Six members of the university community are spending their Spring Break in Guatemala as part of FIU alternative Breaks. They will help construct a school in the San Juan Comalapa community, working alongside local workers and other volunteers in re-using trash to develop the school’s infrastructure. FIU News is following the team’s journey through updates provided by the group members.
This morning, we walked over to the school just as we did yesterday, except this time we hauled three luggage bags filled with backpacks and school supplies. The hike up and down the inclines was quite a work out. When we arrived, we found out our donation event had to be postponed until tomorrow because one of the volunteers from another group was in the hospital—he was hit with a bucket on his forehead and had to get five stitches! Luckily he ended up being okay and just headed home for the day to rest. We dropped off our donations and began hike number two.
We headed toward Long Way Home’s (LWH) park, which is halfway from the school and the town where we would later get to experience one of Comalapa’s three weekly market days (market days are held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays). We walked through fields of strawberries before reaching the park created by the founder of LWH, Matt. At the end of his Peace Corps assignment a few years ago, Matt was asked to create a park to provide disadvantaged youth a place to play and congregate with each other and volunteers. The park has benches, bathrooms, spaces for BBQ grilling and a beautiful soccer field. The initial fee for admission into the park was one trash-filled water bottle to help support the local school’s self-sustainable supplies project. Most recently, though, the park is no longer in LWH’s hands; the new administrators now charge three quetzales (less than 40 cents) for admission.
The park is also home for many of the long-term LWH volunteers, and we got to see their housing quarters while there. Their houses are made much like the school, using self-sustainable supplies with a nice little garden.
We then embarked on hike number three toward the market. On the way, we walked by a scenic mural painted on a wall bordering the local cemetery. Jen, one of LWH’s directors, narrated the tour of the 62-panel mural. Each panel represents a significant time in Guatemalan history, and together they tell the story of the hardship and triumph local people have experienced.
Once we made it to the market, we saw what seemed to be all of the people of Comalapa gathered on one street displaying their goods for sale. As we walked down the street, local fruits, vegetables, juices, and typical printed cloths and bags surrounded us. Men, women and children all sat at their respective stations displaying their goods. We bought gorgeous handmade bags for 20 queztals each, which is only about $2.63!
On the way back to the school, we rode a “tuc-tuc” for half the way, which are these common red motorcycle-turned-vehicle “cabs.” We hiked the rest of the way back to the school where we had another delicious lunch and quickly got back to work!
Our project for the day was to tape together pre-cut glass bottles to create a cylindrical glass “brick.” These bricks are used on the walls and ceilings of the structures in the school to create lighting inside the rooms. When the sunlight hits the glass, it breaks apart and lights up the room. It’s amazingly picturesque. A few of us measured windows for glass that will be put into the frames. We hiked our way back home (hike number four, in case you lost count), and took some much-needed warm showers.
Today was another successful day and we are all very much looking forward to tomorrow when we will have a field day with the children! We will be having three-legged races and soccer games out at the park and then heading back to the school in the afternoon for lunch and work.