Gabriela Pechova - 2015 Program Participant

School Children in Guatemala

Classroom in Guatemala

You are from the Czech Republic, but you are currently living in the U.S. Why did you decide to volunteer abroad?

I traveled to many places, but as tourist only. I think I was just ready to take my experiences to a new level, really get to know the country as if I lived there. I traveled to India and China in the past, saw all the touristy places but didn't experience as much of their culture as I would like to. Volunteering in Guatemala was exactly what I was looking for: interaction with locals and living just like one of them.

Why did you select Maximo Nivel’s program in Guatemala specifically?

Maximo Nivel offered placement in an orphanage. I wanted to make my time useful while being there, and practice Spanish. Was able to do both. I originally found the program through GVN - Global Volunteer Network.

What was your favorite part about volunteering abroad Guatemala?

Beautiful romantic town of Antigua. I wasnt really sure what to expect. I saw pictures of Guatemala City, and wasn't too impressed. Antigua is hour and half away from the airport, and it is one of the most beautiful small cities I have ever been to. Leaving was very hard.

What was your favorite part about your orphanage work?

Interaction with kids in their environment. Just every day was an amazing experience, working on new projects, getting to know their backgrounds, family stories. Honestly, all the kids have a special place in my heart, and I miss them daily.

How were you supported by local staff throughout your program?

Helpful with anything I needed. First, I was afraid the language barrier might be an issue, but not at all. They were all very appreciative to get any help they could, we really grew close. I am still in touch with all of them on Facebook. We basically grew to be friends over the period of three weeks working together. I have nothing but respect for them. Taking care of over 70 kids daily is fun, but not easy.

Volunteers with local children in Guatemala

Working on the Project

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Probably wish I could stay longer. And worked harder at learning Spanish. Other than that, wouldn't change a thing.

What do you wish you could change about your program?

Not waking daily at 6 a.m. would be great :) Also, wish I had more time to travel through Guatemala, and see more.

Take us through your daily schedule as a volunteer in Guatemala.

Waking up at 6 a.m., having breakfast with family, going to work with kids till noon, coming back on bus, having Spanish classes 2 p.m. till 4 p.m., going to gym and interacting with locals, dinner with family at 8 time to waste! Fun!

Party for Children in Guatemala

Celebrating Valentine’s Day

You consider yourself an adventurous person, so what fun things did you do on your free time?

Weekend trip to Lake Atitlan was breathtaking, in love with that place. Had a great group of volunteers to share the experience with. Hiking, sightseeing, shopping, and eating local food....more fun than expected!!!  Also, hiking the volcano was quite an experience. Guatemala has a beautiful nature. Great place for hikers.

What is your most memorable experience from your time working with kids in Guatemala?

Any day working with kids there would be a memorable experience. Probably celebrating Valentines day together. I brought in a big cake, and we all spent the day playing, hugging, and laughing.

What did you like most about your accommodation?

Family style; interaction with family. My host was very gracious, and eager to practice her english. We would have coffee every morning together, and talk about life  and her family. Both her sons studied to be doctors, very impressive.  Just a great family all around.

Did you experience culture shock or language issues when you arrived in Guatemala?

Not really, I’m used to traveling to different places and find a way of communicating with anyone. I also traveled to Central and South America before my trip, so I knew what to expect. What took me by surprise was how beautiful the town I was in (Antigua) was, and how fulfilling working with kids is.

Volunteer with Guatemalan child

Hugs and Kisses

How have your experiences in Guatemala stayed with you now that you are back at home?

Just more peaceful and appreciative. Looking for an orphanage in Atlanta to volunteer at. It was definitely an eye opening experience, and I would like to continue experiencing more through volunteering.

Do you plan to travel to Guatemala again soon?

Not soon, but probably again in the future. My next trip will be aid mission to Vietnam in September. Already super excited . Hope it will be half as amazing experience as Guatemala was!!!!