I have engaged in a variety of volunteer programs in the U.S. and wished to explore different opportunities. I am also retired and have a desire to travel and experience different cultures.
Why did you choose International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)?
Reviews were solid, and they offered a variety of activities as well as cultural immersion.
What was your favorite part about Guatemala?
The people were wonderful, always very friendly and willing to share. My Spanish is elementary and proved to be a minor hindrance to communication. But, laughter is the same in all languages.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Communication was somewhat an issue as my Spanish is minimal. But we were able to try and teach each other our native tongues, and much can be conveyed through hand gestures and a few basic words.
What made your volunteer experience unique?
The cultural immersion. The diverse and stunning landscapes. The resilience of a strong people who remain tied to their cultural history and values.
How did local staff support you throughout your time in Guatemala?
They were great. They provided logistics, answered questions, and offered recreational activities. My homestay family was phenomenal; they were very gracious and accommodating.
What was your accommodation like?
It was very comfortable, the food was good and plentiful, and my host family was wonderful.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
It's not a leisure trip. It's also what one makes of it. There is much to do in Guatemala, and its history is robust. It's up to the individual to do as much or little as they choose.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Early rise, breakfast of eggs, toast, or pancakes. Walk to the "chicken bus" and ride 15 minutes to my work sight. Meet with local farmers and engage in days activities. These generally included working in the coffee fields or helping in the roasting and packaging of the product. Return to town in the afternoon, grab lunch at a local café, take a two hour Spanish class, and then tour a local museum or one of the many ruins in town. Back "home" for dinner and conversation with other volunteers. Then relax for the evening.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I traveled the country. I visited ancient Mayan cities, climbed two volcanoes, and went to a beautiful beach on the Pacific as well as a spectacular mountain lake.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Stayed a bit longer to witness dia de los muertes.
Did you find your volunteer work to be more challenging than you expected?
I did not find volunteering abroad difficult at all. It took a few days to acclimate to the new culture, but beyond that it was very easy.
What surprised you most about Guatemala?
What was surprising was the resilience of the people. Many lived on little, but they appeared happy, content, and engaged. Family is of utmost importance in Guatemala.
What is one thing you wish you would have done before volunteering abroad in Guatemala?
I would have done more research in its history and on the quality of life. Many were concerned prior to my departure about its safety, but I found it very welcoming.
Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to Guatemala?
Pack light because laundry services are plentiful and inexpensive.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
International volunteering is a win-win scenario. It is cultural exchange, which is invaluable; too many view the world with blinders on.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
Renewed sense of appreciation for the little things we take for granted, like flushable toilet paper and reliable power. Also, it was nice to engage in a simpler, more down to Earth lifestyle.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
Absolutely. I hope to lead a group there in the future.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
I will volunteer again. There are many places that are intriguing and offer a different perspective on life. Perhaps I’d go to Peru or Southeast Asia next.
Dan is a 61-year-old retired addiction therapist from Colorado. He is married with two adult daughters, one of whom is living in Israel. Dan is physically active, loves the outdoors and adventure. He works on the staff of a volunteer organization on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.