This summer I had the opportunity to take part in a ten day adventure in Guatemala with Champions in Action. This faith-based, non-profit organization has a beautiful mission that aims to take at-risk youth out of the inner cities of Guatemala City for a week to participate in a soccer camp along the shores of Puerto Barrios. The kids that participate come from all types of backgrounds with many being exposed to gang activity, drugs, and physical and sexual abuse. But mentorship for these youth does not end after camp; youth continue to be empowered to be leaders in their community by the support of a mentor whose roles include soccer coach and spiritual leader. Also, a year long soccer league keeps youth involved by participating each week in games and practices.
The daily camp schedule is comprised of soccer conditioning, soccer training sessions, beach time, afternoon games, and chapel in the evening. The camp also provides three meals a day (chicken, carne asada, rice, beans, eggs, pancakes, tortillas, etc.) and some of the best fruit drinks (melon, orange, mango, papaya, horchata, etc.) that I have ever had.
The success and energy of the camp relies heavily on the help of dedicated staff and volunteers. Camp is fast paced, full of energy, and packed with fun. Meal times often turn into competitions for best team cheer, or best team spirit.
Camp is held at El Faro, just a 15 minute boat ride from Puerto Barrios along the Guatemalan coastline and within the larger Caribbean Sea. The setting is tropical and in the summer it is not uncommon to get rain and sun all in the same day. El Faro is equipped with several living spaces throughout its property. These living spaces are able to hold hundreds of people, including separate quarters for youth, men, and women. The property also includes an immaculate soccer complex that includes a training field and full sized soccer field, along with a weight room and track. A fully staffed kitchen provides meals throughout the day, and snacks are provided in the local tienda, or snack shop.
At the end of camp, after the youth return to Guatemala City, volunteers are able to take a day to explore Antigua. This day is generously set up by Champions in Action. The first part of the day is spent visiting with youth in Ciudad Quetzal, one of the many "red zones," of Guatemala. There, volunteers are warmly greeted by mentors and youth who set up food and provided activities. This interaction between volunteers and local community help bridge the gap between the safe and fun camp environment to the sometimes harsh realities of city life where the youth grow up in. After big hugs and more cheering, volunteers take off for Antigua.
Antigua is one of Guatemala's best cities. There, volunteers are able to explore part of Guatemala's rich history by visiting Spanish colonial ruins, enjoying the colorful architecture and plazas, all while walking the cobblestone streets. Champions in Action provided a map that located several points of interest for volunteers including one of my favorite ice cream spots to date called "Helados Exoticos." Put Antigua as one of your must visit places when you travel to Guatemala!
Want to volunteer? Feel compelled to give financial support? Want to start a correspondence with a young person in Guatemala? Click on the link above to get involved, and feel free to ask me any question here on the blog.