July 1, 2002 - Bruswick School System: Kathleen Harris Adventure in Guatemala

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Kathleen Harris Adventure in Guatemala

Kathleen Harris Adventure in Guatemala

This web page is following Ms Kathleen Harris, one of Leland Middle Schools’ teachers, as she journeys to Guatemala to serve in the Peace Corps. This site is designed to share information with students and faculty of Leland Middle School and other interested parties about Ms. Harris’s travels and adventures.


The Peace Corps is a program created by President John F. Kennedy. It is part of the U.S. Government. Peace Corps serves countries that are not economically developed and people who join are considered volunteers. The programs that a person can volunteer for are: health services, business development, agriculture & forestry, education.
For more information about the Peace Corps click here.



The program that I am slated for is environmental education. Volunteers assigned to this project train community members to minimize the human impact on natural areas and buffer zones or multiple-use public lands. Project activities include environmental education, solid waste management, and ecotourism.



To get more information about Guatemala check out Mr. Benfield’s webquest. I will be given a living allowance and the amount depends on where I am located. The type of housing and other amenities will depend on my location. I will not find out where I will finally be placed until I finish training in April. I am prepared for the worse but also, praying for the best conditions.



Remember that letters will take two to four weeks to get to me and vice versa. Small padded envelopes are more likely to arrive intact than a box. Tape recordings, news articles, pictures, and magazines will all be welcomed and greatly appreciated! Thanks to the following teachers for the great palm pilot gift, it will enable me to continue my technology experience. (Love out to Ms. Dixon, Ms. Mintz, Mr. & Mrs. Mac, Ms. Jackson, Ms. Long, Ms. Barnes, Ms. Burton, Mr. Heinrichs, and even more love out Mr. Benfield who created this website.)

Email: katnip007@hotmail.com
Snail mail: address:
Kathleen Harris
Proyecto Jupilingo Las-Cebollas
4ta Avenida 2-53 Zona 1
Quezaltepeque, Chiquimula
Guatemala, Centro America

(This address will change when my training is over.)


* If you would like to call Ms. Harris please call LMS 910-371-3030 ask for Acacia Dixon or Floyd Benfield to get the number.



Do you have a dream? Have you ever fulfilled a dream? I often think that dreams are unattainable, but the truth is that if you can dream it you can live it. Sure, it would be nice if we could just say- I want this and that- but the reality is that dreams are hard work. The trick is to work hard (I am talking working so hard that sleeping is nonexistent), then being prepared for opportunities and then risking it all to make a go of it. My dream since high school is to join the Peace Corps.

After getting stuck in many of life’s pitfalls I finally finished college and became a teacher. Working at Leland Middle School has been a gift. When I started teaching I thought to myself, “This teaching job will just be a stepping stone to my dream”. I did not expect to become part of a family. I did not expect the love and support that the faculty and staff have given. I especially did not expect the love and support I have received from my students. I will never be able to thank them for their smiles, laughter, and thought processes. I wish they could see themselves through my eyes. Then they would know how special they are and how I want more for them then they want for themselves.

I am joining the Peace Corps because it is a dream and a gift I can give back to the world that has given me my life. Sure, I expect a lot of hardships and loneliness but it is because of the love and friendships I’ve gotten from Leland Middle that I can go. I can go and know that I am supported. I can go and know my students will be in good hands. I can go and know I have been loved. I am counting on everyone for lots of letters- send your smiles, laughter and love down to me!


Email February, 2002

Hey everybody!
I just finished composing a huge email and this computer got zapped and lost everything. So I am trying again. Things are going well here and I love the weather, it is like spring all the time here. I live with a host family and they are taking care of me from making all my meals, washing my clothes, and preparing my bath (tamascal). They get paid to look after me and make sure that I stay healthy. The poverty here pretty much smacks you in your face. I am so humbled that my host family takes care of me, I have the biggest room. It really is all too much to talk about without crying. My family is Myan and speak both Spanish and their native tongue w, which I don’t know how to spell. Learning to speak Spanish is difficult for me and I am having a hard time trying to think in both languages. My mind will go completely blank at times and the frustration level is out of control.

I miss everyone more than words can convey. I miss walking into my classroom and seeing all of my students smiling faces. Life is too easy in the US. I need to hear from all of you through letters because email will be very difficult to get while I am in training. Also, it is very expensive for me to mail letters so not that I am trying to be mean but I can only respond to those who write me. There are 40 other people in training who all have had a Spanish for a very long time. I will just have to work harder than everyone else, but I will do it.
This country is a science teachers dream. And I really can’t go on because people are waiting for me. Please send mail, pictures and anything else will be welcomed. Mum and Dad look for a letter. The eagle team look for a letter. Take care and know I think of you all often especially in the hard times. Love-Kathleen


Letter: January 29, 2002
I made it to Guatemala. Whew! It has been a whirl-wind of an adventure. Things are tough. My host family consists of 7 people. Husband, wife and 5 girls ages 18, 15, 13, 7 and 3.

I am so tired I can’t even write. I do have my own room which is about the same size if not a bit bigger than my room at my folks. However. . . the bathroom (toilet) is outside along with the “pila”. The pila is a huge sink type thing that holds water. Washing clothes, dishes, and yourself all happens at the pila (outside in the open).

So far I have just been able to wash my face. I haven’t quite figured out how to (or when) to wash the rest of me. There is this brick type oven thing (forgot it’s name) but apparently that is where they wash. It reminds me of a kiln. A fire is supposed to warm you and the water. But it looks like an oven to me.


Letter: January 30, 2002
The oven-type thing is a called a “tamescal”. It is sort of like a sweat house where you can bathe. Anyway. . . I woke this morning to a serenade of crowing roosters, barking dogs, and honking bus horns. The family I live with lives under a major highway, so I can hear all the motor vehicles pass (loud). Just like the U.S., major highways are built through the poorer parts of town.

We got our shots today, at least some. I have a total of 7 that I am required to get. We also started our malaria pills. I am sooo tired, with a headache and all sorts of aches and pains.

During training today (safety, health, Spanish) I began to think “what am I doing here?” All the safety issues (rape, robbery, theft) and health (Diarrhea, malaria, food and water combinations), and my lack of Spanish has me wondering if I can do this. I already miss the things we take for granted (hot shower, running H2O) What is going to happen in a week or two? We are going to travel to Antigua this weekend to see if we can get Internet access. If we can I’ll try emailing you all. I miss the security of walking in my classroom and seeing all of your smiling faces. I NEED letters, pictures and anything else. Small packages do make it. I look forward to hearing from you guys.

Love, Ms. Harris

P.S. I have taken pictures but don’t know about the developing process yet. I might have to send it to the states.


E-mail Fri, 22 Feb 2002
Hey everybody! I wrote this email this past wednesday and appaerently it didn't go through so here it goes again. I left this past Sunday for patzun which is in Departmento Chimaltenalgo. I was on my site visit to an in country volunteer. This is just an account from my journal. Sunday 19-So, this is what life is like in the PC. The volunteer Jessica
lives in a beautiful house and is nothing of what I expected. She even has internet acces in her home, but the toilet still has to be flushed by throwing a bucket of water down it and the shower is cold (I miss the tamascal). I went to a birthday party for a woman who adopts volunteers and looks after them. I ate better than I have the whole time I have been here. I braved the steak, ate a real green salad, mashed potatoes, and birthday
cake. The birthday cake was a little different, they pour cream over it so basically the cake is wet (my dad would love it). Tomorrow we are supposed to be translators for a bunch of US doctors. I wonder if I will be able to translate, if not, I'll just watch.
Monday20- Wow! I did it! We traveled up a mountain to a small village and set up a make shift health clinic. I worked with the fella who checked in the sick patients. He spoke Kachekiel and Spanish, I spoke Spanish and English. He would talk to the people in Kachekiel translate it into spanish for me and then I would translate it into English for the doctors. It was the first time since being here that I have felt usefull. However, the sick people I saw were heartbreaking. A little boy who had a hole in his heart and his hands and feet were starting to club and all he wants to do is sleep. A 82 year old man slouched over and walking with a cane. As I translated the spanish into English it took all my strength not to cry. His eyes were weeping from infection and he complained of stomach problems. But as I understood more he was blind in his right eye and he use to be able to see white light with the left but now only sees darkness. His body worn and
battered from a lifetime of hard work in the campos(fields). Apparently, he climed the mountain to come and see the doctors by himself. The women were just as hard to see. Many years of poverty and hard work have taken its toll. The amazing thing is these people don't want to be cured, they just want the pain to go away so that they can go back to work. I felt like I was in one of those commercials that no-one likes to watch. You know the ones with the dirty children, who stare with sorrow and numbness into the
camera. I lived that scene. It was worse than I can express in words. Then after all the grief and pain the villagers made us lunch. We ate chicken and rice with a type of red sauce and drank cokes. We ate knowing these people probably will not eat for the next month. We ate and talked with the doctors about things happening back home, the olympics, families, future goals. We talked about those things because we didn't have the strength to discuss what we had just seen. We laughed with heavy hearts. Tue 21- I visited a school today and I was not prepared for what I saw. The building contained 5 rooms two of which were the size of closets. there was no running water and everychild was covered with years of dirt. There were no textbooks and the chalkboards were longer usefull because you couldn't see the writing on them from all the years of being erased with newspaper. The teachers were apathetic and if they did care about the children, years of woking in the horrible conditions made them numb and what appeared to be a type of laziness. I played with the students and we held hands and sang songs. I left sadden and a bit lost in dreams of LMS.
This is just a part of what I had written and I don't have the energy to retell the full account of my visit. I did arrive on wednesday in Antigua and had an awesome lunch all the while feeling gulity for beinag able to leave the children and the sick. I can experience this country with open eyes and give all the love I can. However the burden of guilt for living a life of wealth is almost unbearable. I have no reason to complain or feel sorry for myself, I have and am continually being blessed by God. I thank God everyday that I was born and that I have you all in my life. Take care and please send letters, pictures, and love -for they keep me strong.


E-Mail Sun, March 3, 2002
Hello everybody! It has been a long week. And things are back to usual at the old training compound. Which is really a compound, guards and razor wire all over the place. I am still the only student with my own Spanish teacher but I think a couple of other people have requested their own. We'll just have to see how special they are, ten to one, they're not as special as me. So, I think the so-called honeymoon stage is over. The first stage is culture shock, which lasted about a week. The second is the honeymoon stage. Which is basically you love and like everything you see and are really glad to be here. Then the 3rd stage hits. That is where I am at now. Don't get me wrong, I am glad to be here and feel lucky and grateful for the life I live. However, there are a few things that can start to get on your nerves. First and foremost, the latrine at my house. Not being able to sit and do my stuff
can get annoying. The chicken buses are no longer the novelty they once were. Now they are smelly and crammed so tight with other humans who don't really smell all that well. And today some kid puked all over the place and well it all went down hill from there. I think everybody in training is pretty much feeling the same way and the experts say it is normal and that it does get better. My thought is that it probably won't get better, we'll just get use to it.
I went to my first Guatemateco wedding last night. It was a catholic service which was interesting because it was in Spanish but they also had this type of "rock band" choir. It was similar to a catholic wedding in the states. However, during the service firecrackers would go off and stray dogs would run up and down the isle. The best part was the reception which in the states is the best part too. We were served veggies, bread, and a pimento type meat loaf product (looked like span with green and red bell peppers). I ate the veggies and bread. They then passed out what I thought to be some type of soda
(fizzed liked soda) but it was a lot stronger than soda! During the first part of the reception the bride and groom danced along with members of the wedding party. Then while dinner was being served and eaten they played all the '80's music. We were the only english speaking people there and I thought it was funny that they would play guns & roses at a wedding. Then after the groom toasted his family and new bride, the dancing started. Dancing is a little different here than in the states. Here, you have to have a partner in order to be on the floor. So, another volunteer and I danced for about half the night. He was pretty good-apparently took some ballroom dancing classes. After I got over my embarrassment (because the gringos at the dance got more stares than the bride) I really like the whole spinning and dipping moves. Then I danced with a couple of Guatemalteco guys (who by the way were taller than me). They were less elaborate in their dance moves but still good dancers non the less. However, there was this one who was pretty scary. He asked me in spanish if I liked him. So, being the gringa that I am I said "No comprendo, hablo ingles" and smiled and kept dancing. The funny part was that before all of the dancing began, dogs had run into the place and left a present for the new wedded couple. Needless to say, everybody(except the gringos) ignored the dogs and the mess they had left. So, you can just imagine what happened when the dancing started. Two of us gringos wanted to do the gringo thing and clean it up but we also wanted to be cultrally sensitive and so we did what the Guattemaltecos did, we ignored it. We laughed about it and are pretty much still talking about it. The end of this month after Easter the medio ambiente gorup leaves for traing in alta verapaz and to lake Izabal on the eastcoast side. We will be there until the end of abril and the about two weeks after, we get to go to our sites. I hope that those of you who want to come visit will still come after my stories. Remember though, that strange things tend to happen to me more than the average person. It is a beautiful country with amazing and interesting people. So please I hope you can come and visit. Please keep the letters and email coming. I cannot stress how important it is for me to hear from people back home. I answer all letters
sent and all emails too. Your letters and email keep me sane.
Through all of this I can honestly say that I am leading the life I have always dreamed and can say that I am proud of the person I am changing into. Which I think that most people who go through this experience just become more of who they already are, good honest hard working souls who love to give love.

Keep me in your prayers! Love-Kathleen


Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Hello from Guatemala!
i hope this finds all of you doing well and having fun. Things have gotten much better here (or rather I am use to the conditions). I had an interview this past week with my spanish teacher and the assistant to the Env. Ed. director. Remember how I said that i was a special student and needed extra help. Well, good news(sort of), during my interview I found out my level of spanish- Primera Alta. The levels are: 0(nospanish), Primera bajo, Primera mediano, Primera Alta, Intermediate Bajo, Intermediate Mediano, Intermediate Alta, Advanced, Bilingual. I went from 0 spanish to Primera Alta in four weeks! I need to get to Intermediate Mediano in order to swear in with the group other wise I stay a month longer in training with 8 hours a day of spanish. I have a whole monthe to get to the lelevel I need to be. I hope I can do it.

We had our first training sessions about the environment here in Guatemala. I was so nice to learn about the land and not have to sit in spanish class. I learned that Guatemala (and all of Central America) is basically a land bridge that stared rowing about 10 million years ago and finished developing only 2 million years ago. Guatemala is unique because 3 tectonic plates converge, the N. American plate, The Caribbean plate, the cocos plate. Because the cocos plate is a subduction boundary the volanoes are a result of earth's mantel heat convetions. There are a lot of earthquakes here. However, the volcanoes have been active which is a good sign, less earthquakes.

The plant life and animale life have basically migrated down from N. America and up from S. America. There are a lot of trees from Australian and othe vegitation. The one tree that is from here is the auguacate(avacado). Seems that most of the US avacodos come from mexico. However, mexico imported the avacados from Guate, genetically changed some things and now call the avacado theirs. It is amazing because the avacados grow on trees everywhere. We have one on the compound and it bears fruit all the time. The flowers are constantly in bloom here and everthing is green. It is like spring all the time. With all the beauty this land has to offer the management of national park lands and rotected areas needs a lot of work. The government here seems to be corupted. Just last week there was an article in the news paper that the President of Guatemala along with other high ranking officials havemoney stashed in Pananma. The president intruped all the TV stations in Guate. and basically said that the paper was lying and that he has no money and that he is poor. Ha! Then about two week ago the head of the national bank was kidnapped because he is a good hinest man and people are afraid of him. He is kind of like what Alan Greenspan is to the U.S. So, it has just been one scandal after another. Yet the people who are suffering the most are getting no help. It is petty sad. Enough for now. Keep the letter coming I enjoy them. I got one from Ms. Mac, Mrs .Burton, And Mr. einrichs. Mr Heinrichs thank you so much for the pictures! I hung the picture of the toilet on my wall in my room. The other volunteers enjoyed it too. Take care everybody! I think of you all often and miss your smiles. Love-Kathleen


Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 12:13:57 PM
Happy St. Patricks Day
Hey everyone!
Happy St. patrick's Day! Just so happens that I wore green today, even thoough I'm not Irish, but my
name is. Okay so this week has been a little boring for reporting any great news. I did have my first in country experience with the big "D" =diarrhea (sp?), the RUNS. However this morning I am happy to report that it is on its way to being solid-Yeah!
I and my host family hosted a tamascal party. Seven people came to use the tamascal and to cook
gringo food (it was the best dinner I have had so far). The seven people live with landinos (spanish
decent). I live with a Myan family so it was nice for them to see the other side of life here in Guate. It was also nice because we were able to hang out with out being at the compound. My host family is so nice they laughed and talked with us way past their bed time (8:00). Then the seven of us piled into my room, played guitar, sang, laughed, talked about families and friends back in the states (which rought out the tears) and basically just bonded. It was a "good thing" as martha Stewart says. We have been keeping up with the basketball tournament and I enetered the pool i went with Duke all the way. I was happy to see that UNCW made it past the first round, but I just heard the lost last night. I am still proud none the less. We leave tomorrow for Xela to visit other sites and to play in the natural hot springs. I am excited to be finally traveling away from Antigua. I hope this finds you in good spirits and smiles on all of your faces. Please keep the letters coming because they are my saving grace. Love

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guatemala; World Wise Schools



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