Students, Staff Experience Guatemala

A group of students, faculty and staff from Notre Dame College recently learned lessons in global education, economy and health through a campus ministry-led immersion in Guatemala.

Along with Ted Steiner, director of campus ministry at the College, six students made the trip. Three faculty also joined: Louise Prochaska, Ph.D., professor of theology and women’s studies; Barbara Yoost, RN, M.S.N., assistant professor of nursing; and Susan Rummel, a former assistant professor of nursing.

On the immersion, the College group connected with elementary school students, coffee producers, weaver cooperatives and town leaders. They even visited Mayan ruins during their 10 days in the Central American country.

And they learned not only about Guatemalans but also about themselves and each other. They also learned how to affect change.

"It’s important to take students and others from different backgrounds and let them discover the issues, let them ask the questions, let them discover what small things they can do to assist—even if it is just thinking twice about what coffee they buy," Steiner said.

Global Education

Tops on the College travel itinerary, the troupe visited and worked in a Christian elementary school, Nuevo Amanecer in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala. More than 200 children are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade there, but this school is the exception.

Despite primary education being compulsory and provided free by the government in Guatemala, the average peak of schooling for students is about fourth grade. Only four of 10 children graduate from the sixth grade.

"Learning that most of the kids may not even go to high school or college or get to follow their dreams is really humbling and saddening," said Kai’Shayla Smith ’17, one of the students who made the trek.

Global Economy

Education is only one of the disparities in Guatemala. The Notre Dame students, faculty and staff discovered employment options and economic outcomes also are vastly different: More than half of the 12 million people in Guatemala live below the poverty line.

The group from South Euclid learned one of the main sources of income for adults in the Central American country, in the Lake Atitlan area in particular, is the coffee industry in which Guatemalans earn about $2 a day working in the fields.

Another career option is weaving garments and textiles. Guatemalans might spend a week creating a long table runner and sell it for only $12 or $15.

"The people were warm, sincere, hard-working and very talented. I realize how hard many people work and yet they don't seem able to improve their lives in a measurable way," Prochaska said.

Global Health

In addition to the education and economic hardships in Guatemala, the Notre Dame group also discovered deficiencies in basic health care, often a result of the destitution.

The students, faculty and staff traveled to a rural health clinic, visited a disability center and met with the mayor of the small town of San Juan La Laguna to discuss constituents’ medical needs. They even taught children proper hand-washing techniques to prevent illness.

"Many aspects of the immersion experience added to my learning and encouraged me to think critically about the needs of others and how I could best serve those needs in the future," Yoost said.

Global Responsibility

The group was affected by what they saw during their time in the country, but the real results are yet to be seen—and depend on what the students and faculty are inspired to do in the future, according to Steiner.

"You can talk about global responsibility in the classroom, but to get the direct connection, you need to go somewhere, to see and talk to someone who makes only a few dollars a day picking coffee or lives in a small house with several families," Steiner said.

Steiner will take another group to Guatemala in May 2015, and nurses will travel there for spring break.

 

Click on the photo to view Students, Staff Experience Guatemala

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