In March 2023, eight IMG employees set off on the trip of a lifetime with School the World, a non-profit organization focused on providing access to quality education in Central America. Its fourth time participating in School the World’s corporate service trip, IMG joined forces with employees from other companies to finish building a new school and bathroom facility in the remote community of Sector Castro in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala.
Here is a look into what the incredible week entailed, told from the perspective of IMG team members who went on the trip.
Our first day in Guatemala started bright and early with a 6 a.m. breakfast in Antigua before hitting the road for Santa Cruz del Quiche. The drive to El Quiche was a bumpy, 3.5-hour ride full of sharp twists and turns into the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
But the long drive was completely worth it once we arrived to the community of Sector Castro where we would be spending our week. As we drove up over the last hill leading to our destination, a crowd of students, teachers, parents, and community members gathered in celebration to welcome us. They cheered as our vans rolled to a stop, and we immediately had tears of happiness in our eyes. The children wasted no time grabbing our hands, giving us flowers, and welcoming us to their community. Songs were sung, games were played, piñatas were smashed, and ice cream was eaten – all in celebration of our arrival.
“One of the biggest highlights from my trip was arriving at the school and meeting the children for the first time. We had a little opening ceremony upon our arrival which was just amazing. And to just be a part of their everyday life for that particular week we were in Guatemala was really special,” said Debbie West, IMG Business Development Executive.
After the incredible welcome ceremony, we began working on our project, and there was much to accomplish before the end of the week. A new school building needed to be completely painted, the concrete floors and sidewalks for the building needed to be mixed and poured, a new bathroom facility needed paint, and the old playground equipment needed to be sanded and repainted as well. So, we quickly got to work and spent the second half of our day painting the new school and bathrooms until dinnertime.
Our second day in El Quiche was certainly the most physically challenging. It was our “cement work” day. Without the convenience of cement trucks, the cement needed for the school’s floors and sidewalks had to be mixed and poured by hand, which is even more difficult than it sounds.
The process began with wheelbarrows of sand and bags of cement mix all being thrown into a giant pile and completely mixed with shovels. Then, wheelbarrows of gravel had to be poured on top, and lastly, water was added in to create the final cement mixture. From start to finish, a batch of cement took about an hour to make, and we made a total of 5 batches that day. Thankfully, some of the parents from the community jumped in and helped us along the way.
“There's not a thing I regret from being a part of the School the World trip. We had long days for sure. It was hot, and it was a lot of hard work. My knees were killing me the first week back after the trip, but I would absolutely do it all over again,” said Destiney McCoy, IMG Reconciliation Specialist.
Midway through the day we got to take a rest from the back-breaking work of cement mixing and play with the students at recess! There was everything from bubbles, to face glitter, to bracelet making, and more, and the kids loved it all. They were all so full of joy, and it was really sweet to see how excited they were about the new toys and games we brought to share with them.
“I enjoyed all the time we spent at recess playing with the children. It was great just seeing how excited they are for little things like bubbles or stickers or glitter — it was just amazing. I absolutely loved all of the little kids, and I wish I could go back,” said Kristin Jarboe, IMG Pre-Authorization Specialist.
After a quick lunch, it was back to work! The afternoon consisted of more cement work, sanding and painting the school’s playground equipment, and continuing to paint the school building and bathrooms. After a day of hard work, we had sore muscles and full hearts.
Our third day in the community was special because we had the opportunity to visit the homes of local families to learn more about their lives in El Quiche.
At the home I visited, our host mom, Carmen, began by teaching us how to make homemade tortillas. My tortillas may have turned out a little misshapen compared to the perfectly circular tortillas Carmen and her children made, but they tasted great nonetheless. After testing our tortilla making skills, we were shown how the floors of the home are swept each day and how to properly feed the family’s chickens. Once we had finished some of the household chores, Carmen showed us how she uses a machine in her home to take string and spin it onto spools to sell at the local market. We got to test it out for ourselves, and it was great getting to see how Carmen works and supports her family.
Our home visit wrapped up with us giving Carmen and her family gifts we brought for them. The home visits were definitely a highlight of the trip for many of us volunteers. Being able to see where these families live and what their lives are like was so humbling. The most admirable part of the experience was seeing how, despite their humble living conditions, Carmen and her family are happy and content, and they are really proud of their home.
After our home visit, we joined the students at school during recess for about an hour and played with face glitter, stickers, hoola-hoops, and more! From recess, we spent the rest of the day painting and doing a bit more cement work. To celebrate wrapping up all of the cement work for the project, the volunteers got to put their handprints in the finished product.
That evening, the School the World team treated us to a marimba cultural night. A local marimba band from El Quiche came and played music, and the local School the World staff members performed traditional Guatemalan dances for us. It was so fun to get more insight into their culture, and at the end of the performance, all the volunteers got to join in on the fun!
Our fourth day in the community was also unique as we got to spend time in the classrooms teaching lessons to the students. We played games to teach them different body parts and colors in English. We also played “Duck, Duck, Goose” and Pictionary. The kids seemed to really enjoy the games, and we all spent the morning laughing.
After we finished all the painting for the project, School the World took us to visit an open-air market in the nearby city of Chichicastenango for the afternoon. As soon as we stepped out of our van, we were swarmed by vendors trying to sell everything from notebooks to beautiful scarves to handmade jewelry and more. We were able to walk the streets of Chichicastenango, explore the market for the afternoon, and find souvenirs for ourselves and our loved ones.
Our evening finished with dinner at a local restaurant, and then it was off to bed to prepare for the dedication ceremony and our last day in the community.
Our trip to the community felt extra special since we knew it was going to be our last. The day of the dedication ceremony had quickly arrived, and the community put together quite the celebration with all the parents and families joining us for the occasion.
A stage was built with decorations and balloons, and many authority figures from the city, municipality, school, and parents’ organization spoke and shared their thanks with us. In between speakers, groups of students performed songs and dances, and the morning was full of entertainment and celebration.
Representatives from each company volunteering with School the World also got to say a few words to thank the community for such an incredible week. Each volunteer received a certificate of recognition, and then it was time for the ribbon cuttings for the new school building and bathrooms.
For lunch we got to enjoy tamales made by mothers from the community, and after dozens of pictures, hugs, and tears, it was time for us to leave for our journey back home.
“I think if I had to pick one highlight of the trip it would be the end of the week at the school dedication ceremony. It was truly an emotional experience. All the school children dressed in their best, performed, sang, and danced for us. Their parents came and fixed lunch for us. They were so grateful for the little bit we did for their community in the week we were there,” said Debbie Hyde, IMG Executive Liaison.
To say that this trip was a life-changing experience would be an understatement. Our week in Guatemala is one that we will never forget, and we are so grateful to IMG for allowing us volunteers to have this incredible opportunity.
“I just want to take a moment to thank IMG for providing this wonderful opportunity to go and experience a different culture and leave our mark in another place that really needed some assistance boosting up their educational system,” said Lindsay Youngpeter, IMG Claims Examiner.If you are planning a similar type of service or mission work trip outside of your home country, it’s important that you have the proper travel and health safety solutions in place before you take off. IMG’s Patriot Plans are great for travelers looking for a short-term travel medical insurance, and an iTravelInsured SE or LX plan provides coverage for your health, plus your trip costs in case of cancellation, interruption, or a number of other situations.
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