I have pictured this moment for 8 weeks now; the end of my time in Guatemala. I envisioned myself on the plane on my way back to New York from Guatemala. I pictured myself being happy to have finished the project, and excited to be home and see my family again. What I was not expecting, to be perfectly honest, was to miss the girls we worked with as much as I do. With that being said, I would like to dedicate this blog post to The Instituto Indigena Nuestra Senora del Soccorro, the students, specifically the girls in Segundo Basico, and mostly to my partners from Duke who were with me 24/7 for eight straight weeks. Thank you does not even begin to sum up how grateful I am; but I’m going to try.
For those unfamiliar with the project, Adrienne, Libby, and I set out to teach a STEM Empowerment curriculum for eight weeks to the equivalent of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at a school for indigenous girls in Guatemala. Very quickly after spending time with these girls we decided that we wanted to do more for them than simply teach them how to replicate a flashlight that we built in a class together last semester. We set out and spent our days writing lesson plans to combine learning about electricity, engineering, design, and empowerment over the eight weeks that we had with these girls. We taught this curriculum to university students in Guatemala with the hopes of expanding our curriculum to other schools in the country, and we conducted surveys and focus groups in order to gauge the girl’s exposure and interest in STEM. We could have easily reused lesson plans in order to build the flashlights and not done anything else, but these girls showed us, from the day we arrived at the school, that they deserved more. Every single one of the 79 girls that we taught our curriculum to had such an inspiring passion for learning; this program was an after-school program and often times they came to class during their homework time after a full day of classes and they still gave us their full attention, asked great questions, and often were eager to learn more than what we had originally planned to expose them to. Being a teacher is never easy; but these girls made teaching an incredibly positive experience and I think our whole team is incredibly thankful for that.
One of the strangest things, that I don’t think any of us predicted would have happened, was becoming friends with a whole grade of girls at the school; let alone a grade that we did not even teach. I distinctly remember our second week at the school. We had conducted our first surveys, but had not begun teaching formally yet and we were still fairly shy in front of the girls. We spent most of our time in the teachers’ lounge and had not had much interaction with the girls at the school. I remember Adrienne and Libby deciding to go socialize with the girls during their morning recess — and me reluctantly being dragged along. We decided to approach a group of girls, the girls in Segundo Basico, that were sitting and talking; and I remember them laughing after they told us their names. It turns out that they purposely gave us the wrong names to mess with us. I don’t know what we did right during those fifteen minutes, but by the end of “recreo” they had invited us to play soccer with them at the end of the day. From that day on, we spent all our free time with this group of girls. They became our allies at the school, and I think we all enjoyed being able to become their friends and big sisters instead of being their teachers.
To the girls of Segundo Basico (7th grade): I don’t know what made you decide to be our friends, but I am so glad that you did. As I write this, I am reading all of the notes you wrote me in my journal and I have to say that of every aspect of our trip, playing cards and joking around with the twenty of you, is what I will miss the most about Guatemala.
Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to talk about my project partners. The three of us were a very unlikely group coming into this project. In fact, we were in a class together for a whole semester preparing for this project and we barely knew each other until we arrived in Guatemala. Throughout these eight weeks, the three of us became a real team. We made every decision together, and this is a big deal considering how different we all are. We slept in the same room for eight weeks and, slowly but surely, became incredibly close. We even started copying each other’s phrases by the end of the trip. This project was no easy feat, and I am incredibly glad that I had Libby and Adrienne by my side very step of the way. If it wasn’t for Adrienne reminding the girls about class and being so productive about lesson plans, I don’t think we would have accomplished half of what we set out to do. If Libby had not constantly encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone with the girls and in our weekend travels, I would not have gotten to know a fraction of the girls that I did or seen half of the beautiful landscapes that Guatemala has to offer. For all of this, for putting up with me constantly for 56 days, being the only people I could speak English to, and most importantly for sharing your Benadryl with me, I am incredibly thankful and even more happy that I do not have to say goodbye to you for too long.
For teacher appreciation day, the girls at the school were in charge of organizing a celebration. At the end of the celebration the school principal, Hermana Maria Del Carmen, made a speech. In her speech she said, in Spanish of course, that “No one is entitled to anything. We do what we do because it is our job and our duty and no one should expect a ‘thank you’ for anything they do. That being said, it is always nice for our efforts to be acknowledged,” and I could not agree more.