Lauren Martin, our guest blogger, is a Spanish and International Relations student from Scotland who chose to volunteer at the School of Hope for seven months as part of her Year Abroad, as she wanted to spend her time doing something worthwhile that would also help her gain experience in the NGO and development sector.
The school appealed to me as they have a holistic mission of breaking the cycle of poverty. The families are empowered as a whole and the office is always open as a space for the parents to bring their worries and difficulties. I spent 7 months at the school and not one day was the same. Whilst there was routine, there was always something different needing done.
I was a volunteer with our youngest children in Kindergarten for the duration of my time at the school, but not all my time was spent in the classroom, as there was always something to be done elsewhere. One day I bagged hundreds of bags of fruit! Some of the more important work was weighing and measuring our students, both before the school holidays and afterwards, to see how the weight of the children had fluctuated whilst not attending school.
I realised that even the smallest tasks, which could feel pointless to some, do have an impact on the students. Everything was always worth it for the calls of “¡Qué chilero!” (“that’s so cool!”) as I walked into the room with my latest attempt at an artistic masterpiece for the classroom walls.
"I spent 7 months at the school and not one day was the same, there was always something different needing done."
I had the privilege of getting the school ready and being there for the first day back in January. Imagine close to 500 kids actually being excited to come back to school! Graduation was a very special event. Seeing the children graduating from Tercero Basico and moving onwards and upwards to great things was very humbling. In a country where several million children do not even get the chance to go to school, these youngsters are the lucky ones. Life isn’t easy for the children and families at The School of Hope. Far from it, in fact, and that is what made my time there and the events so special, as they were chances to celebrate the triumphs of overcoming so many obstacles.
"In a country where several million children do not even get the chance to go to school, these youngsters are the lucky ones".
One of the most humbling experiences I had were the house visits. Each year, the staff visits the home of every child in the school to assess living and family situations so that the school can better understand the child’s background and their progress.
The hill up to Vista Hermosa, where 30% of the children come from, is no mean feat. It was hard enough getting up in the dry season and in the rainy season, it is treacherous. Just one day during the rainy season, only 100 children managed to make it to school due to the rainfall. Those few days of house visits really did put everything into perspective.
I actually saw a very small part of the harsh reality that is the life of many of our children but by no means could I ever begin to understand it. I was so lucky to have been brought up in a country where the road to school was paved, where my house was secure and not built on a muddy hillside.
These things I took for granted previously but in Guatemala, they jeopardise not only the children's access to education but also access to sometimes the only nutritional meal they will have for that day, as well as so much more.
"I actually saw a very small part of the harsh reality that is the life of many of our children, but by no means could I ever begin to understand it."
The benefits of having spent 7 months at the school are endless. I was able to build good relationships with the children and the staff, much more so than if I had only spent a month or two at the school. It always made me so happy passing through the market or the street and being recognised and greeted by parents and children.
I can not recommend volunteering at the School of Hope highly enough. You get a chance to do something completely different and, although sad to leave, I left knowing I had made a positive contribution.
You will come away a changed person, knowing that the school, with its children and staff, have helped you so much more than you have helped them, that they have given you new perspectives and made you realise so many things and I can guarantee you will be wanting to book your flight back to Guatemala as soon as you return home.