2012 Second Bridge Award Recipient

Rachel Wintz, a Sociology student at UAA, is the 2012 winner of the Second Bridge Award from the Center for Community Engagement & Learning. 

Service and Study Abroad: A Guatemala Experience

The Second Bridge Scholarship Award allowed me the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to volunteer with an educational organization called Avivará that is working to increase the level of education for children in rural Guatemalan villages, which is the only way to break the cycle of poverty in that area.

While in Guatemala, I helped tutor elementary school children in Avivará’s after school program, called “Escuelita.” It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to interact with the children in this program. It was definitely a challenge to teach math in Spanish, but it was a challenge I was able to meet and which improved my Spanish speaking abilities and my teaching abilities. By assisting children with their work and teaching them techniques that would help them with their studies in the future, I felt I was able to make a positive impact while I was there.

Rachel Guatemala photo 2Rachel Guatemala photo 4

Avivará also supports rural schools by strategically purchasing material goods that the schools tell Avivará they have a great need for. I had the opportunity to go with Avivará staff as they delivered school supplies to three of the schools they support. At the school in Xeatzan Alto, Avivará staff distributed copies of a book that they had edited which was composed of stories written by students in the very schools they support. The ideology behind using stories written by Guatemalan children is that the book is culturally relevant and written at a proper reading level for the students. Avivará staff also gave a workshop to the teachers, that I was able to participate in, about how to use the books in their classroom.

The second school we visited was a technical school in Patzún. The principal of that school had asked Avivará to buy a welding machine for the school so the students could practice welding electrical circuits together. When we got there, we found that the school had a total of six books that were about fifteen years old which they would photocopy in order to provide reading material for their students.  This was an eye-opening experience that showed me how little they truly have in Guatemala. Even through their hardships, the people still highly value education and do all they can to attain it.

The third and final school that I had the opportunity to visit was in El Yalu, the most rural of the schools Avivará supports. In this area of Guatemala, families each have a small plot of land on which they grow the food needed to survive. Women marry at about 15 years of age and have a child roughly every year after that, culminating in families that have a total of about 10 children each. Children attend school in the morning and help their family work the field in the afternoon; they have no free time, no hobbies, and no toys. This area of Guatemala is very poor because their only source of income is in the form of food, not money. Sometimes families cannot afford to buy a pencil (which costs 1 Quetzal or about 12 cents) or a notebook (which costs 3 Quetzales or about 36 cents)for their children and, because of that, the child cannot attend school because they have nothing to write with and nothing to write on. This is the real Guatemala, which is what Avivará is working to improve. Avivará has provided this school with basic school supplies such as pencils, notebooks, and glue, which helps so much to enable the teachers to do creative projects which stimulate children’s learning and to ensure that students can still attend classes, even if they have no pencil.

Rachel Guatemala photo 1Rachel Guatemala photo 3

This experience was very eye-opening. I now understand a bit more about poverty and how difficult it can be to escape. Thankfully, Guatemalans understand the importance of education in their attempt to free themselves from poverty, but they still have a long battle ahead of them. This trip really inspired me to keep studying so I can one day work to address these problems in my future career.

I plan to work in the international non-profit field, and having previous experience traveling abroad and working with the impoverished population I hope to serve later in life is a priceless experience. I was also able to improve my Spanish speaking and comprehension abilities from utilizing the Spanish language on a daily basis and taking Spanish lessons, which gives me the confidence to strike up a conversation with any Spanish speaker. I now feel empowered to continue my course of action and feel more confident in my abilities to enter this field.

I learned so much from being in Guatemala. The people of Guatemala are so generous, even though they have so little. The pace of life there is much slower than it is in the western world; people take time to enjoy one another’s company rather than hustling from one chore to another. People greet one another as they walk down the street even if they don’t know each other.  Guatemala is a completely different world than Alaska and the rest of the United States. We have so much to learn from them and so much we can share with them as well. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience what I did in Guatemala. I was truly able to cross a second bridge with this scholarship and I have grown as a person and as a scholar.