In 2009 seven speech-language pathology graduate students and one occupational science student traveled to Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala. The trip was designed to have three components: service, learning, and cultural excursions.
The service component included work with several organizations, including Common Hope, Sunshine School, and New Life School. UNC students collected and donated Spanish children’s books and games to the program. In Guatemala, many families live on an average of $4 per day. They struggle to provide essentials like food and clothing, and are not able to provide books and school supplies for their children.
Students accompanied social workers on home visits to villages surrounding Antigua and created therapy materials for Common Hope’s speech-language pathologists, who provide services in clinics, classrooms, and homes. Students were paired with adolescents in a combined speech/occupational therapy class focused on developing fine motor skills, a marketable vocational skill (beading), money skills, and social interaction skills. At New Life, a special education school for children with physical and cognitive disabilities, students also assisted teachers in the classrooms and conducted speech and language evaluations.
Each afternoon, the students participated in Spanish immersion classes with one-on-one instruction specific to their levels. Students with limited Spanish skills learned basic grammar and vocabulary, while more advanced students focused on history, culture, and dichos (sayings) of Guatemala.
”I may have gone to Guatemala to try to help others, but I think that they also taught me a lot in return.”
As part of the cultural experience, the group visited a coffee farm and learned to pick coffee beans. A coffee farmer explained the processes of planting, growing, harvesting, fermenting, separating, drying, and roasting the coffee. A trip to the workshop of a jade artisan revealed that there are more than 30 shades of green, black, purple, and white jade found in Guatemala. In addition to visiting Mayan villages, the group went hiking in Pacaya National Park, which includes an active volcano.
The students gained a deeper understanding of Spanish language, Latin American culture, and the Guatemalan people:
I was thrilled when I discovered on my last day that I was able to communicate effectively with the students at one of the schools that we visited, and was able to assist students with their schoolwork, as well as in speech therapy sessions.
“To work on a coffee farm one morning and then to have lunch at the owner’s home and listen to him talk about living through the country’s civil war-these experiences cannot really be described.”
”I felt honored to be a part of these amazing organizations. Being exposed to the harsh realities was definitely necessary in order for me to fully understand the enormous need for these projects.”