lake atitlan guatemala

Help Us Help Others! A Service-Learning Trip to Guatemala

In Announcements, Blog by Kay1 Comment

Last May, I traveled to rural San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala to participate in a two-week extended service project with local indigenous populations. My school, Rice University, has been sending volunteer groups of students to this community in Guatemala every year for sixteen years. We work with indigenous populations, particularly those who were affected by the violence of the civil war in the 1980s. Through our service, we hope to empower these people who have historically been discriminated against, many of whom survived the terrible violence of the war. As a student group, we also hope to learn from these people and raise awareness about the disparities present in modern-day society.

This year I have the honor and pleasure of leading a group of 12 student participants and one brand new staff member to Guatemala for the program’s seventeenth year alongside my trusty co-coordinator, Andrea. Many of these students have never been out of the country or participated in an international service project, so we certainly have a diverse group of experiences and perspectives.

In order to give you a clearer glimpse of the participants and the trip as a whole, I asked each of them about their motivations for the trip and what they hope to gain from the experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“This trip will mark my first international experience in five years. My goal in life is to attend medical school and work several years as a traveling physician in underdeveloped areas. With this Guatemala trip, I will receive my first exposure to international service at the San Lucas Toliman parish. Even though the nature of the work I’ll be doing will not be medical-related, I want to get a head start on my career of service by sacrificing a few weeks of my time to a community in need. I am hoping that this trip will broaden my perspective of the world and kindle a passion for a lifetime of service.” – Rafael, Class of 2015

“The International Service Project to Guatemala is a great opportunity to gain a wider and new outlook on the world and its peoples. It provides a new cultural experience and first hand interaction with people from a different background leading extraordinary lives and with great stories that I am looking forward to getting to know and being a part of. Being able to provide service and help with things we take for granted in a first-world country helps make a big difference in a developing country. My parents grew up in similar communities with little access to potable water and adequate roads and being able to help others who are in similar conditions makes me feel like I’m helping family. I am really looking forward to helping a community in need and making a difference no matter how small in someone’s life. Through small steps at a time, I know we can help make our communities better.” – Luz, Class of 2014

“I have goals for the trip: to learn about the people of San Lucas Tolíman, to understand the social and political dynamics of recent Guatemalan history, and to enjoy living in and learning about a new culture. But I’m also excited for those feelings, moments, and experiences that will crop up in situations and projects that I don’t even know about yet. I’m also really looking forward to getting to know my fellow ISPers and to share in this journey with them. It’s going to be awesome.” – Abraham, Class of 2016

“Part of my dream in life is to become a global physician, one who will be sent to other countries for specific healthcare mission trips. More exposure to different cultures around the world and understanding the locals’ situations will help ensure that I have the wide perspective that I aspire to have. Personally, this will be a stretching experience for me as I encounter a Spanish-speaking country for the first time. Being out of my comfort zone will only ensure that I learn to be more flexible and on my toes when it comes to both new and difficult situations—skills I know I will need in life.” – Oanh, Class of 2014

“I’m so, so, so ecstatic to go to Guatemala because I’ve completely fallen in love with the Central American lifestyle. The people there are truly remarkable, and I can’t wait to be engrossed in such rich culture, food and landscape. I’m really looking forward to working on my Spanish, trying new things (delicious eats and dancing, anyone?) and hopefully making a positive impact on the lives of others while we’re there. I’m also lucky to be going with such a solid group of people! The 2013 ISP members are a bunch of excited, motivated people that share my love of life-changing experiences.” – Elly, Class of 2015

“I applied to go on this trip because I have a passion for service. It has always been a dream of mine to have the opportunity to reach across borders and participate in an international service trip. I am very excited that I will have the chance to use my time and labor in order to help people who are in less fortunate circumstances than myself. I feel that the community’s impact on me, however, will be just as important as what I give to the community. I am hoping to learn more about the Guatemalan culture as well as come back from the trip more grateful for what I have here in the United States. I am especially looking forward to bonding with my peers while on the trip and trying freshly brewed Guatemalan coffee! One apprehension I have is about the trip is the language barrier. Speaking another language to a native speaker is currently outside of my comfort zone, but I believe that this trip will help me to overcome that discomfort. I am very excited for this new experience and cannot wait to share everything I learn with my friends and family once I come back!” – Andrea, Class of 2016

“So I’m really looking forward to Guatemala because I’ve obviously never been in that part of the world before. I think doing service work even at home can be difficult because as a student, you’re constantly juggling all sorts of different obligations. But our group is so fortunate to be able to spend an entire two weeks in another country, immersing ourselves as well as learning.” – Rucy, Class of 2014

“My goal for this trip is to open my eyes to the world. There are so many people across the Earth living in poor conditions and struggling to make it through their days. I want to see this, internalize it, and come up with the strength to make a difference.” – Matt, Class of 2015

“I have never been on a service trip before, whether domestically or internationally. Because of this, I am extremely excited – and a little bit nervous – for our trip to Guatemala this summer. As we venture to the small town of San Lucas Toliman, I am looking forward to creating personal connections with the residents living there. It is amazing that we will be able to make such a huge difference – in the residents’ lives as well as our own – in such a short period of time. Service is a necessary component of human nature; unfortunately, fewer and fewer people realize its power. We are hoping to change that – one trip at a time.” – Nick, Class of 2015

“I have always had a passion for service, and have spent countless hours and summer breaks volunteering with organizations that address social issues in cities near my home in Texas or my relatives’ home in China. Having some kind of personal tie with the area which I served was always a motivating factor in my volunteering; however, I know there are so many other places in the world that face similar if not more serious problems but do not have as wide a volunteer base. Through this service trip, I hope to branch out and serve in a completely unfamiliar culture, one that I have only learned about through Spanish classes. I realize we won’t be able to change the world in a couple weeks, but I hope at least that we can play a part in changing some lives.” – Cathy, Class of 2016

“I am excited to have the opportunity to help a community much like the one my parents used to call home. My family is from Bolivia, and in many ways Guatemala and Bolivia are similar in the sense that both have a very large and poor indigenous population. That being said, this service trip to Guatemala has both a humanitarian and personal appeal to me. My previous experiences with service trips have placed certain expectations on this service project to Guatemala. I expect to learn about an issue that manages to avoid being noticed in most of the United States, poverty. I expect to learn what things, in the absence of money, make people truly happy. I expect to form strong connections with the people of San Lucas Toliman, and to leave the trip being able to say that I helped not only people in Guatemala, but friends in Guatemala. Most importantly, I expect to have a life changing experience in the presence of like-minded people who will hopefully become some of my best friends.” – Francisco, Class of 2015

For the trip to even happen, we need to fundraise over $17,000. Between airfare, room and board, food costs, and cultural activities, we raise this money in order to provide a holistic and varied learning experience for our participants, as well as ensuring the safest accommodations possible.

And for this, we need your help. There are a few ways that you can assist us in our mission:

1. and click “Donate to Support the International Service Project to Guatemala” in the center of the page. Then simply follow the directions on the donation page.

2. Buy a t-shirt – Information for this will be available soon, but the prices will be somewhere between $10-$15. This option is only available to the continental United States for shipping purposes.

3. Spread the word – This is the easiest and most helpful step you can take to help spread awareness for our trip and our mission. Please take a moment to share this article with your friends and family as well as anyone else who may be interested!

This trip means a lot to me because it was one of the most unique and eye-opening travel experiences of my whole life. We had the opportunity to connect on an individual level with many people, and used our physical strength to assist them in community projects. It was humbling but extremely inspiring work, and I hope that you will help me in my quest to bring such amazing, incredible experiences to this year’s group of students.

Thank you very much for reading! Please comment or email me with any questions, comments, or concerns.


  1. Good luck with the fundraising. Great challenge and opportunity to do good.

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