I admit that the first time I signed up to go on a Learning Journey, it was primarily for selfish reasons. How could I get back to one of the most compelling countries that I had ever visited? How could I get behind the tourist scene and get a sense of life in Guatemala, especially rural indigenous life? How could I find a way to contribute and thus have an excuse to visit Guatemala over and over and over again?
Each of these questions was more than fulfilled by the experience on my first Learning Journey. And thanks to the thoughtful and deeply committed work of Reading Village, I got the opportunity to delve more deeply into the nuances of Guatemalan culture and into my own assumptions, emotions, insights, attitudes, and actions about rural indigenous Guatemala and how I can contribute and be a partner in meaningful ways.
Yes, we got to be tourists. We stayed at wonderful hotels, toured a small Mayan ruin, shopped, ate great food, visited markets, toured coffee plantations, libraries and churches. But each of these activities was part of a larger objective on the part of Reading Village: to inspire us to respect a culture by giving us a chance to enjoy, observe, and partake in its architecture, food, and artistry. Only after this respect was established could we begin to appreciate the immensity of the work that Reading Village was doing to eradicate illiteracy within the context of this culture. Witnessing this work was the real game changer for me.
Transforming lives through literacy is the mission of Reading Village, so when the tourism was done that is what we did. I read with little ones and followed the guidance of the high school students. I learned from them how to excite 75 young children about the antics of a pig in a storybook. I watched teens transform the shyness of their pre-school audience into gales of laughter. I shared picture books surrounded by eager and curious children. I listened to the teens make commitments to these children, to their work as literacy promoters, to their personal futures as high school graduates, and to their communities. And all I had to do was be present to every moment and follow their lead.
When that first trip was over, did I want to go back to Guatemala on another Learning Journey? Oh yeah, and I did. My first Learning Journey led to my second, which led to….well, I recently accepted an offer to serve on the Board of Directors for Reading Village. I suppose you could say the learning has really only just begun. From traveler to activist to board member, Reading Village’s Learning Journeys have given me a chance to engage in something grand.
This fall, don’t miss your chance to travel on a Learning Journey all your own. From November 2- 9, join 10 travelers, learners, and philanthropists to see for yourself how incredible the Mayan culture is and just how powerful literacy can be within that context. Take my word for it just this once and I promise you’ll want to go back.
– Jan Snooks, Reading Village Board Member and Learning Journey Alumna