So you will have seen from a few years ago I wrote a blog about a trip to Guatemala, a trip that inspired me to swim bike and run the distance from Cayman to Guatemala a distance of 640 miles!
This time I took Kym on the adventure and what follows is her unique perspective on this wonderful place, people and a charity (Co-operative for Education) that helps some of its most in need children.
When Chris asked me to write a guest blog on my first Guatemala experience I spent a while deciding what angle to approach the blog from. Do I talk about the great charitable work that Cooperative for Education (Coed), our tour organisers do towards working to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education? Or about the school we spent time at and the amazing children we met? Or our visits to our sponsorship students? Or how beautiful and vibrant Antigua was?
So many options but I decided to bring it back to what I got out of my experience and the main thing for me personally was pushing outside my comfort zone.
It is no secret to those who know me well that I have a slight (healthy?) obsession with running. I run every day and training for races is always extremely important to me. I am currently part way through training for marathon number five, New York City, in November and normally any break in my running routine would fill me with panic. Will I loose fitness? How will I get back in to running in this humidity if I am in a different climate for a week? What happens to my diet and nutrition in a country where I can’t eat or drink what I normally do? Will I get enough sleep…blah, blah, blah! Ah! The neurosis of a runner!
Running aside just generally in my day-to-day life routine is very important to me and pushing myself out of these routines in to a week of travel involving painting a school, entertaining very young children, touring round with people I had never met, visiting places of extreme poverty all while trying not to eat and drink the wrong things and get sick I will sadly admit had me slightly panicked.
But Chris has been involved now with Coed and the work they do for several years and his passion for Guatemala and the work the charity does had me itching to share that part of his life. So off on the Helping Hands Tour we went!
We were staying in Antigua which is a small city surrounded by volcanoes in southern Guatemala. It’s renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings and the architecture and cobbled streets make it a very pretty place.
On our first day we met up with the rest of the people on our tour, all lovely folk from Cincinnati, Ohio and the wonderful Coed staff and drove the hour journey to the kindergarten school we would be helping at for the week. What hit me most aside from the basic structure of the school was how friendly and welcoming the staff and children were and despite speaking no English (and me virtually no Spanish) the language was of no issue. The children loved us being there and the fun games we introduced them to (Old British childhood game “What’s the Time Mr Wolf” or ¿Qué hora es, Sr. Lobo? With the gigantic Chris as Sr. Lobo was a firm favourite). Every day when the children finished school it was hugs all round with them hugging our knees (they were all that tiny) and saying “Hasta Mañana” (“Until tomorrow!) to us.
We were told for some of them the snacks and drinks they get at school could be most they eat during the day so I was touched on the second day when a little boy gave me one of his treasured sweets. The final day at the school had the children performing various dances for us highlighting different aspects of their culture. The effort these tiny children went to was seriously impressive and something that will stick with me for ever (especially the soca number highlighting the Caribbean culture in Guatemala.. like Carnival but for kids.. very cute!)
As well as painting the classrooms and exterior of the school and interacting with the children there Chris and I got to see the two scholarship students we support. Chris met Jonny 3 years ago on a visit to his school and saw a huge difference in him from the tiny 11-year-old boy saving his school lunch to take home for his sisters to the 14 year old he is now with dreams of becoming a mechanic.
We then got to meet 13-year-old Zoila and her family who kindly welcomed us in to their home. She is a hard working student who wants to become a fashion designer. What struck me most was despite the extreme poverty in the community and the constant rumbling of the nearby volcano (Fuego which erupted only a few months ago) was the proudness her parents have for her being such a good student and wanting to embrace her opportunity to have an education. Her parents told us (via a translator) how they knew how important it was for her to continue with her studies in order to be able to break the cycle of poverty for herself and hopefully for them. Many hugs, tears and thank you’s were shared and I for one will never forget that visit.
One of the other highlights of my trip was zip lining across a 1000m canyon surrounded by volcanoes and scenery which seemed straight out of Jurassic Park (seriously if a T-Rex had popped up in front of me I would not have been surprised!). Again talk about been pushed out of my comfort zone! I have never zip lined before but Chris said I would regret not doing it so with the motto “Do one thing every day that scares you” ringing in my ears plus the peer pressure from Ryan (aged 11) and Rosie (aged 10) who were on our tour who did the shorter zip lines with huge confidence, I did not only the various shorter lines but the 2 huge zip lines… It was amazing!!
So in summary was missing a week of running due to lack of time, high altitude kicking my butt and Antigua’s non-runner friendly cobblestones detrimental to me? Sure I can’t run more than 4 miles back in Cayman right now without gasping for breath in the humidity but so what? When things get tough out there on the road in my next few months of marathon training I now have all these wonderful memories to think of.
Guatemala and it’s people have a piece of my heart now too and we will be back..
Hasta Mañana Guatemala.. you were epic!