Service Learning in Guatemala

A longtime desire to participate in a service trip and an opportunity to share the experience with my daughter, Emily, prompted me to embark on a service learning trip to Guatemala in March.  We were part of a Vision Team with Common Hope and our group of 14 was made up of University of Minnesota students and family members.

Common Hope, U.S. based in St. Paul, is a “multidisciplinary non-profit organization dedicated to helping Guatemalan families achieve a better life through programs in education, health care and housing.” Guatemala experienced a 36 year civil war which ended in 1996, but most social, economic and political conditions have not improved much since then.  Most Guatemalans still live in extreme poverty with “limited opportunities for education and lacking an adequate diet, decent shelter and basic health care.”

The highlights of our week included:

  • building a house for a single mother who had worked many hours to earn her  new home
  • participating in activities with school children from basketball and soccer to craft projects and pre-school snack and play time
  • visiting families in their homes, which often consisted of cornstalk walls, partial roofs and dirt floors
  • visiting and supporting fair trade artisans
  • experiencing a new culture
  • new friendships (Guatemalan and American)
  • team-building and a cooperative and caring spirit

We were all struck by the extreme contrast between the poverty and “survival-mode” existence of so many, and our great abundance in America.  Common Hope’s executive director, Shari Blindt, expresses our thoughts well:  “At first I was overwhelmed with the privilege that comes with being born in a rich country. Now I understand it as a blessing because I can use my privilege to help children who happened to be born into a poor country.  And the truth is by giving back I keep receiving more in return: new friendships, greater purpose, a renewed sense of gratitude.”

We look forward to future opportunities to serve others in our own communities and around the world.

Pictured: Emily and Karen Mattson in front of a mural outside the Santiago Zambora Weaving Co-op in Guatemala.