At the beginning of January 2018, I applied for a service trip to Guatemala, with a company I had only heard about a few hours before on social media. I applied immediately, figuring the worst that could happen was I would not get a call back. Much to my surprise, a few days later I received an email from one of the Vivid Roots co-founders, Trever, about scheduling a phone call to chat a little about the trip. During the call, Trever explained a bit about the history of Vivid Roots. Originally it was a t-shirt company started by four college students to provide clean water to impoverished areas in Guatemala and Ecuador, while inspiring others to live vivid and adventurous lifestyles. I learned we would spend our time in Guatemala City, Antigua and Chiquimula, where we would complete our service project and wrap up our time exploring the jungle on the Dulce River. Upon learning more about Vivid Roots and what the trip to Guatemala would entail, I decided this was something I needed to do.
At the end of our conversation, Trever let me know I had been accepted for the trip. Despite not knowing anybody else going on the trip or having traveled by myself before, I signed my acceptance letter and put down a deposit.
The following months were spent renewing my passport, purchasing my airline tickets, and researching the history and culture of Guatemala. I was simultaneously terrified and excited for my upcoming adventure. The time flew by and before I knew it, it was departure week. Five days before we were scheduled to leave, Guatemala’s famous Volcano of Fire erupted twice in two days, killing what ended up being hundreds. It was the deadliest eruption in decades and less than ten miles from Antigua where we would be staying for two days. I received various texts and phone calls from friends and family telling me I should cancel my trip or I was crazy to still be going. Aside from how apprehensive I became about going, I made a commitment to many people which I knew I couldn’t break.
On June 8th, 2018, I arrived in Guatemala City. Waiting outside the airport for my cab, I was overwhelmed with the hundreds of people outside the airport with balloons, signs, and open arms to welcome their family and friends back from the States. I immediately recognized the importance of love and family within the Guatemalan culture and knew I had made the right decision.
After arriving at my hotel, I was greeted with smiles and open arms by Trever, our tour guides, Diego and Helle, and a few other people traveling with me. Our day was spent drinking coffee, getting to know each other and waiting for the others to arrive. While at dinner, it felt like we had been friends for years, rather than just hours. We discussed our expectations for the trip and what we were most excited and nervous about. Everybody was there for the same purpose and I couldn’t have been more excited to experience as much of Guatemala as I could with my new friends. Trever told us as we worked on our service project fixing up an impoverished schoolhouse with a rusting roof and no paint, “We shouldn’t expect to build Rome in one day”. I again became apprehensive wondering if we would be able to finish our portion of the service project in time.
After our night in the city, and spending a day exploring Antigua, we made our way to the Chiquimula District near the border of Honduras and El Salvador. For the next three days, we would ride up into the school district in the back of trucks to work on our service project. Most of the children in this district attended school until they were 12 or 13, the time when they needed to find paying jobs. Our point of contact in Chiquimula, Jessica, explained this education was equivalent to a second or third grade education in the United States. I looked around at the group, noticing most of us were looking down or fidgeting in some way, myself included. At this point, I think everybody made mental notes to get as much work done as we could.
We spent our next two days replacing the roof, painting the inside and outside walls and interacting with the children and one of the schoolteachers, Nando. The children told us about their lives at home and what they liked to do. We showed them pictures of our friends, listened to American music and introduced many children to the world of Snapchat filters.
By the end of day two of the service project, Trever pulled everyone together and told us we had not only completed our work for the project, but also the workload for the next group’s project. In less than two full days of work, we had finished what was supposed to take six days or more. After being congratulated and thanked by Jessica, Nando and many children, we realized Trever was right, we didn’t build Rome in one night, but we did make a pretty good dent. We were flooded with relief and happiness when told we finished two trips worth of work. This was one of the most emotional moments of my life so far. Seeing how excited the children and Nando were about the progress of their school made the blisters, bruises, and sunburns worth it.
After many hugs from the children and teachers, we made our way into San Jacinto, a city within the Chiquimula district, for a surprise. We arrived at a destination which allowed us to look over all of San Jacinto and were greeted by some of the locals who had planned a ceremony for us and to thank us for the work we had done at the school. When the ceremony was finished, each member of the team was given a certificate thanking us for the work we had completed. I spent most of this day holding back tears. Jessica helped arrange for us to meet the mayor of San Jacinto. Meeting the mayor was one of the most exciting portions of the trip for me and truly something I will never forget.
Before we knew it, our trip was coming to an end.
At our last dinner as a group, we went around the table and said one thing we were grateful for about the trip. My new friend Ace said, “As a group, we hit the lottery growing up”. I grew up in a city where I never felt unsafe, had a house to live in and everything else I needed. Ace was right, I did hit the lottery and at 21 years old, I just now realized it. I have taken many things in my life for granted and I never would have known it, if I did not travel to Guatemala with Vivid Roots.
Since returning, I have made a conscious effort in my daily life to take nothing for granted, even things as simple as going to go to school, having a healthy meal or having running water in my home. In Guatemala, I was given an opportunity to change my outlook on the world and a chance to change the lives of some who are not as fortunate as me. My trip was the most humbling and exciting thing I have ever done. Vivid Roots has opened many new doors and I can’t wait to experience more of the beautiful world we live in.
For anyone contemplating service trips or world travel, I highly encourage you to check out Vivid Roots at vividroots.com or similar companies in your area. My favorite thing about the trip was we actually met who we were helping and spent time with the children in the school district. Thanks to Vivid Roots, I not only have a new outlook on the world, I have also gained a desire to travel, the ability to help in any way and a new family. The world we live in is so much more beautiful than I could have imagined and it is filled with so many incredible and generous people. I hope everyone can experience something like I did in Guatemala. Safe travels.
Written by Annie Muldoon
Edited by Bob Stone
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