Guatemala was “Plan C” for Global Service Learning (GSL), Nebraska Wesleyan’s student group dedicated to domestic and international service projects.
Students were moved by the tragic earthquake in Haiti and wanted to assist in recovery efforts. But security in and around Port au Prince was deemed insufficient for a contingent of NWU students.
GSL planned a service trip to Bangkok, Thailand, as a safer alternative—until political unrest and violence there forced a change in plans. The group moved instead on a 10-day housing construction project sending eight students to Antigua, Guatemala.
Then came a one-two punch no one predicted. Just days before their planned return, Volcano Pacaya erupted, spewing rocks and ash over Guatemala City. Then Tropical Storm Agatha landed on Guatemala’s shores, causing flooding and triggering mudslides that buried towns and cities. The twin disasters killed 184 and delayed the Nebraska Wesleyan students’ return home.
The students were unwilling to sit on their hands until airports reopened. “Once we saw what had happened in some of the communities surrounding Antigua, we had to keep going back to help,” said Kaycie Rupp, a senior from Grand Island. They shoveled mud in the streets and formed assembly lines removing mire from homes by the bucketful.
The ruin they witnessed was shocking, but the Nebraska Wesleyan students responded well. “We’ve been taught to be flexible and more calm in the face of a devastating situation,” said Meera Bhardwaj (’10).
They drew strength from local Guatemalans. “We’ve loved seeing the attitude of the community of people who weathered the storm together,” Bhardwaj continued. “We’ve seen houses filled with mud the consistency of chocolate cake, but we’ve also seen entire communities coming together forming lines to move the mud out while joking with each other.”