I learned to be more resilient after having lived in Guatemala
By María Julia Moreyra
January to May 2018 marked my personal life forever. The previous year I had decided to have a volunteering experience and the place chosen was Guatemala.
On January 30th, 2018 I left my country, Argentina, with a suitcase full of illusions, expectations and especially my desire to help people I knew were living in extremely vulnerable conditions. During the hours that the trip from Argentina to Guatemala took, I imagined how this experience would be different, but where commitment and love for those who needed it most would undoubtedly prevail.
I had a wonderful welcome, with a banner welcoming me to the country, a bouquet of flowers and several people awaiting my arrival. From the very first moment I felt that I was not far from my homeland.
With volunteers from the French Movement IV World, my tasks in the first two months were carried out in Escuintla. There, I met very warm families, who welcomed us with a smile and a “God bless you” every time we visited the place where they lived, despite the needs, the extreme poverty, which hits and hurts us in the deepest part of our being. We walked with my dear friend Yanick, a volunteer from Haiti, through long dirt streets under a burning sun, visiting families and bringing them books, which were received as the most precious treasure.
I met very brave women, most of whom had lost their sons and daughters at an early age, in some cases without being able to find their remains, as a result of the prevailing crime in the country or in unclear circumstances. Their stories still resonate in my mind and heart, with a firmness worthy of admiration. It is resilience that allowed and allows them to continue, despite the pain, frustration and lack of justice.
I remember the love of those children and adolescents who called me “Seño” (little teacher), who hugged me and thanked me for my work. Many of them came to the house where we lived in Escuintla to visit and tell us about their experiences and on Fridays it took place “ A reading day”. It was a pampering to my soul to read books from my childhood to so many children and to see their happy faces when they discovered wonderful stories. My favorite definition of resilience has always been “the scar through which the light enters”. And although I consider myself a resilient person, my greatest learning about resilience was in Guatemala. And that learning came from children, women and men who had a hard and unfair life, but who got up every day with the desire to achieve better opportunities.
I cried a lot when I left Escuintla. I visited house to house to say goodbye and I received so much love, like that of that lady of more than 80 years old, blind, who told me: “When I could, I will visit you in your country”. I have never forgotten those gestures of genuine love, which are sadly in short supply in today’s world. My last two weeks were spent in Guatemala City. There I met extremely resilient men, who lived on the streets and who, because of their life stories or because they had no opportunities, found in drugs a way out of so much pain. Every Tuesday we went to visit and to bring them books and games. They felt happy with the presence of the volunteers.
I particularly remember one of them, Alex, who asked me about Argentina, as he was interested in football and we talked a lot. A few days before my return to my homeland, he decided to take a photo of himself wearing my country’s shirt – a beautiful memory! Last year I heard about his departure. I cried all day out of helplessness. Because it hurts me that his short life has been plagued by absences, shortages and lack of opportunities. But at the same time it comforts me to know that today he will surely be in a better place, free from the shackles of an undeserved earthly destiny. He also gave me a great lesson of resilience. When he saw me he smiled and I never heard him complain about his life.
I remember accompanying Alex and his companions to a talk on addictions. They were attentive and it really hurt me when they were not allowed to enter the public transport because of the way they were dressed or perhaps because of their appearance. This caused me a helplessness and pain that I cannot put into words. We still live in a world of appearances where people are categorized by how they dress and not by what is most important, which is their hearts.
I could write a book about each of my experiences in a wonderful country like Guatemala, but I can only say that my resilience became stronger after living for three months in a poverty-stricken country. Today I feel stronger and every time my mood drops I remember the Guatemalan people I met. They taught me that even when life sweeps us away, we can stand up and carry on and be stronger.
Finally, I want to share with you a photo of my remembered Alex, an example of resilience and whom, like so many people, I will carry until the last day of my life in my mind, soul and heart and with the hope that one day we will be reunited.
About María Julia Moreyra
U4C Blog Contributor & Partner