San Miguel Escobar is a neighborhood where people greet strangers as if they were long lost friends. One walk down the cobblestone streets and you’re instantly transported back in time to the colonial days. 10 Northeastern Illinois University students were selected to go to Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala, the city where San Miguel Escobar is located.
This week long trip was a combination of cultural immersion and community service. During the first full day in Guatemala, we were given a first hand look at coffee farming, from seed to cup. Who would’ve thought that the coffee you drink in the morning starts as a pebble sized fruit similar to a cranberry? Even before that, it takes five years for coffee trees to bear fruit. The second day of farming involved clearing the fields with a local subsistence farmer. With 70% of San Miguel Escobar’s residents being farmers, it is no surprise that immersing ourselves in the culture revolved around farming and agricultural production.
The Nonprofit organization, ‘As Green As It Gets,’ was responsible for coordinating our tours, lodging, and even helping the farmers we worked with establish their coffee enterprises. We also worked with some of the farmers’ wives and daughters who were also small business owners. Using macadamia nut oil and other natural ingredients, the women were able to produce cosmetic creams and lip balms, using the money for education, housing, and to reinvest in their respective businesses.
One of the most rewarding experiences of the trip was helping Timoteo, a local craftsman, build a middle school for his community. Prior to this, middle school students in San Miguel Escobar attended classes outside of the primary school. Knowing that a small group of farmers took it upon themselves to fund and build a school for future students is inspiring. Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime and the lessons learned about community, collaboration, and sustainability will not be forgotten.