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Winter Break Trip to Guatamala is Rewarding

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– Staff Writer

While many Roanoke College students spent the last weeks of winter break enjoying much needed relaxation a few others experienced something quite different. Earlier this month Jesse Griffin, director of community service and assistant to the Chaplain’s Office, accompanied by James Dalton, vice president of Information Technology, his wife, RC faculty member Patrola Dalton, and nine student volunteers took an alternative winter break trip to Guatemala. The volunteers teamed up with Constru Casa, a non-profit organization designed to build basic homes for families living in extreme poverty.

Founded in 2004 by Carolien van Heerde from Holland, Constru Casa is based out of Guatemala’s capital city of Antigua.

In the past two years the organization has grown tremendously, having built 430 homes since then, and hopes to build another 120 in the upcoming year.

Before embarking on the trip, each volunteer raised $300 along with Constru Casa and the families who were receiving the home since the cost to build one house costs $3,500. The annual trip usually consists of a small group of volunteers which is preferred.

“If you get too many people, you lose the intimacy of the experience,” Griffin said.

One week was spent in Guatemala building the simplistic homes. Volunteer Kaitlyn Bell ‘14 thoroughly enjoyed the experience of exploring the colorful and colonial city of Antigua. She noted the beautiful cathedrals and huge markets stretching four blocks long, filled with everything from fistfuls of fresh fruit to tourist friendly souvenirs.

Bell and the others lived with a middle class home-stay family in Antigua where they enjoyed three meals a day and many modern accommodations. From Monday through Friday the volunteers boarded a brightly colored bus and headed to the small rural community outside of the city to begin the service with Constru Casa.

Being inside the village homes was a much different atmosphere than the houses of the home-stay families. Griffin noted that the most noticeable change from the city to the village was its socio-economic differences. The houses in the rural village consisted of two room shacks made from corrugated iron sheet walls and a dirt floor. Inside one room was a stove for cooking tortillas, the standard meal, with the other room consisting of two beds for the six children and two parents.

Before beginning construction the volunteers were split into groups and then began building the three new houses.  What made Bell’s day was seeing the little kids being extremely grateful and giving hugs to the volunteers although they barely knew them. The experience was so unique because everyone from the families and their children to the friendly locals helping build the homes. Everyone was involved, however, construction was no easy task. The labor consisted of hauling sand, sifting dirt, chipping cinderblock, and laying the foundation.

“I really believe in learning by experience”, Griffin said

Everything was done on a hands-on level which he believes to be incredibly beneficial to the student volunteers.

“I believe that it is important to reach out of your comfort zone and help people that are in greater need than yourself,” Bell said.

Both Bell and Griffin agreed that once you return from such an experience, you gain a better outlook on life, gained new perspectives, and have a different global view. When it comes down to it, it was all about helping others,

“It was just as important to see them want to give back to us as it was for us to reach out to them,” Bell said.