Keep hearing us gush about tours, but finding it hard to imagine what it’s actually like to travel to Guatemala on a CoEd tour?
One day you might find yourself in the beautiful, colonial city of Antigua…
Or on a boat in the middle of Lake Atitlán.
The next day you’re driving through a rural community…
on your way to visit a school that participates in one of CoEd’s programs!
Students rush to greet you with smiling faces as you arrive at the school. You spend the day interacting with the students, bonding with your fellow travelers, and getting to know more about the Mayan and Guatemalan cultures. It’s an experience that leaves an impact and continues to resonate with travelers for the rest of their lives…but don’t take it from us. 77 people joined us on tour this summer, so let’s ask a few of our newcomers, Matt, Kathleen, and Emily, what it was like for them!
First, we dove deep into the Helping Hands service tour with Matt Slinger, who spent a week in Guatemala this summer with his girlfriend, Kacie Baldwin (on her 3rd tour!). They spent their time painting and working alongside students and teachers at a primary school in San Cristobal El Alto that receives support through CoEd’s Spark Reading Program.
So Matt, what was it like going on your first tour with CoEd?
“It was smooth and professional. I felt well cared-for, pampered even. Everyone on staff was smiling, warm, considerate. The schedule for the week was so well-balanced with plenty of activity, down-time, and optional activities. The other folks on the tour with me were from a variety of backgrounds and were very warm and welcoming. I was definitely afraid that I might not like being “stuck” with a bunch of strangers, but by the time the first couple had to leave us I was crying and hugging them goodbye. The connections made while traveling are unique.”
While volunteering at the Spark Program school on tour, you had a boy in your painting group at the school, Jose, who had to have an emergency appendectomy that forced him to stay home the rest of the week. Can you tell us what it was like visiting his home at the end of the week to surprise him with gifts? How did Jose react? How did you feel in that moment?
“That was very emotional for me. Most of the school kids, teachers, and CoEd staff stopped by to check on him. His friends hugged him and couldn’t wait to show him their new Slinkys. His mother seemed very happy to have all of us flood into their yard. It was one of the sweetest things that I’ve seen, and it made me wonder if anyone at my school would have done that growing up.”
What are some of the stand-out moments from your experience with CoEd on the Helping Hands tour?
“The staff is remarkable and very passionate about their jobs. We got to see many places within Antigua that I wouldn’t have found on my own, including incredible restaurants (Thanks, Rony!). Meeting the kids at the different schools was very impactful, but nothing stands out more than meeting Jose and his family at their home. It made me feel very humble. It is completely random that I was born on part of this continent, one side of this imaginary border, and he on the other side. It makes no sense that because of that, I have access to everything I need and more, and [Jose’s dad] struggles to feed his family. He wants what every parent in the world wants: he wants his children to have better opportunities than he had.”
“I also really appreciated what Joe [Berninger, CoEd’s co-founder] said about not being “White Knights riding in to the rescue.” It’s not about throwing money at problems and walking away. It’s about laser-focus on education as the long-term solution so that they can rise up.”
“I also really appreciated that there was never a heavy-handed sales pitch. It was simply, “Here’s what we love about this place. If you love it too and want to help, here are some ways.”
If you could describe the Helping Hands tour in one word, what word would you choose? Why?
“Impactful. Everything we experienced had a lasting impact on me, and the work that we did had an impact on that community and those kids.”
Emily & Kathleen
We also sat down with the stars of the Being Boss podcast, Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon. These wonderful ladies went on CoEd’s very first collaborative Snapshot-Being Boss tour that focused on meeting the students who benefit from CoEd’s educational projects, experiencing the beautiful scenery of Guatemala and the indigenous culture of the Mayan people, and making new creative connections and #businessbesties.
How would you describe your experience on tour with CoEd?
“We didn’t know what to expect during our time in Guatemala – and maybe that was for the best because we were so pleasantly surprised by the entire experience! From the school visits to the fun tourist activities, like making chocolate, visiting a weaving cooperative, and taking a boat ride across Lake Atitlán, the entire trip was well planned, impeccably executed, and equally full of heartfelt moments and big belly laughs. The CoEd team was incredibly informed, super helpful, and refreshingly relatable.”
What was a stand-out moment for you on the Snapshot-Being Boss tour?
“The weaving cooperative really stood out for us – supporting local artisans that use local resources to create beautiful things, and seeing how these women have come together to support each other, their families, and their communities was so incredibly inspiring. We also loved the “in-between” moments. Getting to know each other on a boat ride across Lake Atitlán and over dinner was really special.”
During your time in Guatemala, you were both able to meet the Rise students you sponsor. Can you share what it was like meeting your students for the first time?
“We both especially loved meeting the students we sponsor through the Rise Program. That was such a special moment that we’ll never forget. We look forward to sending them letters and staying in touch over the course of their education.”
What one word would you choose to describe your experience sponsoring a Rise student? Feel free to explain why.
“Impactful. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to support a student through school and see her break the cycle of poverty in her family.”
Now that you’ve gotten a taste for what tour is like, ready to make a lasting impact?
If you would like to hear more about Emily and Kathleen’s adventure with CoEd on the Snapshot-Being Boss tour, listen to their Being Boss podcast here.