Every GP program has four pillars: learn, play, travel, and serve. Learn is covered up, down, and sideways as students attend classes or internships and walk around as human sponges in a land unknown. Play is the athletic component where students are training, playing, working out etc. They might be hiking a volcano one day, surfing the next, or working out at a gym with inspirational posters of women in American flag thong-onsies with 1980's hair. I'll give it to 'em, they were in good shape. But I digress. The third pillar is Travel; inherent in any GP experience as the trip is studying abroad. When it comes to the fourth pillar- Serve- is when we really start talkin' meat and potatoes.
This year the Serve element was coordinated by and in conjunction with a social change organization in Guatemala called Manos Amigas (Helping Hands). Manos Amigas is dedicated to changing the reputation of youth in Guatemala from one of criminals and delinquents to restoring the innocence of kids by giving them opportunities through sport and alternatives to drug problems, violence, and prostitution. Their motto is "Say YES to life!"
We travelled to a little town called Rio Dolce, 5 hours away from Antigua by bus, on a Friday afternoon after class and arrived at our hotel, aka rainforest paradise, at dusk. There was a long night ahead prepping for the camp the next day - coaching words to be learned in Spanish, designing drills and games for beginners, and learning about the situation of the kids we would meet. The next day, up at 5 to be on the boat to Livingston by 6. Livingston is hardly accessible by road, at least that wouldn't be one's preferred mode of transport. It is known as a little fishing town and tourist destination in Guatemala and it faces many challenges such as high illiteracy rates, malnutrition, and sex and drug trafficking. But that reality would hopefully be out of sight and out of mind while the children we worked with had sticks in their hands. And it was. They were safe. They were free to be kids. They had clean water and a sandwich. They were lovin' life! And so were we. It was hot as, well, Guatemala, but our GP crew stuck it out and I think those memories will be imprinted in their minds and hearts for a long, long time.
Working with the young leaders in Livingston in the session before the camp started inspired ideas for our organizations to work closer together by developing channels for these kids to use the vehicle of lacrosse to study abroad - just as American students are doing with GP but going the other way - some of these kids with natural talent and ability, and more than anything, work ethic, may have what it takes to get a scholarship.
All in all, what a journey.