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When I started thinking about my round the world trip I was sure I wanted to include some volunteer service opportunities. I thought this could be a good way to immerse myself in the daily life of the places I wanted to visit and to help some local communities along the way. Therefore, I looked for schools and/or orphanages because I am a teacher and I love kids. I did some research online and I told my friends about it. One day, a friend of mine sent me this link: http://www.casa-guatemala.org. That link changed my life.

As soon as I saw a picture of the place I knew this was the way I had to start my trip. Casa Guatemala is a boarding school/orphanage for 200 “at risk” kids who come from impoverished rural areas in the Guatemalan region of Rio Dulce. Some of the children have families and others can only count on Casa Guatemala to take care of them. I have been in this special place for over two weeks now and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I didn’t hesitate to quit my job to come here and I have not regretted it.

As every other school in the world, Casa Guatemala has teachers. Seño Lili and Seño Yadira are the principal and vice-principal. 12 other teachers are in charge of the classes, from Kinder to 6th grade. They also have a instructor of “Quechi,” a Mayan language spoken at home by most of the kids. English and Library classes are taught by volunteers and that is how I became their English teacher.

At first, I was overwhelmed by the poor conditions of the classroom. Broken windows, warped blackboards, cracked floors, leaking ceilings, and no furniture. I found old rusty desks piled up in a chaotic small storage area. The kids helped me move them to our classroom. The chairs have sharp pointy nails, which could hurt any kid sitting on them, but these children seem not to care about this hazard. Instead, they peel off layers of wood from their desks and play with them or chew them while I try to teach them the song “head and shoulders, knees and toes.” Every other day a little girl comes to me and asks me: “Could you help me get a splinter out?” I take a needle and tweezers and grab her little hand. The best reward is her smile of relieve when the pain is gone and she says: “gracias.” I answer “de nada” to her and she moves on to play with her friends.

The teachers sleep in a house with no electricity, just as the volunteers do. The kids stay in two separate buildings: Top floor of Casa de Niñas is divided in 3 rooms with 3 bathrooms where the older girls (9 to 13 year olds) live. Only 2 rooms are being used at the moment, as we only have 27 girls. Lower floor has 2 more large dorm rooms and a game room downstairs. Only one bedroom with its bathroom is occupied by the 12 little girls (5-9 years old) who stay with us. Casa de Varones is by the river and it imagehas the most beautiful views, but it is also quite cold at night. The top floor is for little boys (30 kids) and the lower one is for older guys (18 boys).

At this moment the pipe system is broken, so small kids have to shower using buckets of water. Running water is a luxury here and we can only enjoy it for a few hours a day. No need to say the water is always cold. Some days, when it is sunny, a few solar panels give us enough energy to use electric light from 5 to 7am in the morning and from 5 to 8pm at night. Those days we can even show a movie in the computer room. It is very cute to see 30 kids around a small computer screen watching 102 Dalmatians and loving it! Small kids enjoy movie night on Thursdays, small girls on Fridays, big girls on Saturdays and big boys on Sundays. Because of the persistent rain, in 3 weeks all groups have been able to watch only one movie so far.

During the weekends all teachers but 2 go home. Many kids go stay with their families in their villages too. The volunteers are in charge of planning weekend activities such as going fishing, swimming in the river, playing soccer, theater, or helping them with homework.

Everyday they have to sweep and mop floors, wash their clothes, help making tortillas, or cleaning the comedor. And on Monday we start all over again.