University of Oregon student-athletes fly together in Paxmaramac, Guatemala

When ducks fly, ducks fly together. After nearly 20 hours of travel, we arrived in Guatemala City where we gathered our bags and went through customs. As we exited the airport it felt like we were the away team in game 7 of the finals getting off the bus as a hundred Guatemalan’s surrounded the exit ramp looking at our group as if they had never seen an American. As we made our way to the bus smiles between us, and several Guatemalans were shared. Bartering for the fifty-cent bag of plantain chips occurred almost instantly and the exchange rate of 1 U.S. dollar to the equivalent 7.7 Guatemalan Quetzals was recognized. If the travel day hadn’t been long enough already, all 26 of us gave our phones and passports to Peter who would hold onto them for the duration of the trip, and we loaded up the Guatemalan grey hound with the clutch smelling as if it was on its last leg. It took us around 5 hours to reach Momostenango where our first true Guatemalan meal of the trip along with heavy rain awaited us. We had thought we left the rain back in Eugene but soon came to notice we had arrived during the middle of the rainy season.

Drinking two packets of Pedialyte and lathering up the sunscreen to avoid sunburn and altitude sickness we were off to Paxmaramac which sat up around 8,000 feet above sea level. It was amazing how green the vegetation looked; at times it was as if we were back in Oregon. After an hour-long van ride, we pulled into the village. The local school sat upon a little hillside which overlooked a dig-out for the soon to be built court along with a small valley and hillside in the distance. The type of view where a multi-million-dollar home in America would sit. We were greeted by locals with smiles and a bit of timidness but that quickly evaporated. We were given three of the school’s classrooms to set up our sleep space for the week. We were given foam mattress’ which were honestly comfortable and a luxurious custom bathroom out back. After everyone was settled in, it was go time.

The next three days were spent working on the court. This was where you could tell we all shared one thing in common. Ducks fly together and don’t shy away from hard work! We completed a full-size court in roughly two full workdays. H20, two buckets of rock, two buckets of sand, concrete, H20, fiber glass, two buckets of sand, two buckets of rock. Ask anyone on the trip and I bet you they have that order memorized as we loaded that d#*& cement mixer close to 360 times. It was well worth the work in the end to see the appreciation from the locals along with the joy it brought them.

Black beans, rice and tortillas! It gave us the fuel to build the court and win the highly contested soccer series. Gringos took game one in the downpour rain on Tuesday after the court was finished. Guatemalans took game two on Wednesday. But the Gringos took the series on Thursday with the help from lime covered papaya, plantain juice and a couple saved goals from Pat. Engaging in sport with the locals was a shared bond we will never forget. You may not be able to communicate through language at times but sharing the same joy by simply kicking a ball around for a couple hours is about as pure as it gets.

There is nothing in the world that forces you to live in the moment like dancing. Other than sports, dancing was another way in which we shared a bond between communities. Before the soccer match, and after the court was finished, the kids from the community dressed up and performed several dance routines for us. I believe it was to show appreciation along with sharing a part of their culture we had never seen before. It was cool to watch, and we also got to join in on the dance party. Once the court was finished, we spent most of the time with the community. Whether it be riding in the back of a sand truck from the pool, teaching locals how to play volleyball, basketball or acrobatics and tumbling, or even playing mafia. All these experiences taught us that if you are in service of others and find joy in the little things, it’s very easy to get lost in the beauty of the moment. But dang, whoever said there weren’t going to be mosquitos at that altitude missed the mark, I am surprised Adrian doesn’t have malaria.

Friday morning after the opening ceremonies for the court along with the shared tears and goodbyes we made our way down the mountain. We capped off our trip in Panajachel where we had our first meal that wasn’t the famous beans, rice and tortilla’s. The restaurant overlooked the great Atitlan Lake and surrounding volcanoes. It was surreal. This was where we spent the next day bartering and a sharing more memories with one another. We recapped the good and bad times of the trip and realized that we had bonded with one better than we could have imagined. We realized that this trip helped us understand that you don’t need anything materialistic to be happy in this world; if you serve and love the person standing next to you, this life will bring you joy. ~Bryce Boettcher, UO Football and Baseball

Quotes from Community Members

We are all very satisfied in the community because this project is a dream come true, having a court was a desire we had for years that is now fulfilled. We’re all very excited because it’s a place where kids to adults use to play, even until it gets dark. We are very grateful for the support provided by each of those who participated in making the court. ~Nicolás Ramos Vicente, Community Leader

I am very happy for the work done here in the community but I was also very sad because the volunteers had to leave. I was very happy to be able to talk to them, receive them at home and the food I prepared for them I did with all my heart. ~Elena Chávez Ixcoy, Community member

A great job was done by the volunteers and we are very grateful to them for ensuring the improvement of the educational quality of the community. The physical effort they came to make was very hard but they did it with love, humility and teamwork. The entire community is very grateful for the work done. ~Elvin Osvaldo Pacheco, School Teacher

It is a project of great importance for the community and the school, having the court represents a great achievement that will benefit the youth and kids to recreate and learn. Having this space contributes to education and helps kids stay out of trouble. We are surprised, grateful and satisfied with the work done. ~César Tzun Ixcoy, School Principal

Quotes from University of Oregon Volunteers

Being rich doesn’t always mean being happy, the people in Guatemala don’t really have much but I can tell you that they are very happy people. Their happiness instantly rubs off on you; ever since I got here I have been smiling constantly.  ~Phillipina Kyei

I learned that you don’t need much to be happy. People in this community are so happy and grateful for what they have even though it´s not much, what matters is who is in your life, not what is in your life. ~Lauren Crockett

Coming here and being around the community is a very humbling experience and is going to change my outlook and way I live my life. ~Morgan McCarthy

What I learned about the world is just how absolutely wonderful the Guatemalans and specifically this Mayan community are. They are so welcoming, warm, generous and giving. The most difficult part of going home will be returning to a busy pace of life. It’s so nice here to just be in the moment with the people here, building these relationships both within our group and also with the community. ~Katie Harbert

My favorite memory from the trip was when we got to dance with the kids during their presentation that they showed us. I genuinely had a great time, and I felt like I had the best time ever. ~Jade Albalos

Being on this trip has been one in a lifetime experience. What I have learned about myself and being away from my phone is that life is more precious when you can see things clear. ~Trikweze Bridges

This trip give me a new perspective on life, and happiness, people have much less but are much happier because they focus on the things they do have. ~Patrick Herbert

The main thing that I learned about myself is about how much I like helping other people and specially being around kids. I feel like I have always been wondering what other things I enjoy besides playing tennis. ~Uxia Martínez

My favorite memories from the trip would be the connections I made with the kids, from the handshakes, to the jokes being made, and games being played I loved every part. These kids came to me with joy and happiness in their heart and it was just amazing to see. ~Steve Stephens IV

From the community I learned the practice of appreciation is endless. I want to be able to go home and see what kinds of changes I can make after everything I learned here this week. ~Lexie Likins