Twenty students and seven staff members completed YouthBuild Philadelphia’s first international service trip by traveling to Guatemala during the week of April 1-8, 2009. We partnered with San Lucas Toliman Mission to volunteer services, including the construction of homes and the building of potable water systems. The students and staff members worked alongside villagers and were immersed in the Guatemalan culture.
Over the last fifty years, initiatives begun by the Mission have changed the lives of the Mayan people that live in San Lucas. The small village of once cornstalk homes with thatched roofs–lacking both electricity and plumbing–is now a village of cement block and stone homes, built by local stone masons and carpenters trained in parish programs. Free healthcare and nutrition programs, including dental facilities and an eye clinic, are also available to the community.
A majority of our students have not traveled outside Philadelphia, let alone outside the United States. Students got to see first-hand how their skill sets are applicable on an international level.
From our Program Director Brian Leffler, Lead Chaperone for the trip:
The trip to Guatemala provided many students and staff the opportunity to experience things that they might not ordinarily experience while in Philadelphia, and provided all the chance to get to know each other on a deeper and more personal level.
During the first flight from JFK to San Salvador, most of the 27 of us were seated across four rows, and when the airplane took off from the runway, the roar from the students was deafening, and captured the terror of many of the students’ first airplane flight and the start of the adventure.
Our final destination was a beautiful lakeside village surrounded by three soaring volcanoes. The natural beauty of the area was captured with many pictures throughout the trip, from either lakeside or during the boat trip we took to neighboring lakeside villages.
Each evening, a chaperone led a reflection activity that gave all of us the chance to reflect on our experiences and share our impressions with each other.
One student in particular communicated a profound statement about the trip. While soaking in the Guatemala experience, he talked about how before YouthBuild, the only way that he thought he could have had the opportunity to leave the negative culture of his neighborhood was to sell drugs. He was so appreciative of YouthBuild for the experiences of the trip, and for the training that has given him another option to be successful in life.