Upon signing up for one of Gannon University’s Alternative Break Service Trips (ABST), I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I had volunteered throughout high school and had never been abroad, so I thought a volunteering trip seemed like a great opportunity.
I put faraway places like Haiti, India and Guatemala on my preference list, hoping I would fit in a placement and go on an awesome experience somewhere far away.
After being chosen for the Alternative Break Service Trip to Guatemala, I became part of something so much larger than myself, so much more than a mere volunteer opportunity.
In 2016-17, Gannon offered 12 ABSTs, and 106 students participated alongside 24 faculty and staff accompaniers.
Fast forward about four months and many group meetings, and my ragtag team of 14 was unloading a plane in Guatemala City, Guatemala, primed and ready for our journey to begin.
We traveled for hours on rough roads to reach the small community we would work within: San Lucas. Nestled on the edge of one of the largest freshwater lakes in Central America, our destination was something postcard worthy.
Despite the serenity of our surroundings, I soon realized many plights affecting the local peoples. Yet from the start I saw one apparent difference between America and many within San Lucas: The love and cheer that the local residents glowed with.
This, unfortunately, was something that I had rarely seen in my everyday life.
Working with my ABST group I began to forge relationships unlike any other I had experienced before, and all the while we were living in solidarity with the citizens of San Lucas.
We worked at various projects all around the community, from organizing coffee beans to pick axing stone and dirt away to make roadways.
In the meantime, my newly found friends and I conversed and made the best of the back-breaking work.
Furthermore, we were able to experience the lifestyles, social customs and food culture of Guatemalans. Learning and living a new endeavor each and every day of our short stint in Guatemala, I know all of my team members and I will have memories to last a lifetime.
Part of what makes ABSTs special is that they are led by trained student leaders. Maggie Rutkowski, a junior industrial engineering major, started as a trip participant and then took advantage of the leadership opportunity built into ABST.
“Guatemala was the journey of a lifetime,” she said. “Not more than a day after being there, I fell in love with the entire atmosphere and people, and I already couldn’t wait to come back.
“Now I will be coming back as a leader in the spring and couldn’t be more blessed for the experience I had and the multitude of things I learned from the people of Guatemala. It was a trip that I will never forget.”
After arriving back home, I was surely happy to get back to campus and see everyone I was used to, but with a slightly new perspective. I was able to learn of the harrowing issues facing many within Guatemala and around the world.
On top of that I experienced the unwavering positivity and love of the local people there.
I know that walking around campus merely a day after returning, I carried that glowing spirit with me that I saw every day in Guatemala. I hope others that I interacted with could feel it as well.