By Erica, a Buena Onda Volunteer
I am so pleased with my experience with Buena Onda and can’t imagine a better two months in Guatemala! Having been to Guatemala three times before, I was dying to return again but I wanted to find a different organization than I had worked with in the past and to hopefully work with a women’s health-related organization as I am a women’s health nurse in the US. I’m so glad I got in touch with Scott- he took over all the planning that I had been attempting to do on my own and connected me with a birth center called Casa Materna Atitlan in one of the towns (San Juan La Laguna) around Lake Atitlan which I was thrilled about!
The family Scott paired me with for a homestay was the absolute best- I can’t imagine not having done a homestay while I was there. I quickly fell in love with my adorable family and felt I learned about the community and culture so much more living with them versus if I had rented my own apartment. They were just as eager to teach me how to make a tortilla, use the backstrap loom to make beautiful textiles and even hand wash laundry (yes I needed a proper lesson on this), as I was to learn all of those things! Saying goodbye to them was very hard and I’m thrilled we still stay in touch sending messages and photos back and forth. I’m so grateful for my relationship with this wonderful family thanks to Scott!
I adored the staff at the birth center I worked alongside during my two-month stay and enjoyed sharing my expertise in obstetrical nursing while also working with the team to brainstorm ways to improve the clinic as they continue to grow each month since opening. Learning from the staff was also hugely rewarding- birth is different in every culture and I loved learning and witnessing pregnancy and birth in Guatemala as well as learning more about comadronas (traditional birth attendants) and the significance of comadronas in Guatemalan communities. The comadrona and three birth assistants that work at the Casa Materna are all from either San Juan or the neighboring San Pedro village and speak both Spanish and the indigenous language spoken in the area, Tzutujil. I spoke Spanish with the staff and patients, and the staff would mostly speak Tzutujil with the patients which was very interesting to observe!
I also worked on improving my Spanish at the Eco Spanish School which Scott coordinated and the school was nothing short of amazing. I have never met such an enthusiastic group of people who love helping students like myself learn Spanish and more about the Guatemalan culture! Studying Spanish there ended up being an unexpected highlight of my trip. I knew I wanted to study at a school and expected it to be something I’d have to force myself to stay motivated about. Every hour spent there was so much fun and I became so close with the teachers I almost cried as I left my last Spanish lesson. Not to mention all the great students I met also studying at the school that I plan to stay in touch with! I felt my Spanish skills improved dramatically and plan to continue Skype lessons with the school now that I’m home.
Living in the small town of San Juan La Laguna was amazing. Walking anywhere in the town was always so much fun- everyone always says “Buenos días” “Buenas tardes” etc. as they pass you in the street and are very welcoming of tourists in their town! I quickly formed friendships with several people of the town I would see on my walking commutes to work, at the coffee shop, neighbors down the street etc. I never felt like I was missing out on all the excitement you find in Panajachel or San Pedro- it’s an easy boat ride to hang out there on days off which I did, but I really enjoyed getting to know San Juan so well and not seeing tourists all over the place every day. I kept myself busy in San Juan with volunteering and Spanish school and that was perfect for me! Being a small town I quickly met other volunteers living in San Juan and it was great to have a mini friend group while I was there! The town always felt safe to me- although I was warned by many to not walk alone at dark which I generally followed. I was familiar with how the machista culture can be- female tourists will get whistled at, but I never felt uncomfortable or got approached by anyone. If it was late I took tuktuks to be safe which are easy to find. More than strangers in the street, the dogs are what scared me the most about walking alone at night!! There are TONS of dogs on the streets and they get a little crazy and territorial at night.
I am so glad I got in touch with Scott at Buena Onda! He helped create exactly what I was looking for during my time in Guatemala and I’m so grateful! Gracias!