Benefits of Service Trips

A Personal Look Into the Guatemala Service Trip

On my first day at Monmouth University, Dr. Christopher Hirschler, an associate professor and chair of health and physical education, recommended the course Guatemala Public Health. At first I thought the class was not for me because of concerns I had about the safety of traveling to Guatemala. However, everything changed fall 2016 when I took the class Health in Developing Countries. This class, taught by Dr. Kiameesha Evans, a specialist professor of health and physical education, emphasized the desperate needs of people living in other countries and how we can make a difference.

Later in that semester, I decided to apply to Guatemala Public Health, which was one of the best decisions I have ever made. On Mar. 11, as I looked upon Guatemala from the airplane window, I was in shock with the beauty of the land. As we began the journey into this amazing country, my concerns decreased because I felt safe and welcome at all times.

Nine students, seven health studies students, one psychology student, and one social work student, along with Dr. Hirschler spent eight days in Guatemala; I could not have been happier being part of such amazing group. We worked towards the same goal- to bring happiness and health education to women and children at a domestic violence shelter in Xela, Guatemala.

We also worked to improve the lives of families by building bunk beds. Some may think, ‘beds?’ Yes, beds! Families of six or eight people were sleeping in one bed. By building beds we were supplying a long-term solution that instantly improved quality of life.

A five-year-old boy asked me, “Are those beds for us? I have never had a bed of my own. My brother and I will always have this bed.” When he saw his bed he was so happy that he could not stop asking questions. His sparkling smile and wide eyes showed me how important our work was and how much the families valued our contributions.

The women at the domestic violence shelter, Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons), described the impact that domestic violence has on the women and children of Guatemala. To illustrate, we all had health topics to present; self-defense, self-esteem, stress management, yoga, and children’s literature. I translated for the students that presented self-defense. The women clearly wanted to be able to defend themselves and their children. Some were nervous which was understandable, but some were eager to practice.

During the presentation, Rosa*, a woman at the domestic violence shelter, told me she wanted to demonstrate something that her ex-husband did to her and she wanted to know how she could escape a situation like that. I was grateful that she trusted us enough to share her experience, and I was horrified imagining the pain she felt when what she demonstrated happened to her. However, I was glad to be part of a group that was motivating and teaching women to be more than their past and to have confidence in their ability to be able to defend themselves in the future.

Additionally, we went for a tour at the national hospital of Xela and distributed water, toilet paper, and soap to 100 patients. At this hospital, people often wait many hours and don’t receive the basic necessities. I saw the patients using their own toilet paper as a pillow in the emergency room.

It broke my heart to see the misery, but even in those conditions, people were so grateful the basic necessities we delivered. It showed me how this small contribution could impact their life.

I learned so much from this trip. I discovered abilities and passions I didn’t know I had and I learned about the history, culture, and people of Guatemala. It is amazing to see with your own eyes how others live every day and how a country so beautiful, and so incredible can have so much suffering.

The only thing I regret is that I did not take this class sooner; Dr. Hirschler’s experience and knowledge will make your Guatemala experience unique. This class and the experience Guatemala not only changed my life, but also the lives of those at the domestic violence shelter and members of the different communities we visited.

A positive change in your own life and in the lives around you is an extremely rewarding experience. There are so many opportunities at Monmouth to get involved and make a difference. After experiencing this myself, firsthand, it is something that I would recommend to any student. That is my advice to you: discover, learn, help, and enjoy just like we did. Get involved in something that has a positive impact—you won’t regret it.

*indicates a name change