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Hello Everyone! Thank you for checking in to see how my project down here in Guatemala is going. Currently, I am reflecting on my week while sitting on the deck of my hostel. There’s truly nothing more beautiful: the air is sweet, the breeze is frequent, and the sun isn’t too hot. Calidad! The volunteer coordinator the other day walked me through Casa and how incredible it is. The literacy rates in Guatemala are strikingly low, especially for women. Many families can be as large as ten children, meaning that the girls have to stay home to help the parents. Many kids don’t get to go to college, high school, middle school, and some never go to elementary school. There are some kids at Casa that are, for example, 13 or 14, and are just beginning the first or second grade. There are many intersectional issues at play here, all rooted in Guatemala’s tumultuous history of violence. Of course, the United States’ involvement in Guatemalan history is despicable, and Guatemalans are still feeling the very real repercussions of such violence. In fact, over 200,000 people were either murdered or went missing in the 1980s.  Casa Guatemala is so important because it brings education to students who normally would not have access to it. In several remote villages here, schools will only open once a month, or maybe there isn’t a proper school at all. Children are often severely malnourished, as well. Casa is changing this, because they have the opportunity to bring a well-rounded education to children who wouldn’t have education otherwise. This gives them the opportunity to grow, dream, and learn in a loving and supportive environment.

Entonces, vamos a empezar.

May 27: I woke up around 7:00 AM at my house in Branford, Connecticut ready to get going! After double checking the rest of my bags and making sure I had my passport, I said goodbye to my sweet Dad and dog, Oakley, and my Mom and I headed to get breakfast at Scotty’s. Of course, we both have tears in our eyes as she leaves me on the train to the Newark, NJ airport, but we know this is the adventure of a lifetime! My first flight is delayed around an hour, which is unfortunate because my layover to get to Guatemala is just forty five minutes. I ran through the Houston airport and made it onto my Guatemala flight by the skin of my teeth! When myself and Joanna finally arrive in Guatemala, it’s about 9:30 PM (11:30 PM ET). We head to our hotel, and as I settle into bed, I am amazed at the fact that I am finally here–after over a year of planning, fundraising, budgeting, sharing my project, stress, anxiety, excitement, etc. I have really made it! The whole night I can hardly sleep.

May 28: We wake up at 4:30 AM at the hotel and get coffee while we load up the van. The rest of the JUNTOS Abroad trip is here and ready to get going! (I wish all of you the very best of luck in your adventure here in Guatemala, and can’t wait to hear how it goes!) Of course, it takes us nearly two hours to get out of Guatemala City because of Monday morning traffic, but after about 8-9 hours we finally make it to Puerto Barrios, where we are going to drop off the rest of the Abroad trip. Myself and Doñ Lucas, our wonderful driver, stay behind and go to lunch. We spend great company together at lunch, but had to physically push the van to get the engine to start! On our journey to Hotel Backpackers on the Río Dulce, myself and Doñ Lucas stop for fresh pineapples on the side that melt in your mouth. Thankfully, Doñ Lucas helps me with my Spanish while we make conversation on our trip! Finally, around 5:00 PM, I make it to Hotel Backpackers and get settled into my room.

May 29: My first day at Casa Guatemala! Myself and a lovely group from Canada take the lancha (small boat) to Casa around 7:30 AM. We get a tour from Heather, the Executive Director of Casa, and spend time looking at the 100 acres of land. The part that excites me so much about Casa is that it’s a completely sustainable organization; the agriculture they grow on site is for the kids, the scraps are for the animals, etc. Everything is well thought out and nothing ever goes to waste! We spend the day helping in the kitchen, assisting in English class, painting desks, and hanging out with the kids. Immediately, I feel right at home. These kids are so affectionate, loving, and sweet.

May 30: Today is my first day teaching! I am working with Prof. Yoni, the Physical Education teacher, to teach my dance classes. I teach three classes that day! The kids are so awesome–there’s really no words to describe how sweet and kind they are. I admire their ability to be vulnerable with me, a newcomer asking them to do dance moves. I teach them the first few positions of ballet, we do a big warm up, across the floor “grapevines,” and do a short combination to Otra Vez. They’re so funny because there are certain songs they just LOVE to hear! Today was a special day because they celebrate all of the May birthdays today with special dances. I help decorate the room for the special occasion and we have a special meal of tortillas, guacamole, cabbage, and salsa. The kids are all dressed up in their special clothes, have their hair done extra nice, and are excited to show their dances. After every group goes, we have a dance party with all of the kids! I remember looking up at the sky and just laughing as I “partner” dance with a little girl. Truly, my heart is so happy. I spend the night with the kind volunteers in their home towards the back of Casa’s property. I fall asleep to the sounds of howler monkeys and pigs–sleeping right in nature, right in the jungle.

May 31: Today is a big day because I have five classes to teach today! The kids are eager to learn dances all the time; some kids will grab me on my way to lunch, for instance, and insist on learning a dance move. It makes me so excited! Later in the day, as I’m playing a game of basketball in between classes (our team won, by the way), the JUNTOS Abroad group shows up for their workshop! I’m super excited to see some familiar faces, and ready for the big workshop we’re about to have! We had about 80 kids ranging from 4-8/9 years old on la cancha, which made for a big fun workshop! There’s nothing like having the energy of everyone dancing together in one place to lift everyone up into smiles. Finally, it rains today. I can’t explain in words how necessary the rain was in this moment. The past three days have been so oppressively hot with 100% humidity, it feels like a wet cloth is constantly on your head. Or like you’re doing hot yoga (but all the time). So, the rain was definitely needed ?

June 1: Today, I teach six dance classes! It is a lot, especially in the oppressive heat, but I love what I do so much that it doesn’t matter. Today, my combination is to X by Nicky Jam and J Balvin. I teach it so many times, not just in class but during breaks, because the kids LOVE this song. Love is an understatement. A couple kids and myself make up a dance on our own, and they come up with the dance move we call “el reloj” aka the clock. The eager looks of excitement to dance in these kids faces makes me more excited to share with them the knowledge I have. The JUNTOS Abroad team does a beautiful workshop and performance that the kids are obsessed with-they are so excited to see people dancing in front of their eyes! (Shout out to the Abroad team for their wonderful work).

June 2: Sadly, today, I wake up quite ill with a stomach issue. It’s a long day of reading, writing in my books, and just relaxing while I give my body a chance to catch up. Anyone who has been to Guatemala knows, things like this happen. I am just grateful I have antibiotics, I have people here looking out for me, and that it’s the weekend! There are always silver linings. I have to get healthy in order to do my job well ?

June 3: Today I am still recuperating, but I am feeling loads better! As I sit here, I am reflecting on all of the things I have learned so far on this trip. Here are a few nuggets of information I have gained from my experience:

-“You can’t discover new oceans without consenting to lose sight of the shore.”

-Children love to love. There is much to learn from their ability to be vulnerable, present, compassionate, and open. We owe it to ourselves, as adults, to listen and learn from children. They can be wiser than we are in some instances. Keep it simple.

-There is a lot that can be done with simply a smile. Human connection is one of the most basic, but most necessary, needs we have in this life. Don’t waste the opportunity to connect.

-Good work is good work is good work. Any bit of goodness you can add to the world is ultimately a goodness that we didn’t have before.

-Dance is about communicating and exploring new things. Dance can express things that words cannot. The gift of dance is a gift of confidence, love, kindness, connection, and a commonly felt experience. To dance is to be vulnerable. To share dance with one another is to be vulnerable. Mountains can be moved through dance.

-It’s okay to fail. In fact, please fail more. You have to allow yourself to fail in order to challenge yourself to learn new things. You need to be constantly growing, seeking more, pushing for more.

-Open your heart. We’re on this planet for so little time. Let your heart be alive.