Jesuit Portland Students Make Connections in Nuevo Progresso, Guatemala

This summer, the day after school let out, I, along with 18 other students and 2 chaperones from Jesuit High School in Portland, met at the airport at the ungodly hour of 10 pm to begin our journey to Guatemala. Little did we know the impact our impending experience would instill in us forever.

Two planes and one winding car ride later, we arrived at “Chinatown”, our hotel in Nuevo Progreso. This was our first clue that the next 10 days would be full of surprises, that we had absolutely no clue what was in store for us. As soon as we stepped inside, we were treated with smiles and joy by Ceferina, our “host mom” for the duration of our trip. She was the first of many to offer us unconditional love and hospitality. It truly made us feel safe, welcome, and at home, despite being in a strange new country with people that, to be honest, we did not know very well.

The next day, we hopped in the back of a pickup truck and drove to the work site. Our Courts for Kids trip partnered with a local organization called “Mil Milagros”, a thousand miracles, which works to improve education and health in Guatemala by empowering women. We were building a court right outside a Mil Milagros school, so we always had an audience of unbelievably adorable children while we were working.

Many men in the community volunteered their time to help build the court as well, allowing us to get to know not just the children, but adults as well. They told us about the struggles they face, the importance of their family in their lives, and what the court means to them. For parents, the court was a safe place for their children to play and grow up. For girls and women, the court was a place to grow in strength and independence. And for everyone else, it was a place for community gatherings and a building of kinship.  For me, the court was a peek into a world I could not begin to understand had it not been for the community and their willingness to share their culture and values.

When we were not working, our group was playing card games, walking to a nearby tienda, touring Lake Atitlán, shopping in villages, or my personal favorite, learning to salsa dance. We went from being acquaintances to being brothers and sisters, something only our shared experience in Guatemala could bring about.

I think the biggest challenge we faced together was 5 students and 1 chaperone getting very sick and staying behind a few days. We wanted so much for them to experience everything we had those days, and we spent hours filling them in after the fact.

These men and women became my family. Waking up surrounded by 12 other girls every morning, we developed powerful friendships that extend further than anyone outside of our group could begin to understand. We developed these same relationships with many of the children attending the school by which we built the court. Their open, innocent personalities allowed us to make lasting bonds in the span of only a few days. At the end of the week we gave them pictures of us and our families, so they can always remember us. But we don’t need any pictures, this trip, the faces of the children when they score a basket, is permanently etched in my memory and the memories of my classmates.

Our trip to Guatemala was not about building a court. Our trip was about making connections. Connections with our classmates, with Guatemalan culture, and with the community. I will never forget the love I felt there and I will cherish the memories forever. – Anna

“Something I learned from the community is that life is more enjoyable when you work together.  In America, life is all about competition and who has the biggest house or who throws the better parties.  The locals showed me that instead of competing against your peers, you should work with them. Not only will you grow an amazing community, but you will find your place much more easily.” – Claudia

“This trip has made me much more conscious of how all of my actions impact those around me.  From what I say, to who I sit with, everything I do impacts someone else in a way.” – Danna

“To me, the most difficult part of going home is saying goodbye to the community you grow so close with. … (T)hey were more than just a community we worked together with … they were also like another family to me, and saying goodbye and hugging them all made me cry, because I just didn’t want to say goodbye.” – Christopher

“Even though we could not fully understand each other, through simple conversations, games, and hugs, we created deep bonds with each other over the week.” – Lucy

“I was filled with joy and warmth with the friendliness of the Guatemalans to new people… They are hardworking and unconditionally generous, who never complain and always have a good attitude.” – Allyson