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Agnes Zhou: "I'll return to my warm family across the ocean & serve the people I care about."

Project Skillseed connects forward-thinking youth from around the world, to overseas development programmes conducted over the school holidays.

Read on to hear what Agnes Zhou, a high-school student from China, had to say about her experience with the GPSA medical services programme in Guatemala.

The summer of 2012 was the last summer before my college application started and when I clicked “submit” to my application to Global Public Service Academies (GPSA)’s volunteer program in Guatemala.

I still couldn’t decide between this program and summer school. The idea of volunteering across continents and a chance to look into Mayan culture finally helped me make the decision, but from our team leader Mrs. Tina Ellis’ passionate glow, I sensed something more to my trip to the Central American village of Calhuitz not even found on Google Earth, and I was eager to find out what.

I had several concerns though, before the program started, mainly about the physical condition and cultural shock. But they later turned out to be the highlight of my trip though they were nevertheless the hardest part. Following Tina’s steps, we 15 volunteers tried to speak the same language Chuj as the local people did. We made the same tortilla and smelt the same awful smoke from the stoves. Under the scorching sun, we carried medical equipments and walked on burning rocks. During freezing nights we took cold showers and fought exotic bedbugs. By living the local life, we slowly integrated into the local community. 

Now here are my top three moments:

#1 By observing while serving, we learned about two major health hazards in Calhuitz - heavy smoke from the stoves and unsafe water.

Although it was beyond our expected duties, we decided to tackle them. With every team member’s devotion of unique ideas and efforts, we designed and made three models of a healthier and more economical stove. We also proposed a detailed Chlorine-Purified Water Plan to the local villagers, extremely proud to have initiated such practical and long-term goals, and taking its mission even further. For the first time in my years of volunteer participation, I could smell and taste the differences I was making.

#2 One day at the local clinic, there was a baby born.

Holding the newborn in my arms, hearing her first cry, I was yet worrying about her uncertain fate, for there was a high infant-mortality rate caused by poor hygiene and medical conditions. It gave meaning to the month we spent travelling to 30 nearby villages, giving prenatal exams and pills to women, giving vaccines to the kids, taking health examinations, and teaching kids to brush their teeth and wash their hands.

#3 It came the day for leave. Through the bus window, I watched the familiar views pulling away - layers of green, glistening sunlight, and the beaming faces smiling and chasing after us.

Never before was my heart so attached to a place other than my home, and I felt such a burning desire to stay with the people here. I could hear a loud voice bursting out of my chest: I shall be back! Just then I realized I have finally found the answer to Tina’s dedication and passion to her cause.

Now I feel very lucky that I decided to participate in this program for it turned out be far more than an item in the “extracurricular activities” column of my resume and became a rewarding experience. I came to understand volunteering not as just visiting Sun Village once a month or raising funds for rural schools to build reading rooms, which were all the idea of volunteering meant to me. Now I know how different it is to get so close to the people you serve as to live with them and live like them. All this intimacy just makes you a minuter observer and a more patient helper. 

I’ve already decided to go back next summer and will serve as a leader-in-training. I’ll return to my warm family across the Pacific Ocean, and serve the people I care about.

If you’re looking for a way to impact the community in a meaningful and interesting way, reach out to Skillseed for details via Facebook or through our official website.

Talk to us, and tell us how you’d like to help developing communities by tweeting at us (@skillseed) what your dreams and hopes for the community are, or tagging us on Instagram (@skillseed) with images of your past volunteer experiences!