Alisa Petersen 17, soon to be a senior in Poudre High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, packed a whole lot of learning into a couple of weeks in June. As part of a group of 50 high school students from Colorado and California participating in a Global Visionaries program, Petersen had a series of eye-opening experiences.
Her two weeks in San Miguel Escobar, Guatemala was the final phase of the program that began early in the school year. Petersen learned about the Seattle-based program that “strives to empower young people to become global leaders in creating a just and sustainable future” in her third year Spanish class. In addition to completing 60 hours of volunteer work during the school year, Petersen was involved in fundraising activities to raise money to buy materials needed to complete projects in Guatemala. GV also sponsored a shoe drive and took many pairs of shoes to Guatemala. Many of Petersen’s volunteer activities mirrored the work GV does in Guatemala.
The California contingent came to Colorado for a few days before the trip so that the travelers could get to know each other before the adventure began. In Guatemala, the students were housed with families in groups of three or four. Working along with Guatemalans, the students split into three groups to work on school construction, reforestation and health care projects.
For several hours each morning, Petersen went with a dozen or so others into a forest where the trees had been destroyed during the course of the Civil War and invasive species had taken hold. In two weeks the American students and their Guatemalan partners planted 1,400 trees to rejuvenate the forest and curb erosion.
When she wasn’t hard at work in the forest, Petersen visited other group members’ sites to observe those building a school and others working with young people with disabilities in a hospital setting.
The Global Visionary travelers went to Mayan ruins, toured a coffee plantation and visited a garbage dump in Guatemala City where thousands of people live and work. “You could smell it from a long way away,” Petersen said. “I saw sewage being dumped into the nearby river.”
Some of the best times were had playing soccer and basketball with their new Guatemalan friends. “They play soccer much better than we do, but it didn’t matter,” Petersen said.
She also treasures the political discussions she had with Guatemalans which made her aware of how Americans are seen by others. She was sometimes embarrassed by loud, skimpily-dressed American tourists. “We tried to be calm and respectful and avoid inappropriate clothing,” Petersen said.
She’s looking forward to her senior year in high school when she’ll continue to take Spanish and contemplate a future that is likely to involve Spanish on the college level. A member of the Poudre High School tennis team, she’s also a cello player and part of the Northern Colorado Cello Choir, a group of eight students from several area high schools that love to make music together.
Petersen isn’t yet sure about a college major, but after her experience this summer, she’ll approach whatever she does with a mind opened up by her Guatemalan experience. She watched many of her fellow travelers grow and change, and she came away with the knowledge that there’s so much to learn.
For more information about Global Visionaries go to www.gvcoca.org or contact Laurel Baltic, 970-231-1125 or Joe Fontana, 970-566-3776.