A Travellerspoint blog

Volunteering in Quetzaltenango aka. Xela

sunny 18 °C

I was not really sure what to expect from Xela. I mean it was suppose to be a extremely poor altoplano city full of indigenous people. However, right away we were surprised about how cool it felt. We saw loads of funky bars, live music etc. The first night we got there we went out for a few drinks. First we went to a wine bar. Usually I feel very out of place in these places, where you basically order the cheapest thing feeling like an idiot. However, this place rocked, all wine was the same priced, which was very cheap. It was mainly younger people, well under 45, and they played music like Beasty Boys. Not really the type of wine bar I´ve been in before. Later we went to see some cool live band in another bar. We were quite surprised to run into Jonny, the friendly English guy we had met when surfing in San Juan del Sur. He was studying Spanish there and would stay for a few weeks. He´s a really nice guy and it was great to know someone else in the town as we would be here for a while. Since he had been here for a while, he already knew quite a few people, including some local people that he had met via his Spanish teacher Carlos.

We tagged along Jonny quite a bit and had a great first weekend with him, Carlos and his friends.
One day we went playing paintball which was something we would never have found if it wasn’t for Carlos and co. It was Laura´s first time and my second time, so it was great fun. Don’t remember that it hurt so much though. One shot hit my mask, but some parts hit my mouth, and damn did it hurt. Another day the Guatemalan gang took us to an amusement park, apparently the largest in Central America. As we gringos were pretty warm when we got there they actually first took us to some pool area. They are super nice and took really good care of us, I mean they didn’t even swim themselves, just us gringos. After that we had a fun day playing around. It cost like 5 Euros and then you could ride as much as you wanted. We almost had the place for ourselves and road loads of things, still the scariest thing is the swings…still don’t know why I keep getting on those things.

After a fun weekend, we started to fix things. We were staying in an ok place but the staff had giving us a really bad vibe from beginning so we though this will not work for three weeks. Also the foundation we had originally wanted to work in, actually did not have a need for people. Though they are pretty stupid with this and don’t tell you this when you email them and even does not say it straight away when you visit the center (we were there for like one hour before they told us that they had enough volunteers)???? Last, but not least we were trying to sort out a salsa school. Laura had put up with surfing, so now I had to put up with a few weeks of salsa classes…every day.

We found a very cheap salsa place that we thought seemed ok. Unfortunately we paid the whole course up front. I didn’t really notice it that much the first class, but Laura was pretty sure that the so called teacher was not really a teacher. I mean he knew some steps, but he had no clue how to teach. We though we would give him one more chance, but during the second class even I noticed that this guy was a joke. He could not even explain the basic steps saying stupid things like “eerr which foot you start with depends on if you are right handed or left”… que???? I like to see a right handed person dance with a left handed in that case.

Now we had to try to get the money back and find a new salsa school. Luckily for me, Laura is one of the toughest people I know when it comes to these type of things. Thanks to her “I´m not getting fu**ing ripped off” attitude we managed to get almost all the money back. However this was after 5 visits, threats of involving the police etc. Unfortunately we never did get the promised last 100 Q (about 10 Euro) back. Right away we joined a great dance school called Salsa Rosa. Siamara, the dance teacher was by far the best one we had had so far.
We had called another organization and everything seemed good. Specifically we had asked if they really needed volunteers. We also went to an information meeting and the organization sounded perfect. However, the next day we went on a tour to visit the centers and we noticed that there were very few children, in fact there were almost as many volunteers as children. Really frustrating how the organizations seems to do this. In the end we took a difficult decision and told them that we were going to look for something else. Back to square one after 5 days in Xela, which was pretty annoying seeing that we only had so short time to volunteer.

Luckily we came across another organsiation directly and we managed to meet up with the coordination and go visit the organization. This time what we were told was finally true, this place really had a need for volunteers. The place is called Escuala de la Calle (School of the streets) connected to the school was a afterschool and day center called Caras Alegres (Happy Faces). In Caras Alegres there were no full time volunteers and some days there were up to 60 children. Also the school had a need for help, so we agreed with them to split our time, working as teachers´ assistance in the school during the mornings from 8am to 12.30pm and then go to after school center until 16.30. Pretty long days, but we only had a short time and we wanted to do as much as possible with the little time we had. More importantly we were so happy that we finally had found a great organization to volunteer. Our long search had finally paid off.

Now the only thing to fix was accommodation. Sounds pretty easy right? Not with Guatemalan´s. Its not really that they lie, its more that they always give you hope and never says no. We saw many places that sounded promising, but failed in the last minute for some reason. After quite a lot of search and waiting, one of the places we liked managed to find a room for us. The place was probably the only warmish place in Xela as all other places has large outdoor patios, something that’s not really necessary when its freezing in the evenings. This place was also more like a big shared flat, only having four other people staying there. Finally our fixing was over and we could relax a bit... Well relax perhaps is not the right word. Each morning we would get up at 6.15am work at the school until 13pm, swap to the center and be there until 16.30pm, then we would rush into town and just make it to start our salsa class at 17pm. Due to this we didn’t really do much in the evenings, but cook, watch a bit of tv, and fall asleep. It was really strange, but it felt like we were back working normal jobs in reality.

In the school, I was working with the first graders, ages anything from 6 to 12 years old and Laura was working in 3rd grade with children from 9 to 15 years old. The age differences were pretty weird for us, but some of the older children had been more or less found on the streets and put in school not knowing how to read or write. The school was actually quite nice as it was very well funded. However, the education and some other things, like some of the children’s´ situation, were pretty horrible. A criteria was that all children had to come from extremely poor families, often only single parent or at least on of the parents being alcoholics. In the 1st grade the children was constantly painting and drawing things. Also the teacher they had was way to serious and hard on the children, and I felt like I could not really contribute much. As a result, I joined Laura and her 3rd grader two days a week. The teacher there, Eric, was a superfun guy, but perhaps a bit too relaxed with things. I mean I would have loved to have him as a teacher, but many time it was complete chaos in the class. There would be fights, things being thrown, at least every 5 min someone would be lying on the floor, tipping over a chair or something. Some of Eric´s teaching methods would probably have been more suitable for 1st graders, e.g. when he did a puppet show to teach them the alphabet. However, no one who ever set foot in his class could possible say that his classes were boring. It was really non-stop action and fun all the time, something that I cannot say about the first graders.

In addition, Laura tried to do a few therapeutic dance classes in a special class organized by the two school psychologist. However, the psychologists didn’t really seem to get it, and just liked to play with the kids. I joined a few ones and it was great fun though. My best memory was when the children had built a fort and was hiding inside and I was playing a monster tearing down the fort. There was this very tiny kid that kept hitting me with a stick screaming “monstru malo” (bad monster) repeatedly. Hard to explain the scene, but trust me it was pretty funny. After that we just called him Monstru malo, and he was probably the cutest kid we have ever seen, Laura chasing him for kisses ever time she could see him.

In the day center things were pretty chaotic too. There was suppose to be a fixed schedule with activities, but we never saw them do more then to play football, and this was only for the older boys really. We spoke to the coordinatior, Andrea, and she agreed that we would do two sessions of chemical experiments. It was pretty hard to get all the experiments ready as we had we were had so long busy days, but in the end it worked out pretty good. I think that the teachers were equally or perhaps even more excited about the experiments though.
We agreed with Eric that Laura and I would do a full day of teaching in the 3rd grade. In addition to a shorter version of the science class we had done, we also decided to do some fun geography games, international culture (Sweden and Spain), and we had prepared an English game that we actually never ended up doing. It was again loads to prepare, but it went really well and was worth all the hard work in the end. The kids behaved sort of ok, but it was mainly because we kept rewarding them with sweets.

Three weeks had passed so quickly and it was time to move on again. Even though we had only been at the school and the center for a short time, it was still a bit difficult to say goodbye to the children. It was also a little sad to leave Xela, we had gotten very comfortable there and it was a place that we could have easily stayed longer in.

Laura hugging some of the girls in Caras Alegres

Laura hugging some of the girls in Caras Alegres

Two cute girls preschool class

Two cute girls preschool class


Henrik hanging out with the cool kids... West side!

Henrik hanging out with the cool kids... West side!

The gang posing up in front of some Roman palace or something at the largest theme park in Central America

The gang posing up in front of some Roman palace or something at the largest theme park in Central America

Seconds before getting soaked in the amusement park

Seconds before getting soaked in the amusement park

One of the kids took Laura to her house and gave her a Guatemalian makeover

One of the kids took Laura to her house and gave her a Guatemalian makeover

A quite moment in the third grade class, check out the indiginous teacher to the left

A quite moment in the third grade class, check out the indiginous teacher to the left

Some of the girls in their traditional clothing

Some of the girls in their traditional clothing

Henrik helping out...cant remember her name, but she has the greatest smile

Henrik helping out...cant remember her name, but she has the greatest smile

She´s just too cute so one more picture

She´s just too cute so one more picture

Happy monkey!

Happy monkey!

We went visiting this great natural hot pool set in a amazing setting...this was the closest we be for Laura to even come out in the photo

We went visiting this great natural hot pool set in a amazing setting...this was the closest we be for Laura to even come out in the photo

Saying goodbye to Jonny on the main plaza in Xela

Saying goodbye to Jonny on the main plaza in Xela

Seeing that we only took two pictures in Xela center during our three weeks, here is Henrik saying goodbye to Jonny

Seeing that we only took two pictures in Xela center during our three weeks, here is Henrik saying goodbye to Jonny

Laura telling the kids about Spain in International culture class

Laura telling the kids about Spain in International culture class

Henrik teaching the kids science...

Henrik teaching the kids science...

Laura with some of the teachers and children on Carnival day in Caras Alegres

Laura with some of the teachers and children on Carnival day in Caras Alegres

Some of the kids posing up on Carnival day...just love the red ridinghood outfit

Some of the kids posing up on Carnival day...just love the red ridinghood outfit

Carnival day in Caras Alegres...however for almost a week the teachers and kids were throwing paper and flour in the head of eachother

Carnival day in Caras Alegres...however for almost a week the teachers and kids were throwing paper and flour in the head of eachother

Posted by hmontonen 20:20 Archived in Guatemala

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint