This week, 20 high schoolers and four chaperones from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, North Carolina, helped the students and families of Escuela Integrada. At the school, they gave the second floor a fresh coat of paint and filled food bags for home visits. They also formed relationships with the students at Escuela Integrada by working on collaborative craft projects, playing soccer at Jocofut and serving together at Casa Maria, a nursing home for people with developmental disabilities in Jocotenango.
“Service is not always physical,” said Kai Thurow, minister for youth and family at St. John’s. “It’s more than brick and mortar and sweat. It’s helpful to build homes, but it’s also about the service of accompaniment.”
The nursing home experience was the most challenging, said Thurow. The students saw first-hand that nursing homes in Guatemala do not resemble those in the U.S. Many of the residents used wheelchairs and walkers, or required makeshift ways to stay upright. Nurses assisted the residents in moving from place to place, feeding those who were not able to do so on their own. Some were barefoot, and most wore clothes that did not fit.
“They didn’t seem bothered by the flies on them,” said Thurow. “They were just sitting there, eating whatever was handed to them.”
The high schoolers from St. John’s worked with the seventh, eighth and ninth graders from Escuela Integrada to make crafts for the residents. Together, they presented their crafts, visited with the residents and served food and drinks. On Monday and Wednesday, they played bingo, and on Tuesday, they danced with the residents and helped them swing at a piñata.
“In the U.S. nursing homes have different wards for different mental and physical capacities,” said Thurow. “We are used to seeing the areas for the able bodied and the mentally capable. It’s a big difference.”
Serving the residents at Casa Maria was difficult for the high schoolers and the students from Escuela Integrada, many of whom were moved to tears after seeing the conditions of the nursing home and the mental and physical abilities of the residents. Working together, however, helped the two groups grow in relationship and communication.
“Despite the language barrier between our high schoolers and the students at Escuela Integrada, they are working together for others,” said Thurow. “They are finding a way to communicate and have fun.”
Every night, the high schoolers gathered in PEAK (Pray, Encourage, Affirm and Kick into gear) groups to debrief the day. They shared their “mountain top” experiences and difficult, oftentimes heartbreaking moments, with one another. Later, they discussed emerging themes, topics and questions they have about life in Antigua and around the world.
“They are seeing that service is more than just fun, more than spending time with kids,” said Thurow. “They are seeing how life runs, how life works. They are pondering deep questions and figuring out how to apply their experience to their lives once they return to the U.S.”
The first group of high schoolers and chaperones returned to North Carolina on Saturday, July 8. They shared their experience using the hashtag #guatemala17. Check out their collective social media story, and search the hashtag on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see more.