The PW Service Club from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) recently traveled to Guatemala to make a difference in the lives of children in the city of Tecpán.
The day after school let out for the summer, nine members of the club — Maggie Coyle, Megan Peuser, Chloe Goldstein, Anastacia Cwietnietwicz, Allison Beausoleil, Brooke Balkiewicz, Sofia Lepore, Maxine Slowik and Treasure Greene — along with PWHS teachers Krystyn Satko and Katy Geare, boarded a plane to Central America for the ten-day volunteering trip.
"I decided to go on this trip because I love kids and want to travel when I'm older," said Brooke Balkiewicz, a PWHS junior. "I figured that this trip was the best of both worlds. Going to Guatemala was the best experience of my life."
Volunteering in a school
During the week, the club volunteered at one of the city's 90 public schools. They taught English to students who were in kindergarten through sixth grade and tiled an outdoor water station at the school.
"It was so rewarding to know that I was both teaching and making connections with the kids simply because I was able to speak a little bit of their language," said Maggie Coyle, a senior who used the Spanish that she learned at PWHS to communicate with the children. "Leaving the school on our last day was very difficult, because we formed such strong bonds with all of the students. They were so grateful for our efforts, and we were so touched by the generosity and kindness of their community. It was hard to leave that behind."
Learning from the Guatemalan children
The club traveled through the organization, Cross-Cultural Solutions, who notes that the poverty rate in Tecpán is nearly 60% and the schools lack many basic resources. While many members of the club went into the trip expecting to make a difference in the lives of the Guatemalan children, the PWHS students were also changed by the experience.
"The hardest thing was to understand that they work for every little thing they have, and we, for the most part, are not used to that," said Allison Beausoleil, a PWHS senior. "It was incredible to see that they lived the simplest lives, yet were extremely happy for everything they had."
"Those kids have nothing: one pair of shoes or maybe even two. They wear clothing multiple days in a row, and the clothes have rips and tears in them. With as little as they have, those kids will still offer you all they have," added Brooke. "On the very last day we were with them, I was swarmed with peaches, roses, candies and homemade cards thanking me for my smile and all we have done for them in five days. That, I think, was what surprised me the most. This experience has altered my life completely."
Experiencing the culture
In addition to volunteering at the school during the week, the PW Service Club members also experienced "cultural immersion" excursions to town, markets, a cattle farm, a local potter and Iximché, a local site of Mayan ruins.
The club plans to return to Guatemala in July 2019.