In my project I worked closely with two groups; a group of high school students from the US and a group of Guatemalan orphans. The Guatemalan students range in age from 0-18. There are currently 67 students at the hogar. The orphanage is divided into 6 houses for the orphans. The orphanage is located in Santa-Apolonia, Guatemala. The children are either form Santa-Apolonia or near by. The US students were from Shorewood High School in Shorewood Wisconsin. There were 14 of them ages 15-18. There were three boys and eleven girls. The entire group studies Spanish as their language of locus in school. Also, there were four college students who were also at the orphanage at the same time. The group that went to the orphanage this year was a very young and new group. There were only 4 returnees (minus the university students) among the group of fourteen high schoolers. They are nervous and rambunctious. The returnees are anxious, excited and are very relaxed.
Upon arriving there was good adjustment and engagement by the group. They ate the food; even if they were stuffed and played with the kids even though we were exhausted from traveling. We had a group discussion on the bus ride there for general stuff camera safety- don’t bring the cameras out yet as they may get broken. Don’t drink the water. Don’t throw toilet paper down the toilet. Throw it in the waste bin. For girls: no shorts, no tank-tops, no low necklines, minimal make-up. This is not only to be respectful of the culture, especially in an hogar run by nuns, but also so that when we leave the kids don’t ask (in all honesty) “ellas son putas?” “are they whores?” which has happened after a number of the years we have gone down. Also, there is nearly no touching between the sexes at the hogar.
Most of the American kids brought a backpack, duffle bag, suitcase and pillow. I brought a backpack and sleeping bag. Each of the 67 Guatemalan students have one small drawer for their belongings. We were discouraged from bringing out ipods (ever), ipads, and iphones because these were things the Guatemalan students did not own. Also, when the students are listening to music they are disengaged from the rest of the group.
Upon arriving at the orphanage we were swarmed by the 67 kids and asked “do you remember my name?” “recuerdas mi nombre?” the hogar (household/ home-also used for orphanage in this case) is split in two sections by the main street that goes through town. On one half is the girls side and on the other is the boys. Each side has their own dining hall and playground. All of the offices, extra classrooms, talleria (tailor), carpenteria (carpenter), guarderia (preschool room), chapels (there are two on site), doctor and dental office, housing for the nuns (the tias live in house with the kids) are on the boys side. Over 80% of Guatemala’s population is indigenous (there are over 13 languages in Guatemala alone) In Santa-Apolonia the majority of the population spoke Kaqchikel. Which was also taught in school.
Our rooming situation was different this year. The boys (we had three boys on the trip) were put in a bedroom across from the ‘Guarderia’ (preschool room). There was a heavy emphasis by Mary Pat, the women in charge of the high school trip to get more boys on the trip. Due to the fact that half the hogar is boys and the hogar is SOLEY run by nuns and ‘tias’ (aunts-caregivers) there is a serious lack of male role models. So when the American boys go down to the hogar they have a huge impact for the hogares boys. The Shorewood High School girls (11 girls) were placed in a classroom above the office part of the hogar. They slept on mats on the concrete floor. There is very little protection from the elements in that room (I spent 2008 & 2011 in that room). So at night it gets very cold. The elevation at the hogar is at about 7,200 ft and takes 2-3 hours by van from Guatemala City. Also, during 2008 we had to leave the classroom windows open all night (very cold) because of the bird nest in the room. The birds needed to get in and out you see. The college students (myself and three other girls) stayed in casa 4 (with the elementary school boys ages 6-11). We had bunk-beds. However often there was no running water during most of the day. Also, there was no toilet paper, no seats to the toilets (yay squatting!) and we were locked in. Casa 4 is also split into 4 bedrooms.
A note on illness and rain: we go to the hogar during the rainy season so usually it is nice in the morning then rains in the afternoon. However due to tropical storm Debby it rained nearly all day for the first two days. Scabies are another issue. Scabies are mites that lay eggs in your skin. They hatch and live there. When you scratch you can see all the little red mites come to the surface of your skin. In bad cases it looks like the chicken pox. Which is how bad I got them this past year. Amoebas are another issue; because of the lack of water quality and rain, water-borne amoebas are quite common.