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Antigua Guatemala

Dear Victoria,
I am happy to inform you that the Plan II Honors Program has awarded you a Rowe Koehl Travel Grant for summer 2011.

Yesterday I accepted my travel grant....
"With this notification I accept the Rowe Koehl Travel Grant from Plan II. I also certify that my travel plans have not changed since I submitted my application for a grant."

Many of you are probably thinking WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! WHAT'S HAPPENING?! Well, April 15th, I submitted an essay about my desire to return to Guatemala. I originally visited the country in 2006, my freshman year of high school, and I instantly feel in love with the culture, the atmosphere, the people and the place. During my visit, I also met a young girl who greatly inspired me and three/four years after my initial trip and meeting her, I wrote about her for a college application essay. She made a huge impact on me and she is part of the reason that I want to return.

Here's the essay that I wrote specifically for the grant:

I met a young girl, half my age and half my size. She was not granted the possessions, education, and opportunity I had, but her dark brown eyes expressed a maturity and wisdom beyond her years. Her name is Inna and following her mother’s death, she had become the woman of her household at only eleven years old. Throughout the small town of Santa Maria de Jesus in Guatemala, Inna’s story was known.

My family and I met Inna when we traveled to Antigua, Guatemala for vacation during my freshman year of high school. At that time material possessions meant the world to me. My aunt had given me a Burberry purse just a few months prior to the trip as a birthday present. I ridiculously toted the bag all around Guatemala; a bag equivalent in price to the average monthly income of an urban dwelling family. I was not expecting to visit an orphanage nor a countryside school for disabled children. My brother and I had planned on climbing nearby volcanoes, visiting ancient Mayan ruins, and swimming in the warm Caribbean water. I never foresaw walking along a dirt road, stopping in a small bakery to purchase twenty dollars worth of food, and arriving before a door of sheet metal. My father’s knock on the door produced a loud clang and was answered by a young girl with wide eyes.

The first thing I noticed about Inna was her mature appearance. At only eleven years old, Inna had a smile worn with deep understanding. She wore simple clothes. She had stitched her long patterned skirt with her own hands. Her blouse featured an array of colors and shapes: aqua birds, lime green vines, orange and purple flowers. She wore a pair of hoop earrings and her feet were bare. Inna’s house was as simple inside as it was outside. The walls were constructed with dried corn stalks, ash covered cinderblocks, and disregarded scrap metal. In one room sat a bed, which she shared with her two younger brothers while her father slept on a mat on the floor. Her face glowed as she introduced us to the pots and pans of her kitchen. She blushed when pointing to the new cinder block stove that she used to prepare each family meal. Inna’s most prized possession was this rustic looking stove and I, in my materialism, had a hard time grasping why.

I attempted to communicate with my broken Spanish and she smiled patiently. I quickly shifted the attention away from my linguistics and onto our gifts. Peering inside the bags of food we had purchased earlier, Inna’s cheeks brightened and her eyes glistened. Softly, she thanked us in Spanish with words that carried a meaning far greater than their translation. Despite the language barrier, her emotions and facial expressions made it clear the impact that this gift had made.

That day, I found myself not only admiring what Inna had, but also what she lacked. This young girl helped me understand what I have been blessed with in this life and that my gifts should be shared with the world, given to help others. My encounter with Inna led me to see that although people come from diverse backgrounds, fundamentally we are all the same. Without Inna, it would have been easy to become self-absorbed in my own lifestyle and remain oblivious to other ways of living.

The remainder of the trip was not without its precious moments, jewels of truth and instants of realization. I savored each hour of that week spent in Antigua, Guatemala and enjoyed the vivid colors in each piece of fabric, the Mayan influence in art and architecture, and the atmosphere found in the marketplace. Upon departure from the country, I took with me mementos of my trip—woven pillowcases, a traditional Mayan skirt, and hand painted butterfly figurines—as well as, memories to last a lifetime, combined with a desire to return.

With appropriate funding, I would be able to spend a month living in Antigua, Guatemala this summer. I would spend my time volunteering with Faith in Practice, an organization that arranges for doctors to visit Central America and improve the physical and economic conditions of the poor. My family has a long history of working with this situation stateside and finding free housing for the month would be possible through the organization. The majority of my funds would be attributed to travel: round trip plane tickets run about seven hundred dollars, and four hundred dollars would be reserved for transportation throughout the country. Aside from volunteering with Faith in Practice, I plan on weekend trips to explore the local volcanoes, the Mayan ruins at Tikal, and the coastal town of Puerto San Jose. Four hundred dollars would be devoted to food, three hundred as emergency money, and two hundred for airport fees.

The main purpose of returning to Guatemala would be full immersion into the local atmosphere largely through community service. Armed with four years of high school Spanish and my Nikon camera, I plan on documenting my month spent in Guatemala on an online blog, available to friends and family. Most importantly, on my trip I want to find Inna and attempt to explain to her the impact that she made on my life five years ago.

Aside from memories, I also have a pictures to remember her by:
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And some pictures from my first trip to Guatemala:
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I am excited that I was chosen to receive the grant, and as a result, I cannot wait to spend the month of July working in Guatemala. The details are not yet concrete, but I plan to spend my time volunteering with an organization in the area. Over the weekends, I hope to make trips to Lake Atitlan and the Mayan ruins at Tikal. No matter what I am doing, I will also have my camera with me. :) Were it not for my swim class in twenty minutes, I would just start babbling on with happiness. I promise to keep you all updated, and ask that you keep me in your prayers as I make preparations for my trip!!
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