by Selah Curran-Blakely
For the other two days of my first five-day week, I served within the elder community of Técpan. Unfortunately, since Técpan is an agricultural community, the elders are neglected, forgotten and even disrespected because they are seen as “worthless,” since they are no longer able to perform labor. As a result, an elder shelter was created called “Mis años dorados,” meaning “my golden years” in Spanish in the market district of Técpan. This shelter welcomes elders that feel neglected from their family and community. They provide them with food and engage them in fun activities to help keep them active and happy during the “golden years” of their lives.
In preparation for volunteering at this shelter, my team and I created different games in Spanish such as Pictionary, small puzzles, trivia, BINGO and more in hopes that they would be excited to spend time with us. Another bonding activity we participated in with the elders was gardening. I even had the opportunity to teach a Zumba class, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip! This was also very difficult because we were challenged by the ability to solely speak Spanish like at the elementary schools but this time, the elder’s Spanish was very developed and they barely spoke English. They mostly spoke the indigenous language of Técpan, Kaqchikel, so their Spanish wasn’t the best either. However, I decided to do my best!
When making a creative napkin holder with a group of men at the shelter, I started a conversation with one of them and got to know them. He told me in Spanish how much he appreciated us visiting them. He said that he is grateful that the shelter provides somewhere for him and his peers to feel accepted and appreciated because when he’s at home he does nothing and is practically left there all alone without any social interaction and is ignored. He loves all the work that the shelter does and he was very emotional about his amazing experiences there because they make him feel valuable.
After the first week of my trip, I began to reflect on what experiences I had up to that point. I realized that despite the cultural barriers between myself and the Técpan community that I was serving, I was still able to get to know and serve a new group of vulnerable people and have a positive impact in their life. I appreciate that I had the opportunity to be immersed in and experience their culture. I am so grateful for this life-changing, unforgettable opportunity that I had to go serve internationally in a community that is oppressed yet so very special to me! I will forever cherish all of the smiles, hugs and unlimited thanks that I received from the people, students and elders of Técpan, Guatemala!