During spring break, 10 students, three graduate students and two professors spent their week doing service work in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. I was one of the lucky few that got to experience this.
I decided to take this ECG 300, Working for Justice in Guatemala, last semester while I was abroad. By the time course selection came around I was addicted to traveling and the energy that comes with it and I wanted to do something that would continue that, something that I could look forward to when I got home. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the class, just that the students did a service trip in Guatemala over spring break. But that alone was good enough for me. I did not know, exactly, what the course or trip entailed; I just wanted to keep traveling.
Fortunately, this trip was more than just traveling and it did more for me than I could have asked for.
While in Guatemala, we worked with The Friends of San Lucas Mission. The Friends of San Lucas uses the Preferential Option for the Poor as its foundation. The Preferential Option for the Poor states that the poor have the most urgent moral claim and that the test of a society is how it responds to its most marginalized. The work that the Mission does acts from this philosophy. The decisions they make ensure that the people that need the most help benefit from their actions.
We sorted coffee beans, helped build a house, helped build a stove, and worked on a reforestation project. We had reflections every night about the work we did and the people we met. We became a single unit, each contributing the best of ourselves for the good of the group.
But more importantly, we learned. By doing, by seeing, by listening, we learned. And there was an overwhelming feeling of everything making sense.
It’s important, when service work is being done, to understand why it is being done. It’s important to not just go in blindly and accept the work you’ve been given to do. Immersion is a huge part of service trips, getting out of your comfort zone is when the best things happen. And it will always be beneficial, hopefully for longer than a week.
When everyone comes back they (hopefully) talk about the amazing experience they had and the people they met, but what they don’t tell you is this: trips like this are difficult. They open your eyes to global problems and you can no longer hide behind blissful ignorance. You suddenly become increasingly aware. You are also put in a vulnerable situation, being in a new environment where you probably don’t speak the language and don’t have the comfort of your smartphone to keep you pre-occupied. There is a responsibility comes with service trips, a responsibility to keep going and keep fighting. It’s easy to stay home, sleep in and watch Netflix on your couch. Because in that way, you don’t have to be aware of what’s going on. People may not openly admit it, but leaving home is the hard part.