By Robert Weigel, Friendship Bridge Kiva Intern (summer 2015)
My three months in Guatemala have now ended, and this has been one of the best experiences of my life. Panajachel and Guatemala have stolen my heart and turned me into a Chapín. I will gladly jump at any chance to return to the beautiful town on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
I have been challenged in many ways in my role of Friendship Bridge Kiva Intern. Punctuality, conversational Spanish, and myriad responsibilities proved to be daily struggles, but all have improved as my journey progressed.
I have gained useful knowledge in how to traverse through the intricate Guatemalan public transportation system that efficiently combines “chicken” buses, boats, micro-shuttles, beds of pick-up trucks, backs of motorcycles, taxis, and rickety tuk-tuks. I am able to share coveted ‘backpacker knowledge’ about which routes to take where, which ones to avoid, and how much you should pay for them.
But what has left the greatest impact on me is the tenacity and robust directional disposition that is held by the Facilitators of Friendship Bridge. Every time I went into the field, I found myself in unfamiliar territory where I was greeted and guided ably by Tomassa, Esteban, Gloria, and a number of other incredible Facilitators. They guided me in two ways – down byzantine paths to the remote meeting locations and through the incredible Friendship Bridge educational and personal development trainings.
Each route was decisively known by the exact alleys to cut through, the exact doors to open, and the exact houses to meet at. Now this may seem like a ubiquitous skill in the United States, but when your points of reference are as absurd as a cow in a field or a recently hung political sign, it becomes a bit more challenging.
And not only are these amazing people required to know each and every house, they also must have the energy to meet with multiple groups of clients a day and present the specific Non-Formal Education session of that month. Some days last up to twelve hours for the Facilitators. I found myself exhausted after the first four at times!
Keep in mind the only job I had was to photograph and write about the events, while the Facilitators were doing the actual work. The men and women of Friendship Bridge who do this on a daily basis are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Never did I come into contact with a Facilitator who was not smiling or did not love what they do.
I made dozens of new friends between the players on local soccer teams to expats to the hundreds of other travelers with whom I crossed paths. This summer has provided a unique chance to grow and become a part of the amazing culture that is Guatemala. I am beyond excited for whoever gets the life-changing opportunity to experience this awesome organization and this magnificent country.
Below are a few of the incredible photos Robert took this summer in Guatemala