth. Yet, racism and apprehensions about the Mayan culture and customs have led in decline in practice of this culture. Mayan people are often labeled aswitches and voodoos. Seeing these young kids, still maintaining and practicing the culture and ways of their Mayan ancestors despite all the backlash is heartwarming and awe inspiring.
RIGO FROM SANTA ANITA
A former revolutionary guerrilla fighter, Rigo has now traded his gun for tools of coffee trade. We stayed with Rigo and his family for two nights and never will I ever forget the war stories that Rigo shared with us over dinner. Here at Santa Anita, I met the kindest, warmest and the most loving set of families ever. This community’s memories will forever remain planted in my heart.
FRANCESCO FROM LAKE ATITLAN
Francesco is a 19-year old boy who has learned painting from his father and is “the oldest thing he remembers doing”. He is already a nationally acclaimed artist and wishes to have his paintings sold worldwide someday.
SANTOS AND ELVIS FROM VOLCANO ZUNIL
The hike was one of the hardest and also the most rewarding things that I did on my trip to Guatemala. While we complained about how hard the hike is and how our feet are hurting and our butts are sore from all the falls, Santos, our guide ran back and forth juggling between two groups making sure everyone was all right. We stopped to say sorry to him for all the trouble we were giving him by but he only smiled and calmly said, “I could go up and down the volcano one more time and nothing would happen to me”.
His son, Elvis, who is half my age stayed at the back and made sure no one got left behind.
#TEAMSUPPORT FROM UTM FT. BEN & CHRISTINE
I could not have asked for a better group to have done this Guatemalan adventure with. We shared stories, shared bunk beds, pushed one another during the hike, carried each others luggage, slept on one another during those long bus rides, chilled in hot springs, screamed under waterfalls, laughed crazily throughout and maybe even cried a little in the end. We walked in as strangers and our walking out as one big OG (Operation Groundswell) UTM Guatemala family.
And finally learned that… It’s not the volcanoes we conquer, but ourselves.
Until next time, Adios Guatemala..
Written By: Sukhmeet Singh, UTM Student, Global Experience: Guatemala 2015