A Deeper Travel Experience

As a freshman at the university of Florida studying International Development, I wanted to spend my spring break volunteering abroad to make a difference. I joined Florida Alternative Breaks and was assigned to work with the Highland Support Project (HSP) in Guatemala for a week. HSP uses innovative development models to break the cycle of poverty in Mayan villages. Specifically, my group worked in homes to build stoves designed to prevent repository illnesses by reducing exposure to smoke from cooking over open fires. I loved spending time with the families and learning about their lives while building the stoves piece by piece. I remember talking with the HSP director about how proud I was to be building stoves for these amazing people. He then told me something I will never forget. You are here to have your eyes opened. To understand how millions of people around the world live, to get to know them, and from now on advocate on their behalf.” This Guatemala trip changed my view of international development and my future career. My job isn’t to help save people, feel good about myself, then go home. I have a responsibility to listen and create sustainable change that breaks the dependency on charity. My trip with Florida Alternative Breaks and the Highland Support Project showed me how I can effectively apply my degree to empower people and alleviate poverty internationally.

Rachel Estess, FAB at University of Florida

Ben Blevins
Ethical Implications of Service

Working with Highland Support Project was not my first experience volunteering with an international nonprofit, but it was the first I had with an organization that takes seriously the ethical implications of their projects and the self-determination of those they are serving. In the summer of 2010, I joined HSP in the highlands above Quetzaltenango to work collaboratively with Mayan midwives and health workers. What was truly unique about this experience was that the approach was wholly symbiotic, encouraging both involved groups (American and Guatemalan) to add value, empowering all participants every step of the way. Attention to political, historical, and social issues was paid during excursions, as every trip was an opportunity to learn and share. If ever I am asked which organization is the best to travel with in Central America, I always answer "That's easy- Highland Support Project outshines them all."

Fostering Independence

The Highland Support Project (HSP) is a stellar organization of social change. The organization balances substantive and meaningful solutions with culturally sensitive development tactics. For hands-on-volunteers, get involved in HSP's operations both in the United States and Guatemala. You will be part of meaningful cultural experiences. For businesses, establish relationships with the organization and learn from their model to foster independence. Top private sector firms are looking to build relationships with HSP. For other non-profit organizations, reach out to the leadership team to find ways for collaboration and resource sharing. This is an organization that marches towards strong values of exchange, empowerment, and creative solutions/enterprise.

Educating for Change

This is by far the best organization I have had the opportunity t get involved with. They really focus on sustainability and relationships formed with the communities in Guatemala and not just the delivery of goods and supplies. However, I would have to say that the best aspect of the Highland Support Project is its dedication to educate and involve students across all disciplines. They understand the power in educating the younger generation and offer student many opportunities to get involved and make a difference. The passion that this organization holds in everything that it does is truly inspirational.

Model of Change

Highland Support Project is absolutely wonderful! HSP provides a volunteer experience like no other. I have been on two different volunteer trips with HSP and I have worked with them as an intern for a month and a half in Guatemala. Each time I have had wonderful experiences. I have been on many volunteer trips outside of HSP and by far they are providing the best experiences! They are one of few organizations that legitimately provide a volunteer experience that benefits long term sustainable change for the communities they work in. This organization has found the perfect balance of "work", play, and education for their volunteers. Not only have I come back from their trips feeling good, but I feel educated on the issues happening in Guatemala and what we, as global citizens, can do to help! Coming from an education in International Affairs and Humanitarian Affairs, I can confidently attest to HSP's functional and brilliant model for change and empowerment. I love this organization! I have not worked with a better organization to date!!! Support HSP!!

The Beauty of Breaking Down Cultural Barriers

The Highland Support Project is an organization that I was lucky enough to work with during my junior year at the University of Florida. I led a Florida Alternative Breaks trip (FAB) to Guatemala over spring break to work in a Maya village. This trip involved working in a kind of community that was very foreign to me and provided additional challenges like language barriers and understanding cultural boundaries. The indigenous community I worked with spoke K’iche’ and a little Spanish but effectively no English. It was amazing to learn the power of non-verbal communication and that I was able to connect with them even without words. The trip offered me so many opportunities to better understand their culture by working in the Maya schools, educating them on public health and performing a lot of construction and reforestation in the village. My week working with the community really affected me in two monumental ways. First, the trip empowered me to want to learn more about other cultures and to better understand how culture and medicine are intertwined. Second, the trip allowed me to develop not only personally but grow into more maturity, and discover new things about myself like my ability to be a leader. I would highly recommend working with HSP. They provide a life-changing experience coupled with friendly people and a well-organized trip.

Dominic Iorio, Florida Alternative Breaks International H&P Trip leader 2007-2008

Ben Blevins
Sustainable Action!

I participated in and lead two separate trips to Xela for the Highland Support Project, via the University of Virginia’a Alternative Spring Break program, in Spring 2009 and 2011. The most magnetic quality about HSP for me, and what I think to be its biggest asset to potential volunteers and volunteer programs, is its understanding of its role in the global picture, and the subsequent holistic programming and treatment of volunteers it takes on. A long-term view of empowerment and sustainability is fundamental to productive aid, and the multi-faceted, cyclical approach HSP takes in its development strategies enables volunteers to immerse themselves in the entire operation, from stove building, to reforestation, to attending women’s circles, and most importantly, to learning about the community and meeting its people.

Ben Wilkes, University of Virginia Alternative Spring Break

Ben Blevins
Learning from Leading

Leading an alternative spring break trip to Guatemala with the Highland Highland Support Project was an incredible experience in terms of my own growth as a student leader and my intercultural competence.  Planning the logistics of the trip as well as facilitating reflections amongst our group helped me reflect on the elements of my own leadership that were strong as well as areas for growth.  Having Highland Support Project there to organize cultural immersion experiences including a Mayan prayer ceremony, visit to the local villages, and women’s groups proved especially enriching.  HSP was a wonderful host and really facilitated our work within the village building stoves.  I think having student organizations partner with an existing program promotes not only a sense of continuity and dedication to the local community, but also pushes students to reflect upon their own privileges and points of view in a productive way.  I would highly recommend other schools consider partnering with HSP.

Meg Barry, 2009 service trip leader, University of Virginia

Ben Blevins