Trip Report by Cindy Bolf

My son and I had the opportunity to participate in the Bottle School Project in Guatemala in Nov of 2011. My son is in 5th grade and is 11 years old and has wanted to go on this trip since the first time Zach introduced the program on the stage at one of our events. We learned on a Sunday that the group leaving on the following Wednesday had some openings available so we did not have alot of time to prepare for the trip. We visited with his school principal and teachers about what we were doing and they were very supportive. His class room was also supportive and became involved by writing letters to the children at the school we were building and also sending a yearbook and pictures of Landon’s school for him to share once we arrived.

Although we have done a lot of travel, we didn’t have a lot of experience traveling to a third world country and had never had the opportunity to participate in any type of mission or volunteerism trip like this before. Hug it Forward (STWT) did an excellent job in preparing us for what to expect, and what to pack on the trip as well as an detailed schedule of what we would be doing while we were in Guatemala. They were great about answering any questions or concerns that we had before we left the United States and prepared us for what to expect at the airport when we arrived.

This was probably one of the most special trips I have ever been on. Our entire family will be going back in March 2012. Landon and I can not wait to go back again! It was very special to experience this side by side with Landon and to watch and hear what his thoughts and observations were at the end of each day. He completely poured himself into the kids and the school and asked a lot of questions about the areas that we were in. I definitely think the trip made him more grateful for what he has. He also kept commenting on how hard the kids worked and how happy they were,even though they did not have a lot.  He was really impressed the first day when he saw several children that were his age or younger on the streets working side by side with their parents shining shoes, and selling things to help their family and how they were smiling and happy to be doing so. His favorite part of the the trip was going to the Special Needs school and playing with the children. He also told me later that was what he was most nervous about before the trip because he had not spent very much time around people with special needs and was a little worried how to act and how they would act. Looking back at the pictures, his smile is so big and so sincere as he played with those kids and especially one little girl in particular that really bonded with him.

At the school that we were building, he worked very hard side by side the rest of us and never complained. He also played very hard with the kids and couldn’t wait to play soccer with them each day. When we went to the local market, he picked out a very nice soccer ball and gave it to the kids at the school to play with after we left. He loved being able to share that with them. Landon also bonded well with the others on the trip and has stayed in touch with many of them through facebook. He loved the community, loved the people and even loved the food that was home cooked each day for us!

He still talks about the trip and the kids and follows the other groups that go down. I have noticed that he is less wasteful and is more conscience about recycling since he has been home. He also apologized to his dad after we got back and said he was sorry for asking for so much stuff all the time and would get better about appreciating what he has. He still doesn’t love doing chores but complains less about helping out around the house and offers his help much more than he used to.

I would encourage anyone that has ever considered going on a trip like this to COMMIT  and make it happen! It really is life changing and opens your eyes and your mind to things around you. We felt very safe the entire trip and if we had any needs or concerns or questions, always had plenty of people around us that were eager to be there for us.  I think it is an incredible opportunity to educate your children and bond with them as you help others!