It was black outside as two school buses carrying 59 teens and adults from Colonial Presbyterian Church arrived in Cantel, Guatemala in the dead of night. The 5 hour bus ride on bumpy dirt roads was finally over and everyone was relieved to be in the small village. They could only see lights in the darkness so they would have to wait until morning to find out what Cantel looked like.
The next morning, sophomore Caroline Dodd and senior Lauren Dodd rode with the other volunteers to Colegio Mark School through the town. As the school bus bounced along the dirt roads, they passed by long rows of houses with incomplete second stories families couldn’t afford to finish. The quaint houses were painted every color imaginable: pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and reds. On the sides ‘Tigo,’ a cell phone company in Guatemala, is written.
As the bus rolled to a stop down the street from the school, the volunteers were greeted by some 200 Guatemalan kids standing patiently in line. Every volunteer walked down the line of kids, shaking each hand. The American volunteers said ‘Hola.’ The Guatemalans said ‘Good morning.’
After Caroline and Lauren had each shaken the final hand, they reached eight foot tall black gates. They rang a bell in order to get inside and then entered the school. They walked on grey tiles through an open-air hallway to different classrooms.
Inside these classrooms, the American volunteers would split up into teams: medical, dental, crafts, bible-studies, games and water. The first four groups would involve helping and interacting with the kids but the water team was there to do the major project of purifying the towns’ water.
Matt Potter, director of the high school ministry and youth group at Colonial Presbyterian Church for 3 years explained about cleaning the water.
“People had always come to Guatemala and treated the symptoms the bacteria in the water caused but never got to the root of the problem,” Potter said. “We had this water filtration system we brought with us because the water they drank was contaminated and this would help clean it.”
This is also where the theme of the mission trip Agua Viva Agua Pura (Living Water Pure Water) comes from.
While the water team was mainly composed of adults and the supervisors, the teenagers got to be involved with the other teams, which meant helping the kids. Caroline was assigned to the arts and crafts group while Lauren was assigned to the dentistry group.
Caroline opened the door into a white stucco room with colorful little-kid posters of the happy birthday song and the question words in English on the walls.
When she walked in, rows of dark-skinned, black-haired kids looked up at her. They were all dressed in grey slacks or skirts, a white collared shirt with the Colegio Mark emblem on them, navy blue sweaters and nice black shoes. The little boys had hair slicked up, the girls wore dangling earrings.
Caroline’s job while she was there would be to help the kids make crafts. By using actions and mixed Spanish and English, she was able to tell the kids what to do.
“Several days we had translators but on days we didn’t, we made motions or drew it out,” Caroline said. “I didn’t know at the time what ‘cut’ was in Spanish so I would demonstrate cutting with scissors and they would tell me the Spanish word for it.”
In this way, Caroline and the other volunteers helped the kids make rain-sticks out of beans and rice, color pictures of the creation, decorate Nalgene water bottles and build germs out of clay.
“While they played with clay and created germs, we taught them about what was in the bad water, what contaminated it,” Caroline said.
While they were doing crafts, Caroline would talk to the kids and ask them questions in Spanish. She would ask them things like how old they were and what grade they were in. This is where it stopped with most of the kids but with a few, she got to know them even better.
There were four brothers that Caroline got to know especially well: seventh-grader Eduardo, fifth-grader Edgar, third-grader Selzi and first-grader Luis.
Edgar was the boy that Caroline knew the best because she had met him two years ago when she had visited Guatemala before. The small, polite boy had jet black hair parted down the middle and styled with gel.
“He remembered me when we were walking down the line of kids the first day we were at the school,” Caroline said. “I told him that I had come two years earlier and he said he remembered me.”
Edgar was still as sweet and good in school as he was two years ago. He would give Caroline big hugs and waves during the day when they talked about his life and played soccer. Caroline found that even with the language barrier they still managed to communicate through a mix of Spanish, English and motions.
While Caroline was helping the kids with art, Lauren was on the Dentistry team cleaning the kids’ teeth. To clean their teeth, she would first brush their teeth, then floss and finally put on a cherry-flavored fluoride treatment.
“The kids loved having their teeth brushed,” Lauren said. “Some would even try to come back multiple times.”
While they waited in line, Lauren would talk to the kids.
“Sometimes we would talk to the girls and they would say which guys they liked,” Lauren said. “We asked if he was their boyfriend and they would laugh. Then we would go to the guys and ask if they liked the girls.”
The final part of the trip besides helping out at Colegio Mark School with the kids and purifying the water was growing closer to God. Every morning and night, a different member of their group had devotion. During devotion, they talked about what was on their heart and what God was doing through and for them this week.
For Lauren, the religious aspect of her trip didn’t hit her as much until she got home and thought about her experience.
“While down there I didn’t think about how he was working through me,” Lauren said. “He was showing me through all the happy kids that loved you no matter what that it’s the simplest things that matter the most, the things that bring you joy.”
Caroline also found that being in Guatemala and being with the kids brought her the most joy.
“I just think it’s the fact that though the kids don’t have near as much as me, they are so happy and they too have so much joy,” Caroline said. “So I would say just being with the kids showed me a piece of Jesus- nothing can give you the feeling of absolute joy and love that I felt except through Jesus.”
Both Caroline and Lauren hope to return to Guatemala soon to experience the joy they find in the kids and surroundings. To them, it’s a refreshing change from Johnson County to be in a completely different world where people are thankful for what they have and aren’t totally caught up with little material things. This trip opened their eyes to different living conditions and a different lifestyle, which they would love to experience again.
More than anything though, Caroline and Lauren loved being with the kids and this is why they want to go back. Both girls enjoyed talking to the kids, playing with them, laughing with them, loving them.
“I smile just thinking about it,” Lauren said. “I don’t think I would want anything to be different if I went back again—I loved everything the way it was.”