In Amy's newsletter piece she wrote that all kinds of people are drawn to the school. I suppose I fell into several categories – lawyer, career breaker, traveller… lost soul.
Taking a six month sabbatical from my job in London in the summer of 2012 was both daunting and invigorating.
I knew I needed a break, I knew I wanted to learn a new language and I knew I need to do something I felt passionately about. I became involved with EFTC like many of the people connected to the charity: through a friend of a friend. I loved the ethos of the charity and the strong personal connection that I felt right from my very first call to the girls in the UK office.
Soon my big plans for a break from work were becoming a slightly scary reality – but if you don't try, you'll never know. I remember clearly sitting on the plane out to Guatemala thinking "Why am I doing this, again?"….I flew back to England six months later with a very similar thought, only this time I was thinking about why I was coming home and not staying out in Central America for longer!
The time I spent at the school was so enriching and also very emotional at times. Some of the kids live in such poverty, literally a shack, and sleep on the floor. Whilst I was out there, I helped to re-home a family who lived in really poor conditions on Vista Hermosa, which means "beautiful view", such an ironic name. Seeing the family pack their worldly possessions into two bags was an image that I will find hard to forget.
The contrast between some of the children's home life and school life is palpable. When they come rushing through the school gates, they are so happy. I worked at the school each morning, endlessly greeted by hugs and smiles. I helped to teach the children English, played with them at break times, worked in the kitchen and generally did whatever I could to help.
The more you put in, the more you get out.
That's what I loved about working for this project
– the enthusiasm of everyone to get involved.
It felt liberating, it felt empowering.
I left Antigua after three months with such a heavy heart. I'd met some incredible people, been inspired by the children and made some lifelong friends. I struggled to say goodbye – so much so that I even came back once or twice before properly starting my travels through the rest of Central America! But not before I trekked through the jungle for three days to raise almost £2,500 for the charity. What a special achievement that was and even more so to do it with Amy (Project Director) and some other incredible people that I met through the charity.
Before I went away on my big trip, I had prepared myself for how I might deal with difficult situations but I hadn't prepared myself for what I would do if I found it difficult to return. I knew I needed to find a way to keep supporting the charity: I returned feeling inspired, fired up and I had a drive that I had not felt for so long. I'm involved in something that matters, something I really care about.
On my return, together with another volunteer, we organised a fundraising evening in London with Latin music and beats: a fun evening for our friends to spread the charity love! And as a result, the family grew and more sponsors and supporters became involved with EFTC - what a fantastic feeling.
I met another volunteer just once at a party - by the end of the night I was dancing on her kitchen table. The fact there was a room full of people having a great night, people that didn't really know each other and had just the charity in common, speaks volumes.
It's not just about altruism
or about the moments when you fear you may break down
and cry on seeing the poverty the children live in.
For me, it’s the feeling of being part of such a special and unique community.
In February 2014, I went back to the school and was as excited to see the children as I was to see all the friends I had left behind in Antigua. I was amazed to see such huge progress since I was last at the school. The bilingual programme has started and the children have made real progress with their English. The teachers are coming up with wonderful new and innovative ways of teaching which seems to help with the childrens’ concentration and behaviour. The new shower block provides a very real and practical help for the children and helps teach them the importance of hygiene.
I was lucky enough to spend this latest trip with my sister. It was so wonderful to share with her my experiences and welcome her into the extended Guatemalan family. I was so moved when some of the kids came up to me and recognised me, so happy to have a hug from me, it was quite humbling. I was pleased that some of my Spanish came back to me so I could engage with the children a bit more this time.
I left Guatemala once more with tears of sadness and joy, enriched and certain it won't be long before I come home again. Claire and I are now both sponsors of children at the school, Rene and Veronica, and that is something very special for us both. Some of my friends back in England have sponsored children at the school too.
They say you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. Well, I choose la Esperanza. Because it is not just that we are helping the kids, it is the kids that are helping us: Together, as a family and as a community, we are stronger and that strength reaches so very far.
Hasta la proxima.