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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

Sustainable Action!

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My name is Ben Wilkes. 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

A Deeper Type of Travel Experience

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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. He said, “You aren’t here to build stoves; I could hire local masons to do that and they would do a better job. 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 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

Learning from Leading

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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

My First Mission Trip

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My first mission trip, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I had seen the pictures and heard the stories from family members who had done this trip in years past, but as anyone who has done any traveling knows, the best pictures and firsthand accounts never convey with the same magnitude what one can experience on their own. The planning and execution of the trip was as smooth and seamless as any five star rated travel agency could pull off.  My initial impressions of Guatemala were how beautiful the country was with its volcanoes and farmed mountainsides. Nothing really prepared me for what I would take from the people of the Guatemalan highlands. I could tell you how the women opened up their hearts to us, how their devotion to family and community was so evident, how the children laughed and played and swelled our hearts and how Gods presence was so tangible in every encounter, but these are only words. This trip and the lessons and blessing it gives must be experienced for oneself. I will tell you this, you will be changed, you will look at things in a new light, you will be restored in gratitude and you will rejoice in your decision to mission. This trip may have been my first but it won’t be my last.

Jacqueline Latendresse  8/2015

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