The End: Guatemala

This time last year I was leaving Quito to finish up my last year of grad school. I boarded my flight to Florida with nostalgia for my new friends but ready to return to the old ones. Returning home is a completely different story this year. I started over from scratch in Antigua and built myself a life here this summer, with nothing to return to back in the States. I will be going home for a few weeks to visit family and then moving to Quito for a two-year job contract. No more student loans coming through my bank account, no more returning to my Tallahassee friends to share stories of our crazy summers, no more textbook shopping or checking in with my graduate advisor.
There are similarities across all Latin American countries, but Antigua will remain a unique city. I’m going to miss shoving my way through the market just to get the freshest avocadoes, sitting on rooftop terraces drinking coffee while overlooking volcanoes erupting, hanging out in the courtyards of cafes, getting rides from the police with my friends, but most of all, my students. The kids at Nuestros Ahijados made this the best experience abroad of my life. My time at the project makes everything else pale in comparison; swimming off the coast of Crete, hiking in Colca Canyon, visiting the baths of Munich, entering a mosque for the first time in Albania.

 Miguel and me
The students I worked with have been through unimaginable hardships. Some of them live in shacks where a family of 8 shares one bed. They grow up on dirt floors, breathing in toxic fumes from the stoves that cook tortillas all day so they can scrape a living. Some are victims of human trafficking and sex slavery, and some are the children of prostitutes or orphans of the civil war here. Walking into the project, you would never suspect their backgrounds. Initial impressions are based on what happens within our walls: hoards of happy shrieking children running around playing tag, being fed hot meals, receiving a quality education in a beautiful school, kids clinging on to volunteers and hugging each other.

 My sixth graders- Gerson, Tuc, Tomas
I don’t think most of the students realize that they are a disadvantage in the world. When you grow up surrounded by family and friends in the same poverty, it becomes the norm. The project boosts these kids above the poverty; a stepping stone into the first world through education and experience. I taught a lesson on professions in English and had the kids make labels for their shirts that said “Future Chef, Future Artist, Future Doctor, Future Lawyer, Future etc.” The kids chose their future professions with care, and they weren’t pretending. The student that put “Future Pilot” on their sticker really could become a pilot someday, thanks to a combination of the eternal laboring of the staff at Nuestros Ahijados and the childrens’ resilience.

 Mi mejor amigo


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