Jewell students spend summer in Guatemala

This past summer, 10 William Jewell College students and three faculty members traveled to San Martin, Guatemala. The students worked on multiple projects within the village in an effort to increase the quality of life among its residents.

Dr. Patrick Bunton, physics professor, had traveled previously to Honduras and Costa Rica completing sustainability projects but had never before gone to Guatemala. A chance meeting inspired the trip.

“My wife and I went to Guatemala for our anniversary, and at Lake Avalon we were hiking and met this couple who was the director of Xela-Aid. The funny thing is five minutes either way and none of this would have happened,” Bunton said.

Bunton, Dr. Maggie Sherer, Dr. Blaine Baker and the students they accompanied to Guatemala worked directly with Xela-Aid, an organization that has been focused on community development in San Martin, Guatemala for the past 23 years.

The group worked on several projects for the four days they were in San Martin. Simone Stewart, a senior physics and Spanish major, and Bunton led a camp focused on computer programming for the local children and teenagers. Alicia Loecker, a junior physics and math major, helped build and install water purification systems for families in the village. Sherer and Baker led a class on how to make solar powered lanterns. Xela-Aid had built a medical center for the community, which is where the accompanying nursing majors spent the majority of their time.

“I didn’t know a lot about water purification when I got there, so I learned a lot from the guy who was setting them up with me. He spoke Spanish and I didn’t speak any Spanish, so we really didn’t communicate a lot verbally, but he taught me how to do it by showing me,” said Loecker.

Loecker enjoyed learning about water purification so much that she has decided to focus her research at Jewell on water purification, sending her findings to San Martin so the community can improve their systems.

Stewart and Bunton’s class on computer programming, specifically arduino programming, taught a group of mostly Mayan adolescents how to use these small computer systems. Stewart assisted Bunton’s teaching. A course Bunton teaches at Jewell regarding arduino programming gave Stewart the techniques she needed to help teach the class. The students were able to keep the textbooks so that they could continue learning after the camp ended.

Project participants had memorable experiences while working in Guatemala. Both Bunton and Loecker enjoyed the interactions they were able to have with the children of San Martin.

There is still much to be done in San Martin, according to Bunton. He explained that he really couldn’t say that he’s made an impactful change. Some time has to elapse to see if the projects completed this summer will actually prove to be sustainable. He hopes that the children he worked with were able to see that that there are people in the world that who care about them and want them to succeed.

Bunton is planning another trip to Guatemala this coming summer and possibly for every summer as long as he’s at Jewell.

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