This spring, we had a full house with back-to-back school groups from the United States! It started in March with our very first Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. With thirteen student and staff volunteers from the campus Hillel program, it presented a great opportunity for our new volunteer coordinator, Robin, to learn the ropes of hosting a service group. The team made roof shingles out of plastic bottles, cleaned the glass bottle skylights on the roofs of classrooms 4-7, shoveled and sifted sand, and then participated in a cement pour for the floor of the 45,000 gallon rainwater cistern! We capped off the week with an excursion to Lake Atitlan, visiting the Chabad and enjoying the Israeli community in San Pedro.
The next week, a team arrived from Noble and Greenough School outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The team consisted of 16 sixth and seventh graders, and four adult staff. They worked extremely hard and had incredible leaders that were energetic and motivating. One morning, our Técnico Chixot students hosted a soccer tournament with another local school at Parque Chimiya. They invited the girls and boys from Nobles to play with the 6th grade teams. It was fantastic seeing them play together, especially as some of the Comalapan girls were taught how to play about 30 seconds before they went on the court. Meanwhile, the Nobles' girls towered over everyone by at least 6" and were missing soccer practice in Boston to be here for the week in Guatemala. Afterward, several of our local teachers joined up with three of the Nobles' teachers to take on the staff of the other school in a game. All in all, it was a fun week and we were overwhelmed with the effort and enthusiasm put forth by the visiting middle schoolers!
Just a day and half later, we had three west coast Hillel groups - students from the University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark College from Portland, and UC-Santa Cruz, totalling 40 people! Everyone got along seamlessly, worked hard and played hard too; Feliciano's hotel was a great setting for after work card games and inter-campus bonding time. With so many people on site we accomplished many different projects - building a fence with Felix below the school, making a railing out of trash bottles above classrooms 1-3, mixing cob and throwing it between tires in classroom 7, pounding tires, prepping the gutters on the roofs of classrooms 4-7 and placing the plastic shingles on the current Principal's office. By Friday only one group was left to work, as the others left for their excursion to Antigua. Portland Hillel stayed and we did a huge cement pour of the walls and columns of the cistern, standing on the edge tossing buckets back and forth of cement. Then we left for Antigua the next day to join the other groups, concluding our incredibly productive March.
In the beginning of May, Florida International University alternative Break returned for their 5th year in a row. They had eight students with them from all different majors, and they were excited to be here after working hard to raise more than the funds they needed for the trip! They brought with them two large suitcases filled with clothes and toys and donations for the students and volunteers. Aside from their initial generosity, they helped out laying bottles in the septic tank, cleaning up our welcome sign, and cutting glass bottles for skylights. We hope to see them again in 2016!
This fall brought our fourth visit from California-based LeapNow, with 13 people just beginning a journey through Central America over the next several months. They soaked up the culture by experiencing some of the best that Comalapa has to offer, hiking up to the top of the ridge near Parque Chimiya and touring hotel owner Feliciano's favorite places around town! They also accomplished a lot of work here at the school, tending our gardens, beautifying our new railings, helping to secure the rainwater system, and applying finish plasters on classrooms 4-7. In two groups, they assisted the Physical Education teacher with morning classes, allowing them to bond with our students. They were here for more than the normal week, and it still seemed they left too soon! We wish them well on their travels and hope they send us more great interns like Pip from last year’s group.
~Robin Rutchik, LWH Volunteer Coordinator