Sitting in her dorm room late one night, Laura Koch was surfing the internet looking for an opportunity to travel abroad. She stumbled across Operation Groundswell, a Canadian non-profit that offers off the grid travel, hands on volunteering and immersive local experiences, operating with the slogan fo “Backpacking with a Purpose!”. She immediately knew that this was what she had been looking for so she completed an application, passed the interview process and was on her way to Guatemala before she knew it!
While in Guatemala, Laura spent 15 days travelling through Antigua, Xela, Pechaj, Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Santa Clara and San Juan La Laguna. With 2 amazing Program Leaders and 11 other like-minded people rounding out the rest of the group, Laura’s “backpactivism” experience had begun. Exploring local markets, partaking in Spanish lessons and meeting with community leaders and activists, the group learned about the history and culture of Guatemala, with a special focus upon the indigenous Mayan people, and apply this knowledge to discussions about issues common to their own countries.
No hands were clean after participating in defensive reforestation, working within a traditional medicinal garden, fishing in Lake Atitlan and weaving traditional backstraps. With LOTS of fresh coffee and more tortillas than they could possibly count, they hiked 45 kilometres through the mountains, used local transportation and hopped in the back of pick-up trucks to get from place to place. They stayed in hostels, with host families and in the dormitory at the OG Hub in San Juan.
Laura’s favourite experience was waking up at 4:30 one morning and hiking up the mountain in the dark to watch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. “I don’t think any morning will ever match that one” Laura mentioned as she reflected on it. As cliché as it may sound, Laura expressed that she genuinely feels like her experience in Guatemala will help to shape the adult she is becoming,. She became more confident, found similarities in individuals despite having differing backgrounds and spending two weeks travelling alongside some of the most fierce, wise, vibrant and thoughtful girls she has met was the experience she had been searching for.
“Travel is the best education you can get!” Laura exclaimed as I asked if she would recommend it to others. If anyone has any questions at all about her trip or what else Operation Groundswell does, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I wholeheartedly believe in this organization and I think that the world would be a better place if everyone travelled like a backpactivist.”
Picture Credits to Uma Dhir and Lauren Gerlowski.