By Sofia Vanoli, Contributing Writer
A group of 12 students, seven from UMF, along with two members of the Farmington Rotary Club visited Guatemala from Feb 20-26 as part of the Safe Passage program.
Safe Passage (Camino Seguro in Spanish) is a nonprofit organization that fosters the education and good health of children from the Guatemala City Garbage Dump community.
It is not the first time the Farmington Rotary Club has arranged this trip to Guatemala City. This time they decided to extend the invitation to all members of the community to be part of the Support Team.
Doug Ibarguen, the Executive Secretary of the Farmington Rotary Club, participated in the trip and said that “The children and families of Safe Passage benefit from the Support Team visit by realizing that there are even more people who see them as being worthwhile members of the global family.”
“The main building inside the Safe Passage premises is called La Escuelita (the little school) and it is where the kids have their classes,” said Sarah Carlson, a sophomore majoring in special education, “so we helped them there and during the English classes.”
During their time in Safe Passage, the student travelers from UMF could experience firsthand the life of children who come from very poor families and attend school.
Samuel Carignan, who is a junior and an elementary education major, fondly remembered his time in Guatemala with a big smile on his face. “However,” Carignan said, “One of the things I was most taken aback by was that despite the poverty and the life they knew they would probably live, they were still so full of joy.”
“School just made their home,” Carignan said. “Students are self-motivated, which is something you don’t see in the U.S.”
The students who traveled to Guatemala all share their passion for service and global responsibility and had the desire of putting that into practice.
Hannah Somes, a senior majoring in elementary education, said that this was a positive experience because it made her think about teaching internationally.
According to Somes, this was an eye-opening opportunity. “We learned how to see a kid as a kid no matter their background,” she said, “It made me aware of my own kind of privileges.”
The trip also had a hint of adventure when students were able to hike the active volcano Pacaya, which erupted two days before they left Guatemala. Blair Bailey, a junior majoring in elementary education, described this adventure as unique and something she would not have done in the U.S.
Many of the student volunteers returned from the trip eager to do more and spread the word about their experience. They have developed a desire to drive change and promote accessible education to children in third world countries like Guatemala.
“We’ve learned from those kids that we have more than we need, so we had the idea of having a yard sale to collect money for Safe Passage,” said Somes.
Carignan felt that he learned from this trip more than what he had expected. “You don’t have to do big things to make big changes,” he concluded.