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“Poco a Poco”: The Big Significance of Little Actions || Features

Guatemala 1This past spring break I took a 10-day class trip to Guatemala as part of the Guatemala Public Health course available here at Monmouth University. I attended the trip with students Hope Avalone, Sneha Bupathi, Megan Conchar, Dominique Debari, Caroline Hesse, Kristina Pashkevitch, and Rachel Schwerd, along with our Professor, Dr. Chris Hirschler, Chair and Associate Professor of the Health Studies and Physical Education Department, and alum Leiry Paulino, who helped translate Spanish and brought donations. Guatemala Public Health, HE-376, includes training in class on a number of public health topics to prepare students before the trip to Guatemala, as well as creating a health lesson to teach at Nuevos Horizontes, a domestic violence shelter in Quetzaltenango, through articles, films, and discussion. During my short stay in Guatemala, our class travelled to many different cities. It was in three of those cities- Chichicastenango, Quetzaltenango, and Antigua- that I learned a big lesson about how I act towards people and looked at myself: little actions can create big outcomes.

Our first stop was in Chichicastenango, where we visited at the city cemetery, with the most colorful headstones, but filled with trash everywhere. Our first mission was to fill up garbage bags with any piece of trash we saw, as a sign of respect for those laid to rest, as well as a way of having more people come to visit and admire the beautiful area. Each student filled about 2 or 3 trash bags. There was so much trash around the headstones. I never though that we would make any kind of dent in the cemetery cleanup, but the results were very clear- and many parts of the cemetery were significantly cleaner. We each had a small job, but with all of us working together, we were able to help make the cemetery look cleaner.

Guatemala 2Our next city was Quetzaltenango, also called “Xela” by the Mayan population, where we spent 4 days volunteering in different areas of the city. We visited different families and assisted in assembling bunk beds and water filtration systems, taught health lessons at a domestic violence shelter, assisted at a dental clinic, and donated water bottles, toilet paper, and soap to patients at the public hospital. We used the majority of our fundraising money in these four days, thanks to Inkwell’s “Noise in the Attic” fundraisers:

I volunteered twice with Long Branch’s late-night hotspot Inkwell Coffeehouse for “Noise in the Attic”, a charity collective managed by Megan O’Shea and Marie Weimer, in which local bands donate their time to provide their talent and entertainment. Viewers only need to donate $5 as their form of admission to enjoy the show, where all proceeds went towards our efforts in service for Guatemala. Marie Weimer explains, “It was our absolute pleasure to support such a great cause. We’ve been brining together local musicians to support charities and causes for almost 5 years now with a focus on those that best highlight the idea of community and makes the greatest impact.” Even though viewers only needed to give in the small amount of $5, we were able to raise $435 from two events and 10 different artists.

That $435 went a long way in helping the community in Quetzaltenango. We were able to provide Nuevos Horizontes, a domestic violence shelter for women, a punching bag to practice self-defense as well as music and art supplies. The women at the shelter were so thrilled to have a few more resources available. One woman was “very grateful for being able to talk about feelings during one of the music activities as well as learning how to protect [one’s self]”. Additionally, we were also able to purchase and set up water filtration systems for two different families, which will provide 10 years of clean water to the families. The community leader explained to us that we were planting small seeds that will grow into something big. Our efforts, though small, will create a big change in the people we help.

Guatemala 3Our last stop returning home was the Pacaya volcano, which consisted of a very steep hike. This was the most emotional part of my trip personally and led me to reflect a lot on myself and how I viewed different aspects of the trip. Looking at myself before the hike, I saw a 250-pound girl with no self-confidence. I already proclaimed myself failure for the hike before even trying. Shortly into hiking, the other students were already ahead of me as well as other hikers passing by me, and I was wheezing from the pain in my lungs. I remember breaking down into tears on a steep, stony path that was overlooking a field with a small hut, telling myself, Dr. Hirschler, and Leiry that I wasn’t going to make it. Leiry comforted me, and Dr. Hirschler was by my side and hiked with me at my pace. He told me “poco a poco”, which means little by little. Little by little, we made it to the end of the hike, where I saw the most beautiful and breath-taking view that I can’t even put into words. I cried for 15 minutes just taking in the view. I was in shock that I actually made it. Poco a poco, I accomplished a huge victory. Dr. Hirschler explains “Our time in Guatemala was transformative on my levels. However, for me, the highlight was Elaine ascending Pacaya Volcano. I was honored to walk, literally arm-in-arm, with her to the top. The euphoria Elaine experienced as a result of her perseverance caused me to think this accomplishment will spur many other victories in her life.” I really have Dr. Hirschler to thank for helping me achieve something like this, because without successfully hiking up the Pacaya volcano, I wouldn’t have changed how I saw myself and the class trip. Little by little, our actions, though small, can make huge changes in ourselves and the people we meet.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Elaine Banting

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