By: Sarah Ferguson, Humber public relations student
March 3, 2015
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see the world and all that its places have to offer. And you know what? I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do just that. My first big trip was coming to Canada from Guatemala when I was nine-months-old. Since then the love and appreciation for other cultures has been instilled in me.
Now, I’ve been to my fair share of places. Met a lot of cool people, experienced new foods, and immersed myself in different cultures. But after most of these trips I came home with little change to myself, besides an amazing tan. When I was in places like Egypt, Brazil, and the Caribbean I saw some truly beautiful places. But I also witnessed the flip side of that. Children begging in the streets, garbage and sewage filled streets, five or six families living in one small house. Things we only have to see on the ads for UNICEF. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how blessed I am to have had the opportunity to travel. But I was tired of going on these trips but doing nothing to help out the places I was visiting. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” So that’s what I decided to do.
I always knew that going back to Guatemala was something I wanted to do. It’s where I was born. It gave me life. So I wanted to give something back to it. I decided that the first time I would return to my birth place it would be a voluntourism trip. Wait. What is voluntourism? Well, it’s defined as “a form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity.” The modern form of voluntourism was developed by the Peace Corps in the ‘60s and it’s been growing in popularity since the late ‘90s. With the growing demand for volunteer trips many organizations have started offering them. After doing my research I decided to travel with International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ).
IVHQ partnered me with a local organization in Antigua, Guatemala. Then they took care of the rest. I was billeted with a host family and given my volunteer assignment. By staying with a local family I really got to see how people lived in Guatemala. What they ate, what they drank, and of course, what they did for fun. I felt like I belonged. By the end of my stay I felt more like a local than just another tourist. I now had a new place I could call home.
My placement was the most eye-opening, life-changing experience I’ve ever had. I was placed at an after school program called Project Genesis. It was started by a man, Ricardo, who saw the poverty of the children in rural towns and he knew he needed to help. He left a well-paying construction job to provide these children with education, activities, and food. The kindness and generosity in Ricardo’s heart was inspiring. The children I worked with were the best part of the whole experience. Even though by our standards they had so little, they seemed so happy and full of life. I got to see children playing outdoors instead of playing the latest app on their iPhones. They sang and they danced. Something I don’t do enough of. They lived in the moment.
As much as people think I changed the lives of these people, and hopefully I did in some way, it was my world that was changed. They opened my eyes and showed me how much more there is to life than money and material objects. My volunteer trip changed my life. How will your next trip change yours?