Volcanic mountains and cloud forests
After arriving in bustling Guatemala City, we quickly make our way to the colorful splendor and volcanic backdrop of the Western Highlands. Settle into Quetzaltenango, or Xela, our home for the better part of three weeks. Xela is a gateway to nearby hot springs and an ideal pushing off point for a picturesque three-day hike through volcanic mountains and cloud forest to Lake Atitlán — a natural beauty surrounded by indigenous Mayan villages. On the trails, we start learning about non government organizations and discussing the days ahead.
Coffee as a sustainable livelihood
We head to a local, organic coffee farm to kick off our initial foray into hands-on service work. This farm grows and sells coffee as a means of creating a sustainable livelihood for the larger community. This is a good first example of a non-profit at the local level. We learn how the farm is organized and structured as well as the events that led to its formation. As members of the community, if only for two days, we carry our weight on the farm — picking coffee, assisting with the drying process, cleaning the plantation, and digging holes for new plants.
Service work and cultural immersion
For the next two weeks, we live and work in Xela as we begin to explore some of the challenges faced by non-profits. The best way to learn is by doing. Take part in a reforestation project. Work with local Guatemalan youth in an afterschool program. And construct a Safe Stove in a local community. When volunteer hours are up for the day, take inventory of the surroundings and behold the beauty of Guatemala. Late afternoons are all about cultural exchange and fun. Learn to make Guatemalan chocolate, participate in a traditional weaving demonstration, or join a football game with local kids.
The adventure continues
Take a couple of days to further explore the Western Highlands. Climb a volcano. Step into warm and relaxing mountain hot springs. Zip line in the forest, soaring from one towering tree to another. Explore the colorful and vibrant open-air markets of Chichicastenango. See native costumes from all over Guatemala, musicians playing in the streets and traditional dances.
A broad understanding of non government organizations
We return to Xela to work on our final project: an organizational case study of a non-profit in Xela. The case study will address the challenges the organization faces, and its goals for the future, as well as the strategies for meeting them. The project ties together everything you've seen, learned and discussed, and enables you to express your broad, worldly understanding of non government organizations. Celebrate your achievements and say goodbye to new friends.