Little Hands: The Children of Guatemala

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Life in Antigua has continued to be incredible. This week, I was offered an extended position teaching English classes to children for Niños de Guatemalan (NDG). So, after some time considering my options and speaking with my intended NGO representative in Honduras, I have decided to stay in Guatemala for the summer! While I am sad that I won’t be able to see the Bay Islands this summer, I know that I will have the opportunity in the future to reconnect with Intensive Heart Ventures and dedicate a more significant amount of time to their project in Roatan.

Since my last blog entry, things have been on high speed. Last week, I found myself with six other volunteers speeding down a dirt road in the back of a pick-up truck on the way to work. Not exactly the subway, but it was efficient enough.

The first day at the Nuestro Futuro, I felt like I was at any average elementary school in the states. There was chalk drawing spattered across the cement, kids running through the courtyard and teachers trying to control their designated classes.

Suddenly, an alarm started blaring throughout the open courtyard. The students started running for the exit of the school, palms facing towards the sky above their heads. The volunteer coordinator turned to me. “Earthquake drill,” he said and scooped his hands above his heads like the kids. Taking their cue, we moved outside the fortress-like walls of the school that blocked out any view of the small, impoverished homes constructed of tin pieces and dirt roads and stood out of the way.

The kids were excited and giggling as a local police officer that doubled as a fireman and earthquake professional explained safety protocol and kept the kids engaged. However, as I looked past the groups of well-dressed students from Nuestro Futuro, I saw several children in the streets watching in awe of the kids their age. One little girl held onto her little sister, barefoot in tattered clothes. They did not giggle and laugh like the students of Nuestro Futuro. I asked the volunteer coordinator how many children in Guatemala did not attend school. “Eh, in this town alone? More than 50%”.

I looked around, and I continued to see little faces peeking through barbed wire fences. Some slowed down as they carried heavy loads of wood past the main entrance of the school. They looked at the kids in envy, but quickly returned their eyes to the dirt road and moved on. As we reentered the school courtyard, I began to understand another possibility of why the walls were so high at the school.

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Not everything in Guatemala is discouraging however. I have continued to study Spanish, but I am learning the most from the kids. Last Friday was sports day for the kids. The kids had the opportunity to leave the cement courtyard and utilize the sport field of a private school nearby. The private elementary school looked like a five star resort, literally.

With fourteen “sports stations” set up, each volunteer would run one station by themselves.

“Who wants to coach the baseball games?” the coordinator optimistically asked.

A British volunteer across the group chimed in, “I vote we designate it to the only American in the lot.”

After shooting some playful dirty looks his way, I picked up a baseball bat. I am not afraid to admit that I may be the worst American in the world. I certainly didn’t know a whole lot about the game of baseball; let alone how to coach it in espagnol.

Within one minute of my title as baseball extraordinaire, I had a crazy mob of 7 year-olds speeding at me with baseball-thirsty eyes. While I wanted to run away and hide in the bushes, I took my rush of adrenaline to pick up the three wooden baseball bats that kids were already wielding as swords.

“Buenos dias!” I yelled and raised my hand like I had seen the other teachers do to quiet down the kids. From then on, the day consisted of a blur of “correr rapido!”, “pegarle a la pelota!” and “STRIKE UNO!”

Fourteen games, 130 kids and four hours later, Coach Kaysey was ready to pass out from heat stoke. However, aside from my third degree sunburns, it was hysterical experience and the kids were happy.

My official first classes teaching English solo have been experiences in themselves. The morning starts with a third grade class, two-second grade classes and finally, two-first grade classes. I go in confident in my lesson plan, only to leave having entirely changed 90% of my original plan. However, as I begin to understand the kids level and they begin to remember my name, things have become a lot easier. The second graders have lost their “tude”, and the six-first graders spend the majority of their recess braiding my hair into knots.

Aside from planning my lessons and mornings at the school, the rest of my days have been filled with hours at Casa Jackson, a house for malnourished children. My first day there was the most gut wrenching experience of my life. You always imagine that you are prepared to see something, having an idea of how bad it could be. However, it just does not compare to real life.

I walked into the center, and I could smell milk and rubbing alcohol. I donned a blue nurse scrub top and mask, and we were quickly ushered in by a sole nurse. She quickly explained that all the babies were sick with colds, but that’s honestly all I caught. With 16 babies and four volunteers, we raced through the center changing and feeding every baby. There was no orientation or explanation. Dipers were found and the clothes station was located without question. The other volunteers knew the drill, so I just followed their leads.

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Once the babies were changed, we spent the next few hours medicating those babies that needed it and just soothing, playing and holding them. During the last hour, I found one that I could not let go.

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She was located in the isolation room, where babies with high temperatures were being kept away from the other babies. The nurse gave me a bottle, and indicated I needed to feed her. I have fed plenty of babies, but this one intimidated me. She was about two months old, but could not have weighed more than seven pounds. I read her name sign that hung above her mint green metal crib. The sign indicated that her family was located at least four hours away from the center, and she had been at Casa Jackson for two weeks.

As I changed her into her pajamas for the night, I felt the bones sticking out of her back and saw how my pinky finger could wrap around her little legs. Her skin was on fire as I held her to my chest and just sang to her. I felt like I was going to break her with every move I made, but I swaddled her in a blanket. Finally, she fell asleep in my arms.

Having the ability to work with these children has been one of the best experiences of my life. The organizations here are understaffed and at times, completely disorganized. But, the employees and volunteers are extremely proactive, and each and every day we make it work.

I don’t know where I am going to be in 3 year, 10 years or 20 years. However, given my time in Guatemala thus far, I do know that I am going to spend the rest of my life working with kids.

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About kayseygrard

I am a second year Master of Urban Planning student specializing in international development planning. On June 24, 2013, I will be heading to Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks to work with malnourished babies and at-risk youth. Following my four weeks in Antigua, I will be traveling to Roatan, Honduras to work with single mothers and their children. During this time, I hope to begin to understand the effects of heavy urbanization and the high influx of tourism to a city on the indigenous communities of Antigua and Roatan.

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