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Guatemala trip an eye-opener: Mount Abe grad volunteered at multi-age school

Editor’s note: The writer of this story is son of David and Porter Knight of Bristol and a 2016 graduate of Mount Abraham Union High School.
BRISTOL — This past summer, I was afforded the amazing opportunity to travel to Guatemala and volunteer at a school for impoverished children. The experience was one I will not soon forget.
I was able to really enjoy myself, while also feeling like I was genuinely helping.
After I finished my freshman year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, I did a stint as a volunteer at La Escuela Esperanza, a school in Jocotenango, Guatemala. Hundreds of children and teenagers attend the school, and also receive nutritious food, healthcare, shelter and community support.
While at the school, I was placed in a classroom as a teacher’s assistant, and was given tasks such as creating posters and preparing material for the day’s lesson. During class, I would help pass out materials and interact with the students.
One of my favorite memories from the school comes from a job not many enjoy: washing dishes. Every day, mothers of attending children volunteer their time to wash the lunch dishes. I was assigned to help them out. I began washing dishes to the best of my ability, but it was very quickly brought to my attention that I was not doing it correctly, amid much laughter from the women.
I do have a working knowledge of Spanish, but it is very limited. The women engaged me in conversation, and were asking me questions about myself, and I would do my best to answer. My best was not good enough, apparently, as after every answer I gave, there was a short pause, rapid fire Spanish between them, and then a very significant amount of laughter. After they regained control, they would ask me another question and repeat the process.
Even though I didn’t understand most of what they said, there was still an unspoken communication, and by the end I think they had accepted me. I only had that opportunity once, but sharing that moment with people who don’t speak the same language was a great experience.
   DURING RECESS AT a school in Guatemala, school volunteer Liam Knight of Bristol plays Jenga with two students. 
Schoolwork was not the only task, however. One day, the four other students on the trip and I were asked, “Do you guys want to go use machetes?” Of course, being five college students, the answer was yes. On our way to the destination, we were filled in on the details. It turns out, one of the families whose children attend the school had had their house collapse in a mudslide, and the school was sending volunteers to help them clear a new lot, and build a new house. We spent that day clearing a hillside and flattening it for a house to be built.
Despite being there for only a short time, I realized how important this school was, not just to the kids, but to whole families. Almost none of these kids would have been able to attend school otherwise, as they would not be able to afford the required uniforms, materials, or even transportation. This school, aptly named La Escuela Esperanza, or School of Hope, is run by a larger program called Education for the Children, or EFTC.
EFTC is an international non-governmental organization based in Guatemala. A professor from my school (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), Brien Ashdown, is currently the executive director of the American branch of EFTC.
Education for the Children does so much more than just run the school, however. It works with disadvantaged children and their families to break the cycle of poverty through education and empowerment.
“EFTC understands that quality education is just one important step to breaking the cycle of poverty, and thus takes a holistic approach to poverty eradication,” said Laura Trask, an EFTC employee working in Guatemala at the School of Hope. “In addition to quality education, EFTC offers five important programs to breaking the cycle of poverty, including: Further education, nutrition, access to clean water, access to comprehensive healthcare and social services, including a full-time psychology program.”
I write this to share my experience, and to remind others that there is still good in the world, but also to let people know they can help the school and program. One of the most important sources of income for EFTC in through the comprehensive sponsorship program they run. Sponsoring a child is a relatively inexpensive way to have a huge impact on an impoverished family, and to provide opportunity to a child who otherwise may not have any.
With more than 400 sponsors across the globe, the EFTC sponsorship program is more than an income generator. By sponsoring a child at the School of Hope, you provide all the benefits the students receive from a full education and the support and care they need. You will join a dedicated community of sponsors and supporters and receive letters from your child with photos and reports. Almost every dollar of the money that a sponsor donates toward their sponsor child will go towards the sponsor child’s expenses — EFTC uses less than 2 percent of that money for administration costs.
The school in Guatemala is also always looking for volunteers — either long term, or just several days as I did.  EFTC is a registered 501c3 in the United States, Guatemala and U.K.
For more questions regarding volunteering, contact Sara Miller at [email protected], regarding sponsorship you can contact Laura Trask at [email protected], or simply put “EFTC” in an internet search engine.

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