Students Return from Building Houses in Guatemala

Two houses in two weeks.

Members of Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Global Service Learning student organization heard stories from other NWU students who traveled to Guatemala a few years ago: long days, sore muscles, poverty-stricken neighborhoods. No regrets.

This summer, nine students and two faculty headed back to San Miguel Milpas Altas, Guatemala, where they joined the organization Constru Casa in constructing two houses for local families.  Through this two-week experience, they were able to make meaningful connections to the families they helped and the builders they worked alongside, and made a real difference in these families’ lives.

Students split into two groups to work on two houses. One stipulation for families assisted by Constru Casa is that someone from their family must help in the building process, so students also had an opportunity to meet the very people they were helping.

One thing that set this experience apart from other international service projects was the amount of sweat equity they had to put forth, said the students.

“Sweat equity is a term we often use to describe our service that really requires to physically give back to those we are serving alongside, which is just what we did in San Miguel,” said junior Becca Brune. “I loved seeing the house grow throughout the two weeks; it always kept me pushing through my sore muscles.”

Junior Kelsey Arends, spoke fondly of getting to know the families in San Miguel Milpas Altas.

“This trip was special because of our ability to connect with the families personally and to share in their working toward achieving a better standard of living,” she said. “We gained insight into the ordinary lives of Guatemalan families dealing with poverty and were able to appreciate the process of self-empowerment each of the families was undertaking.”

At the end of each day, GSL members gathered for reflection, where they talked to one another about poverty, gender inequality, and the work they were doing.

“The reality is that many families live in extreme poverty in Guatemala, made obvious by typically poor access to sanitary or safe living conditions,” said Arends. “The group was able to learn about the positive implications of the housing program; beyond constructing cleaner and safer homes, families also are given assistance for access to education and health care.”

GSL traveled to Guatemala in 2011 to aid Constru Casa, a trip that was prolonged by an unexpected volcanic eruption. Kelli Wood, NWU service learning and Global Service Learning coordinator, said apart from the volcano, this year’s experience was different in the people they met, and in the amount of preparation they were able to have before flying to Guatemala. Families who hosted the NWU group in 2011 opened their doors again to this group.

GSL members participate in monthly local service projects as well as an annual national and international experience. Members have traveled to Malawi, Nicaragua, Swaziland, and China.

“I am continuously surprised by how easy it is to connect with individuals you think you may initially not have that much in common with,” said Brune. “I am also always continuously surprised and enlightened by the depth in reflection that our nightly group processing brings. I am able to learn so much from this amazing group of students and faculty while also learning a lot about myself.” 

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Members of Global Service Learning spent two weeks in Guatemala where they built houses for the poor.
The group takes a lunch break just outside of the property where they were building houses.
"I am able to learn so much from this amazing group," said junior Becca Brune.
GSL members surprise local children with play dough.