Amrita Chima is 26 years old and is born and raised in Scotland. She is Indian by background and now resides in London. She is a finance specialist by trade, enjoys writing, reading and traveling, and is taking a year to travel and volunteer in Latin America.
I arrived at Pa’nibal, in Sacatepéquez, Guatemala in early November. I had made my way north from Costa Rica to begin a work away at the refuge. I was excited but also nervous. It was the first time for me being involved in such specific community work in a country completely foreign to me. I need not have worried, I was coming to the right place.
Once at the house, I was greeted by a number of friendly staff members, residents and their kids. I immediately felt welcome and my nerves started to subside. This was despite the communication gap due to my bad Spanish! Above my bed was a poster that had been hand-crafted by the kids – ‘Welcome Home’ it read with my name in bold below. Within a few days, I felt exactly how the poster predicted I would – at home.
The first thing I noticed was how hard-working each and every one of these girls are – I was so impressed. It is a rarity back home and then we complain about it. I rarely saw my room-mate due to her hectic schedule – up at 5am, out the door by 6am, work all day in a physically intensive job, back home around 7pm, a quick rest for dinner and then on to her assigned chores for the evening. The earliest she joined me back in the room was at 9.30pm and this was on a good day! Sitting on her bed at 10pm, she whips out her medical books. Studying for an exam she has on the weekend at a university where she studies nursing. And this is a play-by-play of a resident without kids. Late at night, chatting to her about her ambitions, I could feel her determination and I felt inspired. I truly did admire her.
This push for independence that she now so strongly held had been nudged forward by the staff team here at Pa’nibal. During my time here, I learned, both from witnessing and discussing, all the work that the team puts in to gently push the girls towards their goals, freedom and independence. From classes centered around self-defense and self-discipline such as Taekwondo, to support in finding work or developing a new skill to every day words of encouragement. It is heart-warming to see the support that is given and the passion with which all of the team here take on their roles.
My role here was to document, through photos, the ways in which steps were being taken each day to ensure a better future was being presented for the residents and their families. And it was never a challenge to find that next moment. Of course, there was the day-to-day volunteering or work the residents were involved with, attending classes on Woman’s Rights and Empowerment, the children graduating school etc. But for me, it was the little every day moments of passion and determination that really struck me. For example, afternoons spent side-by-side with Ana where I studied Spanish and she studied English. She took full advantage of my being here in order to learn a new skill. She had learned some as a child and wanted to improve. Or my roommate coming home one evening with a full Taekwondo suit, ready to commit to and incorporate a full-time hobby into her already hectic schedule. Or watching the young boys hand-craft kites all day only to successfully fly them later that evening (I would have no idea where to even begin). Or an evening spent around the dinner table, the boys asking me to quiz them on all the colors and objects I had taught them in English that day. There were so many of these everyday moments which really emphasized to me the movement and feel of the house.
Although the residents have been through hard-ships in life that no one should have to face, on a day-to-day basis, it really is a lovely place to be. We have fun together. It is like living with a large, extended family where day-to-day everyone chips in to do their bit. We eat as a family, laugh and make fun of each other like a family and celebrate birthdays together like a family. I am taking away from this experience true friendships, drive and motivation inspired by the residents and a lot of admiration for the people who make a place like this possible and run it with such drive. And of course, lots of photos! It truly has been an unforgettable experience, and of my 8 months spent traveling and working on this side of the world, this tops my list.
The only downside to my experience at Pa’nibal is that I had to leave.
Ana, Amrita’s roommate during her stay at Pa’nibal, moved out on her own in mid-December, 2019. She had been working at a local gym to save money for more than half a year and had been living at Pa’nibal for about eighteen months. She will complete nursing school in the Summer of 2020.
Want to invest in the women of Pa’nibal, like Ana, working to change their lives and futures? $100 per month covers basic costs for each of our residents; any amount helps.