Volunteer Guidebook

2019 McCombs MAP Trip

Santa Palencia, Guatemala


On behalf of Building Bridges Worldwide and the McCombs School of Business, let us congratulate and thank you for making the decision to join us on our volunteer mission to Guatemala this summer. It is a trip we know you will remember forever. This year’s trip will be centered on the construction and refurbishment of schools and bathrooms for the community of Santa Palencia.

The current schools are one room buildings that are shared amongst all the kids, as you can imagine this does not provide a very good learning environment. Early school years are formative in a child’s development, it is critical to lay the foundation for future success. A little rain or a hot day can make class very hard to conduct notwithstanding the fact they are a bunch of rowdy kids 🙂 This new school will provide the children with the opportunity to attend school every day, rain or shine, and begin the steps to their education.

In addition, we will be constructing and refurbishing bathrooms for the schools for all the kids of the community to utilize. We take for granted clean, sanitary toilets in the developed world. Every child deserves the same opportunity for the basics.

Building Bridges Overview


Building Bridges is a not-for-profit organization committed to constructing schools, orphanages, clean water wells, medical clinics, and other infrastructure in impoverished communities around the world.  Our members plan and fund these projects, and are on hand for the ground breaking and first week of construction. Through our volunteers and donors, we seek to create a network of individuals who wish to create opportunities for others who have almost nothing. Building Bridges has completed successful projects in Nicaragua, Nepal, Bolivia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Haiti.

The Project

The community of Santa Palencia is name they gave themselves. You can kind of think of it as a community of 1,500 people spread out over a mountainous region near the city of Palencia, Guatemala. They are very poor and subsist on coffee farming. They have 3 schools spread out throughout the community for ALL of the children. Each “school” has one room and one bathroom. We are figuring out the details of how much work we can do to help the community the most.

This is not to say they are not a happy community, but having such poor infrastructure does cause a lot of problems that we can help solve.

Volunteer Obligations
  • Every volunteer is asked to raise $1,200 as their contribution to the materials, labor, and logistics required to make this project possible. BBW is happy to assist in the raising of these funds and can provide marketing materials and creative ideas to help your effort. These majority of these funds should be raised by July 14th so we can provide the money to the contractors to purchase supplies ahead of time. We encourage everyone to create a CrowdRise page under the BBW Santa Palencia campaign so we can support each other’s efforts
  • Each volunteer must purchase their own airfare to and from Guatemala City, arriving no later than 6:00 PM on Saturday, July 20th, and departing any time after Saturday, July 27th.
  • Volunteers will also be responsible to pay a program fee of $450 or $500 upfront, depending on when you signed up. This will cover all costs of food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment from when you arrive in Guatemala City until when you leave. The only out-of-pocket costs you might incur relate to food and souvenirs.
Community Obligations
  • The community and neighboring towns will provide a lot of the manpower necessary to construct the facility.
  • Locals will provide us lodging and help prepare our meals while in the village.
  • The townspeople and hired contractors will complete the construction of the project after we leave (the entire project will take several months).
  • Our local partner, Mercon Coffee, will help operate the facility once it is completed.
Proposed Itinerary

Sat – Jul 20: Everyone arrives in Guatemala City, group dinner. Going to invite some McCombs alumni in the area to join us.

Sun – Jul 21: Some light touring of Guatemala City and then head out to the village

Mon – Jul 22: Work on the project site, we will follow the lead of the head contractor (“El Jefe”)

Tue – Jul 23: Work on the project site

Wed – Jul 24: Work on the project site

Thu – Jul 25: Work on the project site. Spend the afternoon with the farmers learning their business and visit classrooms.

Fri – Jul 26: Play with the kids, say goodbyes and head back to Guatemala City for a nice hotel room and night out

Sat – Jul 27: Fly home!

A more detailed itinerary will be provided before departing with hotel information and emergency contact information.

Projected Budget
We are committed to providing the utmost transparency of our costs to our volunteers and donors. We are still in the process of finalizing the total cost of the facility construction. The rough estimate for the project is $17,000.




We realize the financial commitment you are making to join us on this trip. The program fee outlined earlier is a generous estimate for now, allowing for many activities and expenditures. All receipts will be provided post trip, and reimbursements will be made if group expenditures are significantly less per person. Ultimately, many costs will be discretionary and some people will end up spending more than others.

Typical Workday While in the Village

In Guatemala the day starts with the sunrise. By 6:30 am the village will be bustling with activity, the women are carrying water while the children are busy with morning chores. Depending on the season, they may be very busy with their work in the fields. The villagers are almost exclusively subsistence farmers. After the morning rituals and breakfast, we will begin work on the facility.

Possible jobs may include:

  • Digging the foundation
  • Mixing cement
  • Making and watering bricks
  • Sifting sand
  • Carrying rocks
  • Carrying water
  • Shoveling all kinds of stuff
  • Tying and cutting rebar
  • Transporting wheelbarrows around
  • Leveling interior cement

It is physically demanding work. Everything is done by hand and you will surely have blisters and sore muscles. We will be working at an elevated altitude, from 4,000-6,500 feet depending on the part of the community we are in. Be cautious not to over exert yourself and rest as needed.

Camaraderie Through Work Ethic
It is our ethos to DO THE WORK and SWEAT TOGETHER. Just like on any job you have ever had, hard work earns respect. Show up early, do what you are told, don’t complain, work hard, and be willing to do whatever is asked of you. Two people who don’t speak the same language and don’t share one word of dialogue can still bond simply by carrying rock after rock, and taking trip after trip, from a riverbank to a work site. A shared glance after an afternoon of mixing cement can cut through any barrier. We show up early, finish late, and often do the hardest jobs on the site.




Some days we will spend up to 8 hours contributing labor to the construction of the facility. This is inevitably the most challenging aspect of the trip for most participants. Any activity, which builds strength or endurance, will make your time on the worksite easier and more enjoyable. However, physical strength is not the only important quality to have on the worksite. Manual labor requires a lot of mental strength as well. A positive attitude and commitment to the construction of the facility are essential.

If you are feeling dehydrated or exhausted, of course safety comes first. There will be plenty of time for breaks, meals, and goofing off. We say this only as a disclaimer to come prepared to work. In our experience, it is often the construction aspect of the trip that many volunteers relish the most, and some actually find it difficult to leave the worksite at the end of the week.

Free Time

There will be lots of time spent enjoying time with the other volunteers and villagers playing games with the children, doing laundry, carrying water, and helping to cook dinner. No matter what the activity or the time of day, many hours will be spent repeating simple words and teaching English to the children.

The children in the community will be eager to learn. We will organize one half-day to sit in on some classes and even offer some one-on-one tutoring. The bonds we form with them during these moments are just as important as the ones we form on the work site.

Nighttime activities may include a group reflection, time to read or write in a journal, sing-alongs or hanging out with your fellow volunteers

Sleeping, Showering and Relieving Accommodations


While on the worksite we will be staying in very modest accommodations. We do expect, but can’t guarantee, that some very thin mattresses (like gym mats) will be provided. Living close to the equator the temperatures will be a little warm and should be pretty consistent during the day and night, ranging from 60 to 77 degrees. We would recommend a very light sleeping bag or “sleep sheet” to provide some cover as well as a sweatshirt in case any nights are cool. No matter how miserable the sleeping accommodations may be, there is always some solace in the fact that we will all be suffering under the same roof.


Good news: We will have a private area to shower

Bad news: No hot water and it will be with a bucket and soap/body wash. Just try to shower before the sun goes down!


Bathrooms are going to be a hole in the ground, in an outhouse type structure, please be aware of this! Squatting takes a little getting used to, it is a change from what most people are typically used to.

Staying with a Host Family (Optional)

Many organizations have their volunteers stay with host families. We believe that most people feel more comfortable staying with the other volunteers and that this adds to the development of more last friendships amongst the group. However, staying on your own with a host family is a powerful experience and one you will never forget. If any volunteers would like to spend a night with a family during our time in the village we can have this arranged once we arrive in the community. It is one of the more humbling experiences to be taken into a home where the family has very little, but if willing to offer almost anything they have to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The family may have as many as 50 people, sometimes from as many as four generations, living harmoniously together. The families who will host you in the village have will have volunteered to do so and they will regard this responsibility as a great privilege. Your host family will go far above and beyond our expectations to treat you as a truly honored guest. It is important for you to keep in mind that these families are very poor. However, the sacrifice that they will make to accommodate you is made with warm hearts and great pride.

Most likely your accommodations will be a small section or room inside the family’s home. The homes are small with dirt floors and wood walls. There will be a cot, hammock, mat, or bed to sleep on and the family will have gone to great lengths to give you as much privacy as they can. You will probably have chickens, cats, and dogs walking freely in and out of the house.

The struggle to communicate with the villagers will fill your days with endless laughter and yes, sometimes frustration. However, despite the language barrier, the connection will be profoundly rewarding and surprisingly intimate. Be prepared to laugh, sing, and act in your attempts to communicate. Leave your self-consciousness at home and come with an open heart and open mind to experience the wonderful, fun-loving, gentle people of Guatemala.

Gifts to the Community
It is appropriate to give your host family or someone you befriended in the village a small token of appreciation for their hospitality. Remember, the key is to keep it simple, NOT EXTRAVAGANT, and enjoyable by all members of the family. The best gifts are often things you can do with your host family. Here are some ideas:




  • Coloring book, crayons, markers
  • Pencils, pens, erasers, notebooks, or paper
  • Hair accessories (elastics, barrettes) or nail polish
  • Games to play with the kids (jump rope, soccer ball, playing cards)

At the beginning, during, and the end of trip, it is natural to want to give many of your possessions that you brought from home to your new family. However, it is also very important to remember that this community is not a dumping ground. This is not the place to leave behind things that you do not feel like carrying home (you can leave them at your hotel if you wish). If you do decide that you would like to give something special to your host family, please make sure that it is as clean as possible and that you present it to them. If you leave it behind without telling them, they will keep it set aside for you until you return for your items.

ABSOLUTELY, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, can you leave money for anyone in the village or in the community.

BBW takes great pride in our method of working with the community and asking them to provide the unskilled labor necessary for the construction of the facility. If any money is left for anyone, it may be confusing to other community members or even other villages throughout the country. Not only can this cause controversy and conflict within the village, it can also create more work for our international staff when past and future villages ask for money too. So please, be very careful in what you leave behind with your new families. BBW appreciates your support of our mission that focuses on the importance of education to increase independence in the communities where we work.

Packing Overview

Some things to keep in mind

  • You will be getting very dirty almost every single day
  • You will have the opportunity to wash your clothes by hand
  • Daytime temperatures will be roughly around 78 degrees
  • Nighttime temperatures will be cool, probably around 60 degrees
  • We strongly recommend against purchasing new clothes for this trip!

On a Cultural Note

Those who live in the rural part of the country dress and act more conservatively in accordance with religious and cultural traditions. We, as visitors, will respect the modest dress code.

  • All shoes on the worksite MUST be closed-toed!

Whatever you pack you should be able to CARRY (not wheel).

Just as you should not bring anything so valuable that you would care if it were broken, lost, or stolen, you should not bring clothes that you would care if they are ripped or stained. In the past, many volunteers have thrown out or given away 80% of the clothes from the worksite before they boarded the plane home.

We prefer that only a carry-on be brought on the trip. This is to discourage over-packing. On past trips this amount of space proved more than adequate. Again, we will address this in greater detail as we get closer to the trip.

Anything we bring in comes out with us!

The exceptions to this rule are, of course, toilet paper and feminine products.

Remember, if you are buying new items to take on trip (such as disposable anything, toothpaste, or baby wipes), un-wrap them before packing. The items will take up less space and, more importantly, you will have less trash to pack out of the village. We will not leave so much as a wrapper in the village.

Packing List (Suggested)

Admin Type Stuff 

  • 1 form of I.D. other than your passport
  • Spending money
  • An excellent attitude!

General Amenities

  • Camera and/or phone (optional)
  • 1-liter water bottle (Building Bridges will provide bottled water for the entire stay in Santa Palencia)
  • Malaria medication
  • Cipro (just in case) and nausea medicine (for an adverse reaction to the Cipro)
  • Prescription medications
  • Any other medications you wish to bring (Advil, Tylenol, etc)
  • Sunblock SPF 30 or higher and chapstick
  • Insect repellent with at least 30% DEET (NO aerosol spray cans)
  • Moleskin or some sort of blister deterrent/relief
  • 1 roll of toilet paper (or baby wipes)
  • Soap for showering and cleaning up (body wash or a bar are fine)
  • 2-3 extra plastic grocery bags for trash and dirty laundry
  • Headlamp flashlight (with extra batteries). It will be very dark once the sun goes down!
  • Binder clips, clothespins, line (to help with hanging/drying clothes)
  • Powdered supplements to flavor water
  • Neosporin for Blisters, Gold Bond
  • Hand sanitizer
  • 2-3 extra zip lock bags
  • Feminine products
  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush/paste, soap/shampoo, deodorant)
  • Small ziplock for bar of soap and body wash


  • 1 lightweight rain jacket or 1 long sleeve t-shirt
  • 6 pairs of socks (sports socks to keep cool)
  • 5 pairs of underwear (guys may want to consider bathing suits or hiking style shorts)
  • 1 pair of pants (for church or in town, jeans are fine).
  • 1 set of sleeping clothes so you always have something clean to change into at night
  • 4 lightweight t-shirts (these can be washed each day)
  • Lightweight, breathable long sleeve and long pants for mosquito protection
  • 3 bras (consider sports bras for work)
  • Sneakers or other close-toed shoes (for work)
  • Flip flops (for bathing)
  • Sunglasses
  • Chafing prevention products
  • Work gloves (everyone needs to bring a pair of these, typically from Home Depot, Lowes, etc)
  • Hat, visor, or bandana
  • Travel towel (quick dry towels can be found at most sporting goods stores)
  • Sleep sheet (or light sleeping bag)
  • A stuff sack or small pillow
Passports & Visas

You are required to carry a valid passport with you at all times upon entering or traveling through any foreign country. We would recommend purchasing a money belt to keep your passport secure on your person. Visas are not required for Americans in Guatemala staying less than 90 days.

If you already have a passport…

Check to see when it expires. Make sure the expiration is at least six months after the end of the trip.

Make sure it has two blank pages

If you need to order a passport…

Please order a new passport or renew your old one immediately! The standard process for ordering a passport can take up to two months. If you wait, you will need to pay an additional fee of $60 in order to expedite it. No passport = No Trip

How do I apply?

You can apply for a passport at the main post office in your community, a passport agency, library, or the county clerk’s office. You will need to bring with you:

  • Original birth certificate
  • Two passport photos (2″ x 2″)
  • License or a picture I.D.
  • Method of payment: must be two of either: personal, certified, traveler’s, or bank checks, OR one US-Postal/money order. One check will cover the cost of the passport, the other will be made out to the agency that processes your application.
  • Total cost of passport: $100 if you are 16 years of age or older, $60 if you are 15 years of age or younger. (*the fee is less for a passport rel)
Passport Card or Passport Book?

You must apply for a Passport Book, not the passport card. A passport card is not valid for air travel to Trip countries.

More Information:


Vaccinations & Medicines

To ensure safe travel in Guatemala, BBW requires trip participants to update routine vaccinations, and obtain all necessary, additional vaccinations required for travel in Central America. Please consult your physician to decide exactly which of the following vaccinations you will need.

Have your physician fill out the Confidential Medical Form and the International Certificate of Vaccination (the small, yellow booklet seen below).

CDC recommends the following vaccines (as appropriate for age):

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).
  • Typhoid.
  • Routine vaccines, as they are often called, such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot

For more information, refer to the CDC’s website for Guatemala


A serious disease that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Please read the precautionary information below and we will provide more recommendations on a conference call.

Malaria symptoms will occur at least 7 to 9 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may include fever and flu-like illness, including chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Individuals who have traveled to malaria infected regions and have these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Travelers leaving the United States should:

  • Visit your health care provider 4-6 weeks before foreign travel for any necessary vaccinations and a prescription for an anti-malarial drug.
  • Take your anti-malarial drug exactly on schedule without missing doses.
  • Wear insect repellent to prevent mosquito and other insect bites. Your insect repellent should contain DEET as its active ingredient. To prevent malaria, wear insect repellent if out of doors between dusk and dawn when the mosquito that transmits malaria is biting.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeve, and light colored clothing.


  • Atovaquone/proguanil (brand name: Malarone™)
  • Mefloquine (brand name: Lariam™)
  • Doxycycline


There are a lot of resources on Zika, so here are a few good ones. There have been a small number of cases reported in Guatemala City, obviously more difficult to test and track in the communities. The elevation of the village is from 3,200-6,400 feet, the safe zone has been said to be 6,500 ft. We will be near a river and it will likely rain in the afternoons. We ask that you take every precaution necessary to avoid mosquito bites since there is no vaccine or post infection cure!

IAMAT – Guatemala

CDC – Guatemala – Zika

Rabies (optional, please read CDC site)

Rabies can be found in dogs, bats, and other mammals in Guatemala, so CDC recommends this vaccine for the following groups:

  • Travelers involved in outdoor and other activities (such as camping, hiking, biking, adventure travel, and caving) that put them at risk for animal bites.
  • People who will be working with or around animals (such as veterinarians, wildlife professionals, and researchers).
  • People who are taking long trips or moving to Guatemala
  • Children, because they tend to play with animals, might not report bites, and are more likely to have animal bites on their head and neck.

Hepatitis B (optional, please read CDC site)

You can get hepatitis B through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood products, so CDC recommends this vaccine if you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.


Health Tips
Traveling in a developing country like Guatemala means that there will be an increase in the chance of contracting mild sicknesses. Most of these sicknesses are due to change in diet, climate, and altitude. In order to ensure that we have a safe trip, BBW plans to do the following:




  • Discuss, in detail, all necessary precautions (e.g. what foods to avoid, how to purify water)
  • Eat in safe restaurants and in safe homes
  • Carry an extensive first-aid kit
  • Have copies of all medical forms and insurance

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends travelers to do the following, to stay healthy while traveling.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated drinks in cans and bottles
  • Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes
  • Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it
  • Wash fruits with soap and water before eating if you can’t peel it
  • Take your Malaria prevention medication before, during, and AFTER travel
  • Protect yourself from insects by using repellents and mosquito nets
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, do not go barefoot (especially in the shower)
  • Do not eat dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized (boiled)
  • Don’t handle animals (especially dogs and cats) to avoid bites and serious disease (including rabies)
  • Prescription medications – make sure you have enough to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s).



  • Check the calendar carefully – if your period is scheduled to start during the trip, make sure you are adequately prepared
  • Air travel, time changes, stress and heavy manual labor can bring on your period even if it’s not time. Prepare but don’t obsess
  • You may not be able to purchase supplies in Guatemala. Please bring everything you need for your monthly cycle with you. If you run out of supplies, there is usually enough to share within the group
  • In the village, it will be okay to drop used supplies into the latrine – some villages don’t dig their latrines very deep so they don’t like them loaded up with paper so be conscious about what waste goes in the latrine
  • Keep in mind that the ladies in the village use cloth that they wash out and reuse so they have no waste
  • Wipes, not alcohol swabs, will help you feel fresher when you go to the bathroom. Those can be tossed down the latrine as can toilet paper.
You need to eat! We will be doing a lot of hard labor on the work site. Your body needs the nutrients and energy that comes from the food you eat. Even if you are not working on the facility construction site until after lunch, you need to eat a good breakfast and lunch. Your body depends on this to maintain good health. If you are not accustomed to eating three good-sized meals a day, you may want to start getting used to this now. Food is also a critical part of staying hydrated. You will learn about hydration on the next page, but remember, water alone cannot keep you hydrated!




It may be difficult for you to adjust to new foods and eating habits, however it is important that you make every effort to do so. Not only is it important for your health, but food can become a very sensitive issue with the host families and villagers: 1) It is disrespectful not to eat the food that is prepared for you; 2) our hosts will become worried if you are not eating; and 3) many of the people around you may be suffering from malnutrition and do not have the option/luxury to eat the foods you will be given.

Although we will be eating as a team, often times members of the community may want to share food with you in their home. You must decide for yourself what you want or do not want to eat in these instances. If something was just prepared (fresh and hot) by a family member, then it is probably safe for you to eat. If it was prepared yesterday, you may want to politely decline. Remember, ultimately you are responsible for your personal health. We encourage trip participants to be smart but adventurous.

Most of the workers on the site will eat in the morning and then work through the day until 5:30. They will break for cigarettes, coffee, and a small snack. We will have a full lunch and break at midday to rest a bit, rehydrate and eat a snack. Because of the limited food options in the village we will allow each volunteer to bring food with them (nutritional bars, dried snacks, a can of tuna, etc). HOWEVER, under no circumstances should this food be eaten in the presence of the villagers.

Drinking enough water to keep your body healthy and hydrated is a regular challenge on the trip. It is hot, the water is warm, you might feel full, you might feel sick, etc. However, the consequences of dehydration can quickly lead to life threatening situations, so this issue becomes an absolutely critical part of the trip experience.

Each trip Participant will drink several Liters of water per day. You can bring flavors tablets with extra electrolytes to help.

The water in your body, the fluid that keeps you alive and active, leaves you at an alarming rate. It is estimated that an average person at rest on a normal day loses between 2 and 3 liters of water. However, the fluid lost in perspiration during periods of strenuous activity can be as high as 2 liters per hour.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizzy
  • Thirsty
  • Infrequent urination
  • Disoriented
  • Irritable
  • Combative
  • Lethargic

We recommend drinking 1 liter every 2 hours on the worksite and finish 4 other liters in any given 24-hour period. At home dehydration is not life threatening, however, because of the sometime extreme heat, physical exertion, remote location and lack of medical facilities, dehydration is absolutely life threatening on the trip. The Building Bridges staff will work closely with each of you to monitor your health and hydration throughout the trip.

General Customs


Guatemalan cuisine includes a mixture of the indigenous Miskito people, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. Most meals will consist simply of rice and beans, and some meals may include corn (a main staple), other locally-grown vegetables, eggs. Many traditional foods in Guatemalan cuisine are based on Mayan cuisine and prominently feature maize, chilies and black beans as key ingredients. Traditional dishes also include a variety of stews including Kak’ik (Kak-ik), which is a tomato-based stew with turkey, pepian, and cocido. Guatemala is also known for its antojitos, which include small tamales called chuchitos, fried plantains, and tostadas with tomato sauce, guacamole or black beans. Certain foods are also commonly eaten on certain days of the week; for example, a popular custom is to eat paches (a kind of tamale made from potatoes) on Thursday. Don’t be afraid to try new things, if for nothing more than the story you can tell later. If you aren’t hungry or don’t want to try something, decline it with sensitivity, not with an “ugh”! Remember that this is the food that the community members will eat every day and call their own.

As food is valuable, you will find that people rarely leave uneaten portions on their plates. At the same time, our host family will likely give us huge portions. Try to avoid wasting food by asking for less before you start eating. Practice some easy phrases with the trip leaders to communicate this.

You don’t need to be a history or current affairs buff, but some knowledge of the country can be helpful to spur conversation.

Guatemala – Wikipedia


In order to respect the village experience and stay in the moment, we ask that volunteers refrain from bringing alcohol. There will be time before and after the village to enjoy adult beverages together, but on the worksite and while living among the community, we want to emulate the way of life these people have. If alcohol is offered to you by a host family as part of a celebration or traditional feast, by all means join them if you so choose. We just want to avoid bringing in cases of beer or liquor. Just as we avoid eating outside candy bars in front of the villagers, we don’t want to bring attention to any “luxury” items that are scarcities in the area.


Much importance is attached to greetings in Guatemala. They are another way to show respect to your fellow human being. Saying “hello,” or “good morning” when passing someone on the road is appropriate. Don’t just smile. Speak! The appropriate greeting is “Hola, como esta?” Answer: “Hola, bien y tu”. When going to someone’s house, it’s polite to announce your presence at the outside gate before entering.


The official language of Guatemala is Espanol. The children do learn English in school so while not fluent, they should have a good understanding of some English words.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

We don’t expect everyone to be fluent, but a little DuoLingo time beforehand can go a long way!


Gender roles are typically more traditionally defined in the countries where BBW has done projects. The same is true in Guatemala. Women cook and clean and men tend the fields. Gender roles tend to play themselves out on the work site too, where, for example, women tend to carry water and men hammer nails. Don’t let this discourage you from doing your own thing. Women who choose to do some of the traditionally male jobs on the site will certainly be an inspiration to other women in the village. Men also can help break down traditional gender stereotypes by offering to cook, clean, wash clothes, and fetch water. Female volunteers may find large groups of same-age men paying them a lot of attention. Take it in stride; nothing ill-intentioned is meant by it.


Animals are beasts of burden in many parts of the Third World, not pets. Horses are for riding and dogs are for guarding the house. Animals are routinely and unacceptably mistreated. Some dogs may have never been petted and are more afraid of people than affectionate. Treat all house animals with more distance than you would in the US.


Even in the poorest and most rural communities, people will try to dress cleanly and nicely. When going to parties, church or visiting someone’s house, they will wear a clean, tucked-in shirt, or a dress. Stained and ripped clothing is fine for the work site, but clean and proper clothing at social occasions is polite. You will be amazed by some of the beautiful colors incorporated into their daily dress.


According to recent estimates, 87% of the population is Christian, with 50% being Catholic. The area we will be working in is overwhelmingly Christian.


No rural trash collection means that fields and streets are often used as trashcans.

Don’t follow this example. Instead, collect your trash to take out of the village, avoid buying heavily packaged products that generate a lot of waste.


While in the village we will not be taking showers like you are used to here. There are no “shower facilities”. Instead a shower will simply consist of a bucket of water and a small bowl to pour that water about you as you lather and rinse. You will be provided with a private space to shower.


Football (soccer) is definitely the king of sports in Guatemala. Playing sports is a great way of getting involved in the community. We will be bringing some sporting goods equipment into the village with us and will organize some games with the villagers and the children.