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.
As we feel that we are starting to descend, we all look out the airplane window and see clusters of mountains upon mountains with small hidden towns in between. Guatemala City, our airport destination, was one big city hidden amongst the mountains. We arrive and are greeted by the volunteer coordinator for Long Way Home, the organization we are volunteering with this week. He calls us over to a minivan where we pile our ginormous bags into the trunk, barely leaving any room for our driver to look back. So the adventure begins.
San Juan Comalapa is roughly two hours and 30 minutes from the airport. We are swerving and curving up and down mountains, passing small towns with just a few lights, and finally arriving at the door of our beautiful family-owned hotel. Inside the hotel is an interior garden with wooden lawn chairs placed beside it. Upstairs is where the wife of the hotel keeper brings us breakfast and dinner. Tortillas are big here. Every meal, no matter the hour, there are handmade tortillas.
Monday morning, Long Way Home organizers escorted us from the hotel to the site of the school. We felt the high 7,000 feet elevation as we began to walk up the hill and felt out of breath. Fifteen minutes later, beyond the paved road through the corn fields, we arrived at the school.
The structure is spectacular. Something out of an environmentalist’s dream with wind chimes made from glass bottles moving with the breeze, tires packed with dirt and placed in a way that makes for perfect stairs, and walls made from plastic bottles filled with trash and held together by concrete. As we passed the three classrooms, every class turned around and greeted us perfectly in sync together. We met the participants of another group traveling from FIU and the existing staff on the site. They gave us a quick tour of how to use the compost restroom and fill up our water bottles from their innovative water-filtering system.
Our first job assignment was to cut open 500 aluminum cans, wash them out, drill three holes, and fold over the top of the can. These cans will be used to plant cypress trees that will be used throughout the facility. After lunch, half of us were assigned to measure tires with a measuring tape, pick out the ones with the right size, manually transport them to this huge wall they’re building solely out of tires packed with dirt. Others from the group cleaned out glass bottles that have been cut in half and will be used to create windows in the school. The last exhausting task of the day was to fill buckets with dirt and move them in a line up to the top of the wall to fill the tires.
Throughout the day, we were able to watch the children celebrate International Women’s Day by the boys lining up on one side, the girls on the other, and the boys giving them each a red carnation. The boys then went around and gave all of the female volunteers flowers and congratulated us on this day. The kids were so polite and thankful of our work that it truly gave meaning to all of the sweat and accumulated dirt.
Tomorrow the students will be performing a welcome dance for us and we will be handing out the backpacks and school supplies we traveled with.
March 10, 2014: The journey begins