In a late night worship that took place every night, Mark asked the group “how does life live through you?” and I expected not to have an answer, but in fact I did. I wrote down in my small journal given to us a few months before that life lived through me in constant hunger for happiness and contentment. through moments of pure joy and unconditional bliss. Oh if life were full of moments. I said this countless times on this trip. feeling the warm sun on my face when i went out for a morning run with nancy, making jokes at the dinner table, laughing with the students at safe passage because neither of us can understand each other and a little girl grabbing my hand the minute I walk into a class room and sitting me down at her table for the pure reason of working next to me. these were a few moments out of many that I will cherish forever. This trip made me realize that life is full of moments. The children lived moment to moment the way that an inspirational speaker would tell you to do. this meant to me that, like these children, I should make every minute one that counts. they taught me the secret to being present. a little girl who I was climbing a jungle gym with pointed to a small building, that i would not consider a house and told me in Spanish that that building was her home. this home did not look safe, sanitary or happy, in my standards. but she continued to climb around, laugh, and making me chase her in circles. she was so present, i never even thought about it till after, that while i spent the entire afternoon worrying about this little girls living situation, she wasn’t. she was not home, she was at safe passage. this taught me the incredible life lesson of living in the moment, not just at certain times, but all of the time. whether i go back or not, i don’t think i could thank her enough for possibly teaching me the most valuable part of being a happy person.
When I was preparing for this trip I felt for sure it was going to make me really sad. I was prepared for this, but when I arrived and I saw the dump where thousands of people go to work every day in horrible conditions picking trash out of the dump to sell. Surprisingly, at least for me, I did not feel as sad as I expected to feel seeing the conditions that live and work in. Don’t get me wrong I still was greatly troubled by this, but I was not feeling anything overwhelming. I struggled with this for some time throughout the trip. During this trip we got on a bus each morning from Antigua, where we were staying to Guatemala City where safe passage is. On this hour drive we got to see the places where the poorest people lived and all around the city. At Safe Passage we got to play with the young children, help tutor older children, talk to mothers about their experiences, and talk to teachers about Safe passage. I had so many good experiences playing with the younger children. I remember one time I made a paper bag puppet with a pink pom-pom nose and was having it walk around and talk. Then I put a pink pom-pom on my nose and the puppet and I became friends the kid that I was with did not really interact with us but the pom-poms got him to open up a little. Another experience I remember very clearly was learning mayan with a few grandmothers. They taught up how to say 1-6 and a few colors in mayan and then we had to remember all of them in the next game we played. Playing the game with the grandmothers and then afterword having them teach us the mayan chicken dance was just so much fun. Throughout all of these amazing experiences I began to realize why I was not very sad. The people around me even the people that I saw working in the dump or sleeping on the side of the road did not seem sad to me. This was even clearer when I was in Safe passage itself. All of the young children and mothers seemed so happy. Maybe this is just because they don’t know what they don’t have, but I don’t think that is the case because they see rich people living in guatemala and they see rich tourists pass through every year. I think that this shows on a fundamental level that happiness is not gained with possessions or a good life– it’s about whether or not you focus on the good things or the bad things. This is what my mind was doing at the beginning of the trip…focusing on the good things… focusing on the fact that these people are happy and not that they have worse living conditions. At the same time this does not mean that we should not try to help them because they still need our help. This is why safe passage excels it and why it is such a great organization.
There are many things that I will remember for the rest of my life from this service trip to Guatemala. I felt heartbreak, hope, and gratitude. Here are a few of the memories that I will keep with me.
One of the first things I noticed were the animals. There were so many dogs in the streets, especially in Guatemala City. Almost all of the dogs were skin and bones, even the ones who had families, but they were also homeless. I’m a huge animal lover and seeing dead dogs just lying on the side of the street not just in or beside but also in piles of trash will haunt me forever.
On one of the days we spent at Safe Passage we met with the abuelas. In Spanish abuela means grandmother, in this case to the kids in Safe Passage.
We had a question and answer panel with some of the grandmothers. They taught us Mayan and Spanish and in return we taught them English. They told us about Creamos, which is a program for the mothers and grandmothers. They also explained that Safe Passage and Creamos is a fabulous program for them to get education and a new beginning.
After we left I felt hopeful that these amazing people are getting a second chance.
On the same day we talked with the abuelas we had another Q&A with some of the mothers who had kids in Safe Passage. One of the women who came in immediately stood out to me. I wasn’t sure why until she started talking. She told us that when she was a little girl her alcoholic father abandoned her, then when she got older her mother also abandoned her. By the time she was 16 she was living on the streets and that broke my heart. A month after I turned 11 my alcoholic father also abandoned me but thankfully I have my mother. After hearing her speak I felt a connection with her. When going into this, I didn’t think I would connect so deeply to someone whom I had never met. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
When we arrived in Boston from Guatemala, I felt immense gratitude for this experience. Thank you to all of the people who went to Guatemala with me. Thank you, especially to Nancy, because you stayed with me at the hotel when I was too sick to go to safe passage. You made it easier on me and you brought me the best chicken soup I’ve ever had. And, of course, thank you Carie. When I was sick and you video chatted me, that made me so incredibly happy and it really brightened my day. And, thank you the other youth who went on this trip with me. You all made me feel at home, when I was over 2000 miles away from my family.
Thank you to everyone in this congregation, because if it hadn’t been for all of you and your generous donations, I wouldn’t have been able to go.
In a nutshell this experience changed my life. I felt sorrow because of how horribly people and animals were getting treated.
Hope, because we got to have the opportunity to help change that. And I will be going back to Guatemala to help the kids and animals there. And, finally gratitude for all of my friends and family who went with me on this trip physically or in my heart.
During our time in Guatemala, we discussed quite frequently how easy it was to feel guilty. This guilt could come from many different places—for the color of our skin, and what that implied about us, for our privilege, for our security, or even for the fact that we felt there was so much more we could be doing.
Yet as the trip progressed, I came to realize it isn’t who we are or what kind of world we are born into that matters. What matters is character, resilience, and understanding. What matters is the individual’s ability to expand their focus outside of themselves, to look for solutions, and to try their hardest.
I saw this kind of selflessness and perseverance on the behalves of both the MidMaine UU Youth, and the students of Safe Passage. It gives me hope and strength to know that despite what we see as a devastating position in life, these students (and their parents, let us not forget) are investing in a better life through education. It also gives me hope to know that members of our society are taking time to see these parts of the world and be educated in a different way. We choose to go to these places because we have decided to look outside of our bubble. From these experiences not only do we become more aware, but we return, as one of our youth so aptly put it, as ambassadors of our experience.
There will always be inequality, pain, injustice, and hardship in the world. We cannot fix that in one generation. But with youth like the ones we met in Guatemala and those who sit before you today, I can assure you that we are on the path to a better and brighter world.
I am forever grateful for this congregation, and for the four other congregations who supported us, for allowing us to make this spiritual pilgrimage, and to gain this wisdom which we will now hold in our hearts for the rest of our lives.