Group shot of Guatemala Service Trip, December 2023

In December, Science chair Camilla Fecteau Bridge led a group of students on one of two annual international service trips to Guatemala. Dr. Steven Bridge, theology professor and online theology program director, led the second group after the first group's return. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the College’s International Service Trip program (ISTP).

Camilla Fecteau Bridge in GuatemalaCamilla has led and participated in many ISTP trips over the years and writes, “This was the first all-female team ever I've led. Alumna and current graduate student Carly Jordan was my co-leader and right-hand woman. There was a lot of physical labor involved with our service and these women tirelessly worked their tails off. They are strong, resilient, empathetic, and kind. I am SO proud of them.”

Before the trip, the science club fundraised and collected over-the-counter medication, children’s non-chewable vitamins, and school supplies to bring to Guatemala. We asked Science Club member and medical biology student Aaliyah Wilson-Falcone a few questions.

How many supplies did the science club collect and why did the club want to do this?

Aaliyah with a Guatemalan child

Aaliyah WilsonFalcone

I am proud to say that over $1500 in donations was collected. Having participated in the Guatemala service trip the year prior, and seeing all the good that the clinic run by PID (Partners in Development) does for their community inspired me. I wanted to do more than just give my services for a week because what the clinic does goes far beyond that mere week. So, I decided that with the help of my Science Club I would start a fundraiser to raise needed materials and funds for the organization that does so much for people in need. 

What did these supplies mean for the people/children of Guatemala?

The clinic was very grateful for the donation and said that it would be put to great use. Anything and everything they receive goes to a worthy cause. They help fund medicine for people, as well as food and clothes for families. It helps to buy school materials and can even help fund the construction for a new building. Everything goes to bettering the lives of the people in Guatemala. So, any donation, no matter how big or small helps. 

What do the groups of SJC students do while they are in Guatemala?

Both teams’ main goal was to begin production on a new classroom building that would help advance the education of the children. 

Three members of team 1 digging in preparation for laying a new school foundation.My trip (team 1): Our big project was helping to lay the foundation of a new school building, which included moving lots and lots of sand, and rubble. Seeing it come together was amazing and worth all the manual labor.

Every year the clinic sends out Christmas bags for their sponsor children, which include an outfit and a pair of shoes. So, we helped them prepare by festively decorating the bags, packaging them, and even handing them out before Christmas. We also filled bags of food which included things like oil, rice, soup, beans, and more. Finally, we helped put together some little goodie bags for the sponsor children. 

Guatemalan textile demonstrationWhile we were there to work and help the clinic, we also got a day to see lots of Guatemalan culture. We visited Lake Atitlan, a beautiful lake. That same day we had a textile demonstration. They showed how to spin the cotton into thread, which I obviously had to try. I wasn't very good, but it was a cool experience. However, the most interesting thing was when they showed us how to dye the fabric. We learned that some plants produce more than one color of dye, and the different shades were caused by the moon, like how amazing that is. She then showed us how they made all their textiles, and it was amazing. 

To end the day, we visited an old church where this famous priest was killed. We got to learn about who he was, and why he died, and the best part was that we learned this all from kids that were no more than 15. This day was amazing. 

The last day before we went home, we got to play in a soccer game against the village children, the best experience of my life. 

Thank you for coming to GuatemalaHowever, when we got back to the hotel, we were surprised by a classic Christmas tradition called Las Posadas, which is a group of children dressed up as angels, who sang Christmas carols while doing a little dance. It was amazing, and a great way to end the trip. 

You’ve participated before on the Guatemala trip. Why did you want to participate again?

Helping others has always been my passion. So, while I might not be able to do much now, I can do this. I can spend a week or so of my life and give to people who need it the most. So, when I heard of this opportunity, I knew I had to participate. That experience was so inspiring that I knew if I had the opportunity I would be going back. That's exactly what I did. 

SJC students pose with some of the local children in Guatemala.Being down there almost feels euphoric. Like all your problems just melt away, and you're just there. They see the world so differently and have a grasp on what the world has to offer. They find pleasure in the little things and enjoy everyday life. They are excited to learn and jump at the change to better themselves. Meeting them has pushed me to be better than I was and given me the motivation to push even harder for my dream. So, it is not a question of if I will be returning, it's when. They have given me so much, without even knowing it. They opened my eyes to the bigger picture, and for that I can never repay them. So, if I am given the opportunity to return, I will always jump at the chance. 

What is your favorite experience about the trip?

Trying to just choose one experience is extremely difficult because it was all amazing. However, there was one experience that put the biggest smile on my face. 

Playing soccer in Guatemala.Before going on the trip, I had asked my team leader if there was any way of setting up a soccer scrimmage with the children of the village. I knew that there was a field and being a soccer player I have always loved to view authentic soccer from other cultures. So, when she said that she would try and coordinate a game, I had an idea. Having played soccer for pretty much my entire life, I had accumulated many jerseys that I would most likely never wear again. So, I decided that I would give my jerseys to the kids during the soccer game. However, I didn't want anyone to be left out, so I started asking others if they would donate their old jerseys for me to bring down and give to the children. All together I ended up gathering over 40 jerseys to disperse to the Guatemalan children during the game. So, after finishing our last day of work, we were informed that we would be participating in a soccer game, and I was ecstatic. 

The children started gathering their friends and started practicing. Playing pass in the street and kicking balls at fences, they were ready for us. Maybe 20-30 Guatemalan children ages 5 to 15 came to play against us in a soccer game. Some had a croc on one foot and a tall sock with a sneaker on their kicking foot. 

Soccer group

Then it was time to pass out the jerseys. All the kids came running up to form a line to get a jersey. Then they were swapping with each other to get the number or the color they wanted. I started to cry, and I thought it was because those jerseys signified a huge part of my life and I was giving them away. But I realized that it was because of how happy I had made them. They were smiling, and excited because of something I had done, and that joy, and those smiles were enough to know that I had done the right thing. 

After all the t-shirt craziness had settled down, we started the game, and it was better than I could have ever imagined. It was like 20 vs 8 but it was one of the best experiences I had ever had in my life. We had done many wonderful things in Guatemala, but for some reason this one stuck. Maybe it’s because I'm a soccer player and l love watching and playing soccer. But there was something about the way we were playing together that had me almost in tears. While we were playing it was like everything that made us different was gone. We were able to communicate, cheer each other on, and laugh without using words. It was truly beautiful to see two different cultures, with people from many different backgrounds coming together to play such a simple game. It gives me hope that the world can change for the better. 

If a student is thinking about participating next year, what would you say to them?

Do it! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will not only change the lives of the people you meet but it will change you in ways you cannot even fathom. It pushes you outside your comfort zone, and challenges you to be the best version of yourself. It will open your mind to new possibilities and change your view of the world. You'll get to experience a new culture, do new exciting things, and try new food. Yet by far, the best part is getting to meet and connect with all types of people.

“If you get the opportunity to participate in a service trip, take it, because I can promise that you will never be the same.” — Aaliyah WilsonFalcone

More about the Guatemala service trips

ISTP was started in 2003 by Dr. Steven Bridge when he first brought a group of students to Haiti. Since then, most trips have ventured to Guatemala. Over the 20 years, 655 participants have been forever impacted by service to our sisters and brothers in developing nations.

Dr. Steven Bridge and the second group

Dr. Bridge, who led a second group of students (shown above) to Guatemala during winter break, writes, “We continued the work of constructing a new community center that will house, among other things, tutoring services for children with acute learning challenges, and workshops to promote health education and improve community wellness. Over a four-day stretch, this SJC team moved an estimated 100,000 pounds (= 50 tons!) of building materials to the worksite while SJC alumnus and co-leader, Dr. Robert Michaud (2015 biology), saw and treated over 30 patients at the health clinic. On the final two days of the trip, our team played soccer with the kids, was treated to a special appreciation dinner by members of the village, witnessed an active volcano, and toured the shops, museums, and churches of Antigua--a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was another successful trip, and one that, in my opinion, epitomizes the very best of SJC's mission in action.”

Photos provided by teams 1 and 2.