Volunteer Work

Many people find volunteer work to be a rewarding way to visit a foreign country. It is also a fantastic way to really immerse yourself in the local culture, and improve your language skills. Guatemala offers many volunteer opportunities in social work, health care, environmental projects, education , and construction.

I was very fortunate to be able to take part in part in the construction of a bridge in the highlands of Guatemala. Every year Marquette University in Wisconsin works with Engineers without Borders to construct a bridge in Guatemala. In January of 2006, a 70 foot bridge was constructed over the Rio Motagua, the largest river in Guatemala. This bridge connected two departments, El Quiche and Chimaltenango. These two communities have been separated for more than 60 years by the Motagua River. The construction of a bridge connecting the two communities will provide access to schools, markets, and additional jobs for all of the residents.

The project was a joint effort between over 50 volunteers from Wisconsin, including professional engineers, carpenters, professional tradesmen, engineering students, and many people with no background in construction. The other side of the labor was provided by the local people of the two communities. Being from two different communities, two different Mayan languages were spoken, K'iche' and Kaqchikel, both speaking Spanish as their second language. With the help of a few bilingual Guatemalan volunteers, and some US volunteers with Spanish skills, communication was sufficient. At times it was difficult, but volunteers always found a way to communicate, and the local volunteers were an invaluable source of labor. With the lack of heavy equipment and accessibility, the bridge was built with an incredible force of manpower. It was constructed in two phases in just over two weeks. It is designed to withstand strong winds, floods, and landslides, and support vehicular traffic.

Working alongside local volunteers was an amazing experience. These volunteers came to work with a tireless work ethic, often working from sunup to sundown, then walking miles back to their rural communities. It was a great way for me to practice my Spanish, as well as learn about the culture of Guatemala, and I left with the satisfaction of knowing we completed a valuable project, and gave something to the community that will improve the lives of its residents for generations.

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