By Hannah DeSanto
I chose not to spend my spring break in Cabo or on Mission Beach. I gave up hanging out with friends to surround myself with people of a different culture that spoke a foreign language. I traded relaxing on the beach for hard manual labor. I missed out on a “traditional” spring break and I would not have wanted it any other way.
This past break, 17 other University of Arizona students and I traveled over 2,100 miles to the city of Antigua, Guatemala. Although Guatemalan land, culture, and language were completely foreign to me, I felt welcomed from the moment I touched down in the airport. The Guatemalan’s invited us into their home with open arms, their love and compassion transcending all boundaries.
We spent most of our days working for an elementary school on the outskirts of Antigua, in a village called Vuelta Grande. The village is extremely impoverished, has limited access to clean water, and lacks most basic necessities. Despite having little to nothing, the wonderful people of Vuelta Grande are some of the happiest that you could ever meet.
As we stepped off the bus and onto school grounds, we were greeted by dozens of smiling children, eager to take us off to play. While we were installing concrete floors or painted classrooms, they sat and waited for their turn to help or to simply ask us our names. During recess, I had the opportunity to play with some of the young girls, each pleading to be picked up and spun in circles. Within seconds of spinning around with one of them, I had a crowd of a few dozen children patiently waiting their turn to be next.
The times in which were not spent working, our group of volunteers explored the city and participated in cultural activities. We sampled native foods, explored the bars and “discotecas”, learned to prepare our own tortillas, took professional salsa dancing lessons and even married off some of our own in a traditional Mayan wedding. My personal favorite was cruising over the underwater city on Lake Atitlan. Amidst the picturesque scenery of the three surrounding volcanoes, we relaxed and sailed between nearby villages. The bravest of the group, including myself, jumped from the boat and into the depths of the Lake, as a means of saying that we had swam above sunken ruins.
The people of Guatemala were what made the journey so impactful and memorable. Despite our language, cultural and religious differences, I realized that these wonderful people are our brothers and sisters. If presented in the future with the opportunity to revisit Guatemala, I would return in a heartbeat. The culture, land and people of Guatemala are incomparable and the entire experience was exhilarating.