By Faith Yusko
As the plane landed in Guatemala City, we all looked out the window to check out this new world we had come to. It was the Third World, and we definitely weren’t on Long Island anymore.
I, with seven other West Islip High School students, along with two of our teachers, had the opportunity to travel to Antigua, Guatemala, last summer to work with the Common Hope Organization. We worked with school children and helped build a house for a family in need.
I asked one of the social workers I worked with about the economic classes in Guatemala and he explained, “There are rich people and there are poor people of Guatemala, but the rich people of Guatemala don’t live here; they live in America.”
This became apparent after a short time. Our second day there, I went on a home social visit with another student, Atilay, who had a basic understanding of Spanish, and a social worker who spoke barely any English. I tried not to let on, but I was very afraid. I had no idea what to expect. I expected to see people crying in the streets left and right. To my surprise, everyone looked happy. They all said “Buenos Dias!” and welcomed us into their homes. Their homes were cement block buildings with dirt floors and tin roofs. I couldn’t comprehend how people could be happy living like this. I couldn’t fully process that every night this is what they had to come home to.
One thing I noticed was that in every single home there was at least one picture of Jesus. Sometimes it was a picture ripped out of a newspaper. Sometimes it was in a frame made out of scrap wood found on the street. Jesus Christ was found everywhere.
To be honest, I hadn’t been thinking of God that much before my trip. It was the summer before my senior year of high school. Going to Guatemala, writing my college essay, preparing to work at sleep-away camp and getting all of my summer reading done had somehow distracted me from seriously thinking about God. My daily prayers seemed to become a routine, like brushing my teeth. Constantly on the move, I raced through Grace without thinking about what I was saying. On the plane I had said a few Hail Mary’s when we experienced turbulence, but it wasn’t until I was a world away that I opened my eyes to what God was trying to show me.
In the rural village of San Rafael, there is a church. When we were taken there, the church was empty. The church is always empty except for the one weekend a year they have a priest visit. Our group leader told us that the intricate doors of the church had cost over $2,500 dollars; a small fortune there, yet the doors remained closed. The village around the church was impoverished — dogs in the street, tin-roofed shacks, barefoot, everyday impoverished. And there in the center was an empty church with ridiculously expensive doors.
That church wasn’t really the most important church though. Not to the people of San Rafael. They all worshiped together in each other’s homes; praying with each other, together as a community. And they were happy. The Guatemalan people were happy.
This was my epiphany. I was finally able to see what God had been trying to tell me — give thanks. I have so much to be thankful for, and I had been too busy with my own plan that I wasn’t seeing God’s plan for me.
We are all fortunate enough to live in a place where the church doors are always open. We have everything at our fingertips, even in these hard economic times. All this time when I had been staring at a full fridge complaining there’s nothing to eat and looking at a full closet complaining I have nothing to wear, meanwhile there’s an entire country not that far south from us full of people with literally nothing to eat and nothing to wear, and they’re happier then we are.
This entire experience left me changed. In addition to my realization, I worked construction and helped build a house for a family of nine, I taught crafts and danced in the rain with school children, and I got to experience living my faith in another country. I learned more than I ever could in any classroom.
I would like to say I left a piece of myself in Guatemala, but it was clear to me that the people of Guatemala already had plenty of Faith — and thankfully they have replenished mine.
FAITH YUSKO, a senior and honor student at West Islip High School, is the president of Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court Bishop McDonnell #1403, Babylon. She is active in the school drama club and an acolyte at the Church of St. Joseph in Babylon.