Those of you who have been following my work for over a year now, know that in June of last year, I got some news that was going to change my path in life and career.
It all starts in April of 2014, I had been thinking for years that I wanted to travel and volunteer to do my part in making this world a better place. I was having a hard time figuring out how to do it, until I stumbled upon Photographers Without Borders. I took a leap and applied even though I wasn't sure I had the portfolio to back my application up. It was the most perfect organization, I would get to travel, volunteer, help people, while using my camera the whole time.
It was getting closer and closer to the trip date and I still hadn't heard anything. I took yet another leap and wrote the Founder, Danielle Da Silva, basically selling myself and going on and on about how bad I wanted the opportunity. Within 24 hours, I had a contract and offer in my inbox and had 48 hours to accept a volunteer project to Casa Guatemala, a school and home for children in the Mayan community. Well, I am sure you can guess, I did accept, without hesitation. I of course had family going on and on about my safety, and "you're doing what?" or "can you handle it?" or "you should not be traveling alone". Well, I did, and I love every minute of it.
Leading up to the trip, I planned a massive fundraiser and had so many people step up to the plate as sponsors, prize donations, helping at the event, comedians and musicians wanting to perform, and the turn out was perfect. I ended up raising enough money to cover all expenses and additional money went to the organizations. It was incredible and again, thank you to each and every person who helped in making it so successful.
Now, getting to Guatemala was a bit of a trek. From landing in Guatemala City, to then finding a bus that will take me to the town of Rio Dulce 7 hours away, to arriving at night in Rio Dulce, in hurricane rain, with all my gear and having to walk and find CG. I would be lying if I said I didn't have thoughts of regret or "what the heck am I doing here?", I definitely did, but when I arrived at CG, those thoughts never ever returned.
While staying there, I stayed in the hostel up the river from CG where all money earned at the hostel goes towards CG. Also, children that outgrow CG and want to move on, can live at the hostel and work in the Restaurant and/or do house keeping etc. to learn how to work and be independent. This is also where I learnt how to cuddle with cockroaches vs scream, they really liked me and my bed.
Every morning, I would board a fishing boat from the restaurant of the hostel, and head down the river to see the children. My first thoughts when I saw CG, were heartbreaking. All I saw were children who needed help and a facility that needed money and staff that live in very very basic living conditions and all I could think of is "how can I do something to help" (I still want to figure out how to do more, ideas welcomed).
Over the 9 days of being there, there were certain children who really tugged at my heart strings, you can tell by my photos who they are as they were always at my side and appear regularly in my photos. I will never forget them. The way they would grab you and hold onto you all day, or how they would want to see themselves on my camera screen, listen to music on my phone, or even just sit on my lap and let me hold them, or ask to do my hair, it was amazing and made my heart melt.
A project like this is obviously known to change your outlook on things, but this trip did more then that. Seeing how little the children have, or the family the children don't get to see(or families they don't have), or the meals they are happy to eat, they still always had smiles on their faces and always brought one to mine.
Another major part of this journey that deserves a mention, is the incredible volunteer staff I met and got to work with. Kelly, Gillian, Rosa, Natalie, Sara, Mary... you ladies are incredible. How you are there for the children when they need you, how you spent every aching second with them, made them laugh, were there when they cried, always coming up with fun things to help them learn, helping them to learn things like English and basic hygiene, you ladies were the family and support those children needed and you are wonderful people for sharing your time with them.Also, thank you for taking me under your wings and making sure I was okay, included me in activities, for an awesome last night together with great food and drinks and for helping me to plan my trip to Antigua before heading home!
To Heather, the Director at CG, thank you so much for everything and what you do and continue to do for CG, is incredible. You are a beautiful, thoughtful person and the little ones are lucky to have you.
As mentioned above, I decided to take a journey to Antigua before going home. I promise myself when I travel to try and see at least one other country other then the destination I am travelling too. This time around, I couldn't make it work before having to get home for another wedding, so i decided to at least see another city other then Guatemala city. I decided on Antigua.
Antigua is... beautiful. From the interlock roads, to the live volcanoes to all the architecture to the rooftop patios, it was amazing. I ended up with 3 pretty rad roommates at my hostel (Jono, Scott and Amy) and so happy I met them. We did bar hops together, attempted Salsa lessons, drank too much, did volcano treks, it was amazing and I will forever remember my time in Antigua. There are more details to these nights but... I don't think they are blog appropriate :)
Since my trip to Casa Guatemala, my photos have been used all over campaigns, social media etc. for CG and it's incredible to see. My photos were used for a donation campaign for getting a new water tower where over $2500 was raised, incredible.
I hope that everyone finds it in them to volunteer as much as possible. There are so many organizations out there who need volunteers and need your help and really, we have no excuse not too.
Here are some more photos, enjoy and thanks for reading!