I came to Primeros Pasos with a simple checklist. I wanted an immersion in Public Health
practice and an opportunity to grow in my conversational Spanish. Over the course of the two
months I spent with Primeros Pasos, I accomplished those goals, but that was only a tiny
portion of my experience. What I treasure most is the inspirational people I met along the way,
the incredible memories I made, the growth in my confidence to creatively contribute to a
grassroots movement, and lastly the incredible beauty of the Guatemalan landscape and
Before coming to Primeros Pasos I had been working as a Nurse in the US for 5+ years. There
is a commonly understood phenomenon among Nurses known as ‘the five year burnout”. I was
certainly feeling that. I was tired of bedside nursing in the US, the high demands, the stress, the
pressure. I wanted to grow in my ability to address societal-wide health problems. So I applied
for a Masters in Public Health. Before starting school, I wanted to dig a little deeper myself---
that’s how I got involved with Primeros Pasos.
I didn’t know what to expect before arriving. Granted, many emails were exchanged between
myself and the wonderful coordinators. I was as prepared as I could be. I had a good idea of the
organization’s goals and what they did, but I wasn’t clear on exactly what would I be doing. But
that was also the beauty of the organization. It is what you make of it and there is so much room
for growth and creativity.
I mostly worked with the incredible nutritionist Monica on a hodgepodge of activities. First, I was
grading the evaluations of the mother’s in her nutrition program. I was doing simple analyses of
the exams to identify which topics the mother’s were needing re-teaching and which topics were
well-understood. I helped Monica with basic execution of the Charla’s. I made posters, and
helped with materials and preparation. Then I got involved in the Mother’s Day Campaign
project. I worked with my friend and co-volunteer Sarah on filming and interviewing mother’s on
their feelings for Mother’s Day and what it means to be a mother. This project tugged at my
heart strings and really fired up the feminist inside me. We made a sweet video which you can
watch on our YouTube page!
Making videos was something I had zero experience in and I was so thrilled to learn! Towards
the end of my time my confidence had grown and I was giving my own charlas in Spanish! I
taught rudimentary CPR. I helped in the mobile clinics registering patients and checking blood
sugars. In the office I worked on a grant application and a data analysis presentation of stunted
growth in our communities. I shared my findings with other volunteers and helped familiarize
new volunteers to Primeros Pasos. None of these jobs had I anticipated, but all of them were
enriching. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity I had to develop new unanticipated skills
with Primeros Pasos while making a tiny but meaningful contribution to the community.
But it wasn’t just the time spent volunteering that defined my experience. It was Xela as a
whole. I developed friendships with volunteers, we hung out after work exploring the city, going
to trivia, going on hikes, dancing, and getting goofy with a few beers. I took Spanish classes and
developed a sister-like bond with my Spanish teacher. I took salsa classes where I also became
close with my teacher. I was basically a sponge, an all around student absorbing all sorts of
information, public health, spanish, salsa, even yoga! I played soccer with friends from school
and children from a nearby hogar. I also got involved with another local organization,
Quetzaltrekkers, with whom I went on a few unforgettable weekend treks. I was absolutely
awestruck by the beauty of the land in Guatemala.
The most precious aspect of my experience was the friendships. By the time of my departure, it
was a big deal! My new friends were legitimately affected to see me leave. The prospect of
leaving made it apparent to me how genuine the relationships were that I had developed along
the way. I hosted a few despedidas saying goodbye to my new friends. It was emotional, but
that was a good thing. It reaffirmed for me that this experience was so much more than a
checklist for my resume. It was a special time in my life of growth, learning, loving new friends,
and re-connecting the raw beauty of Earth and the resilient folks fighting to make things just a
little bit better, poco a poco, paso a paso, como Primeros Pasos. I will treasure this time in my
life and these relationships forever.
Special Shout out to Michele and Camila for making me feel at home!