By: Peter Warwick
One cold January day while in London I came across an advert on a website aimed at people looking for new challenges in their lives. CasaSito was looking for a volunteer to develop a homestay and tourism program as a way to diversify their income. The opportunity sounded very interesting and was exactly what I was looking for – new challenges, improve my Spanish, and volunteer. I knew nothing about CasaSito and the world of NGOs as it was the complete antithesis of what I had been doing before. Despite hearing Guatemala’s reputation for violence and corruption, I applied for the position and five months later found myself in Antigua.
I started from a blank slate and set about the task ahead. After numerous false starts and dead ends, the project started to take shape. I wanted to develop a program that helped as many stakeholders as possible. These included the host families (preferably families of CasaSito scholars), CasaSito partner projects, and visitors. It was also important to raise the profile of CasaSito among guests, highlighting what tremendous work they do and hopefully establishing further connections and contacts while giving these visitors a memorable experience.
We selected a handful of host families who will offer the visitor a unique experience of what life is like for Guatemalans living in poor rural communities outside of the Antigua bubble. The visitor will stay a couple of nights with the family and spend time volunteering at one of CasaSito’s partner projects nearby. These projects include special needs schools, a school for deaf students, after-school art clubs, and a homework club. Guests pay a cost which covers the homestay, volunteering experience, and includes a donation to the CasaSito Youth Development Program. With this exchange, the hope is that it is a win-win for everyone.
In order to have an idea of what our guests could expect, I volunteered at the partner projects and was impressed by each of them. I taught English for a day at Brillo de Sol, spent a morning teaching algebra to children at LaVosi school for the deaf, helped at Semilla de Esperanza primary school in the community of San Mateo, and offered homework support at a club run by a Guatemalan lady and her American husband. Each of these organizations work with very little resources but achieve incredible results from the dedication of all those involved.
It is evident that the CasaSito Youth Development Program has a well deserved reputation. It is very transparent and provides scholars with a rounded holistic education. Scholars are encouraged to not only achieve excellent grades, but they are also required to participate in extracurricular actives and volunteer within their communities. These opportunities are being given to young people to change their lives and communities, while allowing them to flourish and break out of the cycle of poverty.
My lasting impression of CasaSito was sitting in on mid-year evaluations with the scholars and their parents. I was impressed by their confidence, intelligence, and most of all by their positive attitude and their hopes for their future and their families. None of this could have been done without the ongoing support of CasaSito.
I have had a tremendous experience in both Guatemala and at CasaSito. I have received nothing but kindness and generosity of spirit by every Guatemalan I have met. Whilst there are clearly challenges in the country, there are also many instances of selflessness and willingness to help those less fortunate at all levels.
Peter had been living in London and working for an investment bank for more than 30 years. The job was great and he had the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet interesting people. But it was time to move on, so three years ago he decided to do something completely different. With no clear plans but always had the desire to learn Spanish, he went to Spain- Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville for nine months to receive intensive Spanish courses. He also took an ESOL course so he could teach English as a second language. Peter has spent some time volunteering teaching English to refugees in London and found the experience extremely rewarding.