1. Tell me a little about yourself
When people in Guatemala found out I was only twenty years old and I had traveled alone to Guatemala, they were amazed. When they found out I had not only been to Guatemala, but also Italy, France, South Africa, Mexico, and Haiti, they were even more amazed. In these moments, I felt filled with humility and gratitude. Why me? Why did I, out of all the other people in the world get so blessed with a life full of adventurous travels? I have not just been traveling, but traveling for FREE. At this point you want to know my secret of free and plentiful travel life, so let me explain myself.
I was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. My parents have been in leadership in the church in Chicago since 2004. In 2007, I made Jesus Lord of my life and was baptized into Christ at the age of 13. I was able to attend an amazing college prep high school which led me to being able to go to the university of my dreams, Clemson University in South Carolina. It is a big school in a small town, known for engineering and farming. However, I know nothing about engineering and farming. I am a rising junior majoring in history and education and minoring in Spanish. So Clemson definitely wasn't my dream school for the academic expertise I could gain, although it is a good school in every area. And it definitely wasn't the location that had the allure; I mainly consider myself a city girl. Clemson is as southern and rural as it gets. Amongst the many "y'all's" my thick Chicago accent has never fit in. Clemson University was my dream school because of the small church there. The church was planted in Clemson in 2009 and I wanted to go there and continue to help the church and campus ministry grow. Another huge pull to Clemson university was something called the EETG- "education enrichment travel grant" that the honors college offered. As a senior in high school, Clemson Honors College presented me with the opportunity to use $3000 each summer to travel anywhere to enhance my educational or life goals. That alone pretty much sold me to the idea of going to Clemson.2. What expectations did you have before going to Guatemala?
You see, before my junior year of high school, I read the books "Crazy Love" and "Radical". These books encourage you to live outside the norms for American Christianity and look around the world, seeing the billions of spiritual and physical needs that are going unmet. It became my conviction that being a disciple of Christ included leaving the comforts of America and helping people throughout the world. In 2012 I had my first out of country experience in an orphanage in Haiti. After that experience, I fell in love with traveling. I knew the rest of my life would be filled with travel and helping others, whatever sacrifices it would take.
So flash forward to this summer, here I am in Guatemala and Nicaragua for seven weeks. Out of all the countries in the world, why spend a month in Guatemala? After traveling around some in the last couple years, I realized I wanted to learn another language so I had the capability to help more nations and more people. My sophomore year of college I added a minor in Spanish and I knew I wanted to travel somewhere where I could put that to use. And by the glory of God and his amazing design of his kingdom, through a long strain of people I was put in contact with your very own Ana Cuevas. She told me about the home "Esperanza y Futuro" and it sounded like the perfect fit for how I wanted to spend my time this summer. Through the spring semester, I arranged all the details of the trip and on May 11th at 3 AM, I found myself at the Chicago airport ready to leave for my 7 week adventure.
After a few flights, I finally arrived at the airport in Guatemala and quickly found Lilly, the director, and two of the young girls, Raquel and Karla who picked me up. They greeted me with big hugs and kisses and I felt so welcomed. I mainly talked English with Lilly on the journey to the orphanage, but I decided to try out my Spanish on the girls. What came out of my mouth was met by some giggles and shifting eyes. I realized very quickly that speaking Spanish here was going to be very different than my experiences with Spanish in the classroom. I knew I had a very thick American accent. But, nonetheless, I was ready to interact and be with the kids, knowing that love doesn’t need a translator; even if my Spanish was horrid, I could still love the kids by serving in my actions.
When we arrived at the home on the Sunday afternoon, I felt like a spoiled girl on vacation! The view from the house was breathtaking. The home is in the mountains of Guatemala and surrounded by three gorgeous volcanoes. The home itself was gorgeous- it reminded me of vacation homes I had stayed in Italy. I came downstairs and got to meet all the kids and workers at the home. This is when things got a little overwhelming. I could only understand about ten percent of everything that was going on around me and I thought learning all their names would be close to impossible. However, this was only day 1 of 30 so I knew it could only get better from there. That evening, after the kids got ready for bed we sat and watched TV together. With some children sitting on my lap, I was filled with joy. I knew the month would be hard, but so rewarding because I was already falling in love with these children.
The next week was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I ate some grapes my first day there without washing them, and I got very sick the next day. I subsequently spent the next day in between my bedroom, sleeping, and the bathroom. That evening when I went downstairs, I fainted. However, I woke up surrounded by 15 kids and to the taste of Gatorade. To some this may sound overwhelming, but for me I felt so loved by seeing the concern and care on each one of the faces around me. Some of the girls helped me back up to my bed and later brought me food. I felt so cared for; however, it was difficult going through all this not really being able to communicate with them and not being able to talk to anyone back in the States. Luckily I quickly recovered and was ready to interact with the kids the next day. The first week was also very difficult because everything was so new. I didn’t know the kids or what my role should be or how to be useful. But slowly and surely, day by day, I got to know the teens and the kids and figure out how the home ran. By my second week there, living in the hogar had become a joy. Sure I felt lonely at times and missed people in America, but the joy of getting to serve at the hogar outweighed all of that.
What was so cool about the month I spent in Guatemala is that although I was often surrounded by many teens and kids with a lot of energy, never in my life have I had more time to be still in God’s presence. Times where I helped do the dishes or fold the laundry often turned into times of prayer since I could not always talk to the girls very well. I valued my time reading the Bible more than ever because it was the only contact I had with English! It was difficult, but refreshing, not having internet on my phone or computer for the month. With my lack of Spanish and my lack of internet, God truly became my best friend. It was so amazing too because God constantly was showing me himself through the interactions I had with the kids. In the Bible he makes it clear that we need the same humility and attitude that children have, and I felt spoiled to get to observe and imitate so many adorable children that I knew God holds so dear!
There was not one day or moment that stood out amongst the rest while I was there; the whole month was filled with small, precious moments. When I think of the times I will always treasure, I think of the little curls cuddling up to me and falling asleep with their head on my chest. I think of the girls and I staying up late to do Zumba together. I think of the time the taught me how to make tamales from scratch, or the times I spun them around and we danced together in the middle of washing all the dishes. Many nights the kids and I went out and jumped on the trampoline together underneath the beautiful night sky of Guatemala. Each day was filled with so many moments of love and laughter. What was so amazing about this to me is that these girls and kids had lives completely filled with hardship. They had been abandoned or abused or betrayed and yet they were still so capable of loving me and sharing these precious moments with me. Many of them worked hard day in and day out, washing clothes, cleaning the house, helping in the kitchen- frankly, things that North American adolescents never have to do for themselves. Yet these girls and kids had so much fun together. They did not mope around, constantly complain, or act lazy. The loved each other and cared for one another. The thirty kids were knit into one big, happy family despite all the broken homes they had come from. I learned so much about being a hard worker and being grateful from the girls and workers at Esperanza and Futuro. I also learned how to enjoy the small moments the company of those who are directly around you. You don’t need television or internet or any outside source to bring you joy and entertainment. The people right in front of you are the ones who matter and you can make incredible memories by just living life together.