KOKOMO, Ind. — Though she may be richer in material things than the people she met in Guatemala, Coral Santos left that Central American country feeling she may be poorer in ways that really matter.
“They’re a little happier than we are,” she said. “We’ve become more consumers than producers. You can see that even though they are going through hard times, they are willing to give back and share what little they have. Going to Guatemala gives us an idea of how lucky we are to live in the United States, and how easy we have it.”
Coral, from Frankfort, was among 10 Indiana University Kokomo students who experienced Guatemala’s culture, health care system, and history, as part of a Hispanic culture and health care class during the spring 2017 semester.
The students spent 10 days visiting a university to see how nurses are educated, touring a reproductive health care clinic and a hospital, discovering the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Copan, learning about native animals at a macaw sanctuary, seeing the statue of El Cristo Negro, and buying souvenirs from a women’s weaving cooperative and artist’s cooperative.
They agreed the part they will remember most was their day of service at a nutritional center for young children suffering from malnourishment, run by Sister Edna Morales.
They spent the day holding and rocking babies and small children, who stay with Sister Edna and receive nourishing meals, until they are well enough to return home.
“It’s a quiet day, but a nice day,” said Christine Taff, lecturer in Spanish, who leads the trip each year. “The kids are sick, but what they really need is attention, stimulations, and someone to talk to them and feed them.”
Before traveling, students raised $2,000 to shop in Guatemala, purchasing a clothes dryer, clothes, diapers, fortified cereal, toys, formula, and other items requested by Sister Edna, and also gave her money to buy a sewing machine.
Lorena Luna-Santana asked for, and was moved to receive, a blessing from Sister Edna.
“She is an amazing lady – shes a tiny little lady, but she went knocking on doors and opened her center with everything donated,” she said. “Now it’s a fully-running medical center, and is a blessing to the children it serves.”
Lorena, a general studies major from McAllen, Texas, was especially touched by the children, most about 10 or 11 years old, she saw selling little souvenirs out the streets, helping support their families. Her classmates joked that the children learned she was the person in their group to approach, and in the plaza in Antigua, they lined up to sell her items.
“I bought something from each of them,” she said, adding that she asked to take pictures with each child as well. “If that were my child, and he was trying to provide for our family, I would want someone to buy from him.”
Before leaving for Guatemala, students studied the history and culture of the area. Each completed a final project, with nursing students covering health-related topics, and others researching some of the places they would visit.
Taff also prepares them for what it is like to travel in a developing country.
“For some students, it can be a hard trip,” she said. “It’s different than traveling to Europe, or within the developed world. It can be a bit more stressful.”
She taps into her own resources in the country, including friends she’s known for many years who gladly give their time for students to have an authentic experience.
“They made you feel very welcome, like you were part of their family there,” said senior Sarah Coffman, Greentown. “This trip opened my eyes and made me want to travel the world and meet new people. This isn’t just our world. There are more people out there.”
Nursing student Michaela Walters enjoyed the chance to travel outside the United States for the first time.
“It’s easy to get stuck in your own ways, and think this is how everyone lives,” she said. “It was interesting to learn about people in another country, and their lives.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.