Vandy Spring Break

Day 5: Thursday, March 7
By: Kristen, Morgan, Sarah

This morning we visited both the Centrál and Cooperativa schools to teach nutrition charlas (lessons) to the parvulos (pre-schoolers)! We fell in love with their adorable faces and hugs, but more importantly their endless laughter and unending smiles. The lessons emphasized the food pyramid and the difference between healthy and unhealthy food and snack choices.  And while “Tortrix” and “Dulces” are considered “sano” by some pre-schoolers, we eventually got our point across. Afterwards, we hiked up a STEEP hill to a Mayan Altar. It was beautiful and peaceful (and a good place to soak up some sun!). After eating lunch, we returned to the Cooperativa school to help Julie, one of our program directors, with her after-school English classes. We played games and sung “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” helping students learn the English words for body parts! Now we’re all headed out to Pana for a game of Trivia at La Palapa and possibly eating some pupusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese, vegetables, meat etc.) ¡Buenas noches!

Day 4: Wednesday, March 6
By: Emily, Katie, Hannah

Today was the first day of our Nutrition Charlas with the students at Cooperativa and Central. We taught lessons on vitamins and minerals to fourth through sixth graders and gave them trail mix as an example of a healthy snack. Obviously, they loved it. The kids were so excited to interact with us and learn about healthy eating, which is really important for them because balanced diets and healthy choices can be a challenge in these communities, and the country at large.

The kids weren’t the only ones learning about food today though – we all had the opportunity to visit the families that hosted the Program Directors and Country Director during their home stays and ate lunch with them. We split up into four groups to visit the four very different households. One group visited a family in Central and were able to meet six of the twelve family members living in the home. They enjoyed a traditional soup with potatoes, beans, and peppers, as well as a ton of tortillas (of course!). It was incredible to see what it takes to run a household of 12, particularly in an impoverished area. What was more incredible, however, was how loving the family was in the interactions we saw, and how happy the mother was to be welcoming people into her home with food and friendship regardless of language barriers. 

This idea of welcoming strangers into a home and going out of their way to take care of guests carried over into another home visit. This family actually consisted of multiple families – mothers, fathers, siblings, children, cousins – all living and working together in the same home. We were served a traditional soup as well, a combination of corn and beans called “atol”, along with fresh scrambled eggs with tomato sauce, and more tortillas than we could possibly eat, though we definitely tried. We recognized some of the younger children in the household from our work at Cooperativa, and they insisted upon showing us around their home, particularly their many animals. We met the newest additions to their family, a baby goat born last Saturday and dozens of baby chicks. We spent an hour chasing baby chicks to place on the children’s heads, only to watch them immediately fly off, much to their delight, and wondering what the cow was so upset about since it didn’t stop mooing from the second we arrived until the moment we left. But actually – it never shut up.

Clearly, these homes are nothing like ours in the United States, but it was apparent that every person with whom we interacted was happy. Happy with what they had, the way the lived, and the people with whom they shared their time and space – a lesson we can all benefit from learning. 

Day 3: Tuesday, March 5
By: Cara, Carly, and Dana

Hola a todos!

Today we began with a delicious breakfast of Guate french toast (bread + mushed banana). We drove up to Cooperativa, the school that we have been working with, in order to complete the community garden project. With the help of los padres de familia (Guate PTA), and the students, we successfully finished the fence that surrounds the garden. We also began to create the fertilizer from the excess corn husks from the last harvest. We even got to use machetes (brought from the students’ homes) to break down the husks. This in particular was eye-opening for us. Por supuesto, the children were much better at using the machete and tilling the ground than we were. They even laughed at our attempts to be a part of the agricultural process.

The 6th grade boys working hard.

But Kristen, Dana, Morgan, and Sarah made a valiant effort using the machetes to chop up corn husks for fertilizer. 

We especially enjoyed working hand in hand with the children and finding out about their lives as we worked. They really wanted to help us – they consistently wanted to take the tills and other tools out of our hands. In comparison to students in the United States, we were impressed by their motivation to better their community. Additionally, we loved watching them fall and get right back up (literally). The children are so resilient and happy despite their hardships.

Yesterday, some of the Guatemalan women working with us were a little reserved, but today they opened up to us. In particular, Felipa made a big effort to include us and to introduce each of us to the other women in the community. Even though she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently (she speaks Kaqchikel, the native Mayan language), she tried her best to communicate with us. She taught us a few words in Kaqchikel – for example matiox (pronounced “matiosh”) is thank you. Felipa also tried to learn some words in English.

The group with the women. Felipa is the one on the far left.

This afternoon, we took a walk through Sololá to the NGO Soluciones Comunitarias. This NGO provides healthier and more economical solutions to common issues in several regions in Guatemala. For example, they sell water purifiers and provide eye exams and glasses at a reduced price. We thought it was really interesting that a large donation of glasses to any one community could wipe out an opportunity for business for this NGO. While the donation would be helpful, it is only helpful for so long; if a pair of glasses breaks, the person has very few options to replace that pair of glasses. Additionally, the donated glasses cannot fuel the Guatemalan economy. Similarly, instead of donating vegetables to the community, we helped to build a garden to increase self-sustainability.

After, we planned the nutrition charlas/classes which made us very excited to teach tomorrow! Buenas noches a todos!

Day 1 & 2: Sunday, March 3 & Monday, March 4
By: Andrea & Christina

Hola! So Andrea and I are were here this past summer and it’s been so unreal to be back so far! We landed with a group of 9 other Vanderbilt students in Guatemala City on Saturday and spent the evening nomming on fresh guac and ceviche while enjoying the musical stylings of “Crash”, a Guatemalan rock group featuring some Americana classics. The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the Black Cat Hostel and then walked to the Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum) in Antigua. There we enjoyed a fantastic tour and learned all about the history of chocolate and the processing of it from tree to Hershey kiss! Afterwards we got to make and sample different traditional chocolate drinks as the Mayans and Europeans consumed their chocolate hundreds of years ago and then got to make our own dark chocolate bars in different shapes with add-ins ranging from coffee to chili powder. We then wandered around the gorgeous colonial city for a while and even got to see some of the initial processions for Semana Santa, the Easter Week celebrations that are coming up in a few weeks. We later picked up our hardened chocolate and napped all the way to Sololá where we settled in to our hostel just in time to snap some photos of the gorgeous sun setting over Lake Atitlán.
Today we had our first day in Chaquijya, the community where Manna works. We took a micro to get there, and arriving at the school in Cooperativa brought us back to the summer where we went to the different schools to teach English and Health. On this trip, we are helping build a community garden that the community wants and needs. We were greeted by three little girls running up to us and giving us big hugs—a very warm welcome. All of the spring break participants got to test their Spanish skills and talk and play with the kids. Then, we started to work on the garden, measuring posts, digging deep holes, and carrying large pieces of bamboo. We finished up the morning by placing the fencing around the posts we put up with some strong effort!

Christina and Emily are having so much fun putting in fence posts!

Ja and some community members working hard to put the fence up.

We rewarded ourselves with lunch and a trip down to Panajachel. We visited an NGO called Mayan Traditions where we watched a woman do traditional weaving and visited a Mayan medicinal garden. Then, we had a couple of hours to roam around Pana and do some shopping (and get delicious smoothies!). We took a local form of transportation, a chicken bus, squished in with many Guatemalans, up to the hostel where we had a delicious dinner and crashed for the night. It is a bit unreal to be back in this beautiful place with such amazing, happy people. We feel so thankful to be able to share our past experiences with this great group of spring breakers but to also make some new, wonderful, meaningful memories that will only add to our love of this place.


  1. Great article Streeter, excited for the life-changing week you guys are going to have.

  2. Great job Vanderbilt students! We have a team from Jackson Hole, WY coming at the beginning of May to continue the awesome work you're doing. Keep it up!

  3. Glad to see that you got Pat working -- hope he brings back a bracelet for us - praying for your success - Lynne and Paul