Discovery through lenses

Olivia Bautista ’18 stands at the Starfish Impact School in Guatemala and plays a video of her grandmother talking in Spanish about how, when she was 12 and living in Mexico, she could no longer afford to attend school. Tears fill in the eyes of several Guatemalan teenage girls at the school to whom this story is all too familiar.

“I think it was really amazing how much of a privilege education is to those girls, and that’s something that in the United States we often take for granted,” Bautista said. “I think it really meant a lot for the girls [to hear my grandmother’s message]. A lot of them were close to tears, and it was very emotional for me. They said themselves it would help them knowing that people understand and people are supporting them.”

Bautista was one of 14 students on HW! Go’s Digital Storytelling Adventure trip to Guatemala from Aug. 3 to Aug. 11. Visual arts department head Cheri Gaulke, visual arts teacher Joe Medina, tour coordinator Alethea Paradis and journalist Jeff MacIntyre chaperoned the trip. Participants visited the cities of Antigua, Santiago de Atitlan and Guatemala City.

Students either filmed or photographed an aspect of life in Guatemala with their work culminating in documentaries and photo series.

Bautista and Elly Choi ’18 made a documentary focusing on Starfish Impact and education of girls in Guatemala. Other students’ projects included documentaries on citizens using music to heal from the Guatemalan genocide, young girls empowering themselves by raising awareness for trash pollution in Lake Atitlan and farmers supporting themselves financially through coffee production. Over the course of the trip, participants visited a sustainable coffee farm, the Starfish Impact headquarters, buildings constructed entirely of recycled materials and a farm in Antigua where they learned how to cook local dishes. After meeting a waiter who helped start a preschool for underprivileged children, the group decided to visit the preschool as well.

“At the preschool, they have no electricity, no supplies and their teachers are really underpaid,” Cheri Gaulke said. “Our kids went there one morning, and now they’re going to raise money and buy supplies for the school. They’ve made a Kickstarter campaign and they’re really fired up about that, and that makes me really happy to see.”

Gaulke and Elly Choi ’18 stayed a day and a half longer than expected in Guatemala City due to the loss of Choi’s green card. Choi, who was born in Korea and is not a U.S. citizen, needs a green card to return to the United States after traveling internationally.

“When I realized that my residence card wasn’t in my case with my passport, I started panicking because I didn’t know how long I would be stuck in Guatemala,” Choi said. “Luckily, the chaperones on the trip were able to get the situation under control. However, the experience itself was stressful.”

Gaulke informed school officials and got in contact with the American embassy in Guatemala to arrange for Choi’s return. Director of Kutler Center and summer programs Jim Patterson said that, while the turn of events was unfortunate, he was pleased with how it was handled. Still, school administration will review the situation to see if there is anything they could have done differently, though Patterson said he believes it was an isolated incident.

“Obviously it’s not the best situation to go ‘I’m sorry you can’t go home today,’ but it seems like the chaperones did a tremendous job of knowing what needed to be done and helping the student remain as calm as possible in that situation,” Patterson said. “That said, anytime something comes up it is something we go back and look at to make sure that trip leaders who are going to be continuing to take students all over the world are prepared and understand what they need to do if something like this happens.”