Volunteering at an Elementary School for Deaf Children

By Maggie Otal

Been in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for a few weeks now and it is just as beautiful as I remember. I love the atmosphere and all the friendly faces. Every person you walk past says “Buenos Dias” or “buenos tardes” even if they have no idea who you are. Some of my favorite parts of being in Xela (short for Quetzaltenango) is seeing the panaderias (bakeries) on every corner and smelling the fresh bread. I also love walking around the city on a beautiful sunny day. You have to be careful here because now that it’s summer it’s super easy to get burned just being outside for an hour. I have yet to see the UV index below 9.

I spend my weekdays volunteering six hours a day at an elementary school for deaf children, while the walk from my house is about 30 minutes, it’s worth it to see the smiles on the kids faces when I walk into the classroom. Most days I help the kids with their math and writing and I get to learn some Guatemalan signs, as well as teach some American signs. The kids have a dance competition coming up for which I am teaching them a dance that I have memorized from “Just Dance 3.” They aren’t the best dancers in the world which frustrates them at times, but I tell them that as long as they are having fun, that’s all that matters. Their teacher is deaf as well which can make it hard to communicate, but she understands some American signs, and I quickly picked up their alphabet so I am able to fingerspell any word I don’t know. Any language barrier is challenging at first but I find it so rewarding when I am able to communicate and I love the challenge of learning a whole new language.

After my volunteer placement, I go back to my homestay and enjoy a nice lunch with my host family and the three first-year medical students staying with us. I’ve been getting along great with the girls; we were able to go out dancing, and I even spent a weekend at Lake Atitlan with one of my roommates, Yulisa. She invited me into her home with open arms and I told her and all the other girls that they are welcome to come visit me in the US anytime.

Later in the evening, I go down the street for Spanish classes where I am able to learn one on one at my own pace.

I am extremely excited for this weekend, as my host family has invited me to a black sand beach and next weekend for my birthday we are planning a trip to the volcanic heated pools.