On March 25th, 2014 a group of 20 teens left for Guatemala on a three-week trip with the intentions of building a stronger community for not only the Guatemalan villagers but for the community of Chatham-Kent. During this period of time the explorers were trained in leadership qualities, teamwork and community service. One of the most memorable tasks that the group accomplished was building a classroom for the students of a Guatemalan school out of 2 liter pop-bottles and mud.
“The YMCA believes in young people”, said Mike Walters; YMCA Vice President of Financial Development, who went on to say “We chose Guatemala because we have had a partnership with the YMCA organization in Guatemala for about 15 years , there is already a financial support system in place between the communities, we have always anticipated growth in the relationship and we feel that the experience was life changing.
When asked what attracted her to the project, Meghan Tyhurst; Project Coordinator said, “I love to work with the youth, I went to school to become a teacher. I also spent a lot of time traveling, and I had previously worked for the YMCA. These all helped in the decision.” When asked about how she chose the participants she mentioned, “It was hard at times, there were 40 applications and we could only accept 20. We began to find personalities that would mesh well and started to seek out a couple boisterous teens as well as quiet ones to help the team develop confidence.”
The team was avid in giving descriptions of the starry lit sky, or the mountain views and erupting volcanoes and in the midst of all the landscape and scenery were children who lived in less than adequate living conditions such as garbage dumps, all the meanwhile with smiles on their faces, just happy to be alive. We often take for granted all the little things in life while those in third-world countries struggle to survive with the bare necessities they have.
Brandon Vaughan, a participant of the project said “The project helped me build confidence and leadership. I used to be so timid and shy and this project helped me come out of my shell. I feel like I brought a perspective of small communities to the table, as most of the other participants came from larger communities. I was challenged by the fitness goals we were expected to obtain, and the fundraising was challenging.”
Project Guatemala is Chatham-Kentâ€™s first abroad project, a sequel to Sarniaâ€™s Project Kenya. Chatham-Kentâ€™s YMCA plans to host another project within the next three years, but the destination is yet to be determined.