My name is Emmett and I recently spent seven weeks volunteering with ConstruCasa. Those seven weeks I can only describe as incredible: incredibly hard at times, incredibly fun at others, but definitely incredibly rewarding.
My first placement was in Hacienda Vieja, Quetzaltenango, a very rural setting and something I had requested of ConstruCasa so I could see more of the country and get a balanced view of Guatemalan lifestyles.
Our job was to add two new classrooms to a 3 room school house (for a total of 5 rooms) that ConstruCasa had started the previous year. The town was about 5 hours outside of Antigua so we slept in the old school building which was only three rooms, two of which had dirt floors, and was right next to the work site. Already I could see that our work there would be a tremendous aid to the community. We worked for 10 days straight rising with the sun at 6:30 in the morning and stopping around 5:30 in the evening which gave us just enough time to get to the river to bathe and back before it got dark...Yes, we bathed in the river. In this remote pueblo, everything revolved around the river. The women washed clothes in the river, the people bathed in the river, drinking water was pulled and filtered from wells near the river, and most inconveniently the water we used for construction came from the river. About once a day we drove the 1979 pickup we arrived in down to the river to fill 3 big barrels with water to use for the concrete, mortar, and other needs for the day.
The work was very difficult and sleeping on the floor and bathing in the river did not offer much rest or recuperation, so these 10 days were some of the hardest. Yet they were also some of the most fun. I bonded quickly with the masons because we practically did everything together (worked, bathed, ate, slept) and they were very happy to have a volunteer who spoke Spanish facilitating communication. We made lots of jokes and the time passed by quickly. A local mother cooked us three meals a day which allowed me to try some of typical Guatemalan cuisine of the area. One day this included an iguana that the kids of the pueblo had hunted and killed with the slingshots that they toted in their pockets all day long. Although a little nervous in the moment, I am proud to say I tried it and actually somewhat enjoyed it. We also stopped work early one day to play soccer on the pueblo’s dirt field with some of the local teenagers. While the work was very difficult these first two weeks, I got to experience many new things and created many lasting memories.
The next five weeks I spent in Antigua living with a host family and working in the surrounding pueblos. The four houses I helped build there were all a 10-20 minute commute outside of Antigua on public transportation or with the masons. It was similar work but a lot smaller scale and with a more relaxed schedule. I started around 8 and headed home around 4 giving me plenty of time to recover and explore Antigua. Being a hub for tourists, Antigua was a great place to meet other people who were travelling, volunteering like me, or studying Spanish, and with some of these people I got to travel and see the country on weekends. Guatemala is definitely a country full of places with rich culture and natural beauty.
Overall I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and I encourage anyone with the time to go and have their own. One can challenge themselves physically and mentally with the work, have fun getting to know the country in free time, and also feel rewarded with the priceless smiles of families after they’ve received their new home.