Sign up for the latest
updates from CRS.

Donate now to Catholic Relief Services

Pray with us. Light a Candle in CRS' Virtual Chapel.

Guatemala Visit Grows American Teen's 'Family'

By Augusto Gebel

The youth ambassador trip to Guatemala has been the greatest experience I have had in my life. I want to begin by describing the wonderful team I traveled with. For a small group of eight, we bonded so closely for the duration of the week that it felt like we had known each other our whole lives; eight strangers who became close friends and a small family. Little did we know that this family would grow even larger with the open-hearted people we would meet in Guatemala.

Augusto Gebel

Augusto Gebel, second from left, is a senior at La Immaculata High School in the Metuchen diocese of New Jersey. Courtesy of Augusto Gebel

First arriving in Guatemala City, the team was excited to go out into this new world without knowing what to expect in a place much different from where we departed. We visited the Catholic Relief Services headquarters to gather information about the beautiful country we were to be spending a week in and then we were sent off to our new adventure into the countryside of Chiquimulilla. There was a dramatic contrast from the city as we left behind the large buildings and began seeing seas of green. The verdant fields of the countryside were awe-inspiring with mountains and volcanoes in the distance.

Welcomed as Family

As we headed into town we saw the shanties people lived in, with tin roofs and open doors that enabled you to see throughout their whole home. It became apparent that they were not ashamed of what little they had. The people of Guatemala were all so welcoming and selfless. Throughout the villages and chapels we visited, we recognized that their kindness had no bounds. We were nobody special, yet each village we stopped in, the children would come to greet us and the adults would hug us. They welcomed us like we were part of the family that had returned from a long trip, which made it even harder for us when we had to leave each one.

We visited one village with a large water tower that had been recently built through the donations of the generous people of the United States. I became aware that fresh water was an important necessity for Guatemalans, as each village we visited had wells located in the center of town. Most of the time you would see villagers use it for drinking water, washing dishes and bathing. They do not have the convenience of running water in their homes. It seems that despite the poverty they live in, there was always hope in their eyes and the love and faith they shared got them through each day.

What Really Matters

Another place of importance that we visited was a rehabilitation center for the mentally disabled. It's led by Father Manuel. It was a small gated center that seemed like a tranquil haven for its occupants. It housed a dental office, hospital, cafeteria, pharmacy and a rehabilitation room. It is one of the remarkable places I visited that will make me come back for a visit to volunteer my time.

Most of our time spent in Guatemala was for the youth. We taught English at a small school in a little town of San Antonito. We also had little fiestas as we brought piñatas and played soccer (which we lost in terribly) with the children. What I began to notice was that this was something I could never find in the United States: If strangers began giving away candy in our neighborhood, people would be suspicious of our actions and most likely call police. The trust we shared with the people of Guatemala was something I cherish.

One thing I learned coming back from this trip was that I should be glad for what I have. I don't need the new iPod that comes out every other month or a new cell phone that comes out every other week. My experience opened my eyes to what I should be doing. I should be helping those less fortunate. One girl I met in Guatemala was asked what she would change if she had the opportunity, and she replied "The poverty." It was a remarkable answer that runs through my mind every day. It was such a remarkable trip that I would eagerly jump on the next plane to return if I had the chance.

Augusto Gebel is a senior at La Immaculata High School in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey.

Share on Twitter