I arrived in Guatemala City, Guatemala three hours late. Despite the dismally rainy weather that had prevented my timely arrival at La Aurora Airport, I remained slightly overly optimistic about what the next few weeks would hold. And while my six weeks at Casa Shalom did not pass without their own difficulties, with each day that passed I grew steadily more certain that my decision to travel the nearly three thousand miles to Guatemala to study international education was easily the most rewarding experience of my life. Indeed, whether I was helping the Social Development Coordinator by tutoring the children, helping them write letters to their sponsors, or simply spending time with them, I began to realize a greater sense of purpose than ever before. Witnessing the gradual progression of these children with each of our lessons – observing their excitement with each accomplishment and increased determination with each failure – I found that I yearned to do more.
Defying the language barriers that might have otherwise hindered my progress, I strove to not only observe the children, but to learn from them. In discovering their histories and building trust, I found I was much more capable of assisting them in their schoolwork – as well as in any other issues they were facing. Guatemala, after all, is a country full of strife. Nearly twenty years after the Guatemalan Civil War of 1960, much of the country is still at a level of instability, with more than twenty homicides a day in the capital city alone. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the children of Casa Shalom have witnessed more in their lives than many could possibly imagine. Yet perhaps it is due to those experiences that the children of Casa Shalom desire so ardently to lead better lives. As many of the children are only under the temporary custody of the directors of the orphanage, the majority of them vividly recall their time in the homes of their parents before they were legally removed and recognize the opportunities that Casa Shalom provides. Realizing their backgrounds and still seeing their willingness to make a better life was nothing short of an inspiration. And, now, looking back at my time in Guatemala, it is clear that this internship afforded me more than I could possibly have imagined. Not only was I able to obtain a greater understanding of the Spanish language and the Guatemalan culture, but, more importantly, I came to realize just what direction I want to take with my life.
Recalling the stories of the children and remembering their dreams, I now know there is nothing I would rather do than help those children, and children of similar situations, to succeed in life. So while I initially set out to discover more about education in Guatemala, I inevitably learned that I wish to do more than simply learn about their situations – I want to help them to improve them. Whether I work at a non-profit dealing with international education development or simply work at an orphanage like Casa Shalom, I know that my experience in Guatemala will serve as the cornerstone of all my future ambitions.