June 28, 2010

Reflection: Guatemala Trip

[Posted by Stephanie Hawkins, Public and Nonprofit MBA, Class of 2011]

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be traveling with 35 people I had yet to meet, I never would have believed it. But on May 9th, I boarded a plane headed to Guatemala with other members of my BU MBA class. The idea was proposed by a classmate: a cohort trip, not only to celebrate the end of our first year together, but also to have the opportunity to give back. In addition to the social nature of the trip, we would be volunteering and raising money for the Primeros Pasos clinic outside of Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela). I’m not surprised that over 60% of our cohort decided to attend. My cohort has many students that are in the Public and Nonprofit Management program, the Health Sector Management program as well as former Peace Corps volunteers. In the months leading up to the trip, between studying, classes and group projects, students planned the logistics and raised money for the clinic.

We arrived at our first stop, Antigua, late Sunday afternoon. After exploring parts of the city, it was early to bed for most of us, since the next morning we departed early for a hike of Volcan Pacaya, an active volcano where we were able to get close to flowing lava and some classmates even roasted marshmallows over it! We proudly flew our BU flag when we reached the end of our hike. Afterwards, we set off for Xela where the group split into two volunteer groups that worked at the Primeros Pasos clinic (www.primerospasos.org) in separate shifts.

Over the two days we spent volunteering at the clinic, we were able to paint the entire outside of the clinic, build bookshelves, construct whiteboards, check-in children visiting the clinic, and deliver medicine and toothbrushes to local schools. I was among the group that walked to a local school to deliver the supplies. It was amazing to see the kids playing at recess just like kids do everywhere. They were fascinated by us, asking us if we were “gringos” and asking to see pictures we had taken of them. We had seen the unbelievable natural beauty of Guatemala, but volunteering enabled us to have a more human experience in the country. After Xela, the group traveled to Panajachel, a town on Lago Atitlan, where the group kayaked, ziplined, shopped, ate, and celebrated before boarding the bus back to Antigua for our last night in Guatemala. It was a quick and intense five-day trip that was filled with so many memorable experiences.

The hope is that this kind of trip, one that allows BU MBAs to experience a developing country and give back, will be an annual occurrence. For me personally, somewhere along the way, I realized something. I realized that somewhere between marathon team meetings and study group sessions, late night IMs from classmates offering help, and many meals and social outings, we had formed our own kind of family. Our trip was a great way to give back and experience Guatemala; it was an amazing way to celebrate our newfound family.

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