W20 Guatemala – Healthcare & Service: It Takes A Village

For an action packed 8-days, we’ll step out of the classroom and into the complex world of healthcare in Guatemala’s western highlands. From big bustling cities to small rural communities, we’ll live and learn alongside local health practitioners, administrators and activists. We’ll visit frontline nurses, ride along with volunteer responders and meet with underserved patients. We’ll examine the gaps in public service delivery and explore how a diverse village of local community, business, and non-profit actors are stepping in to fill them. So, get ready to challenge yourself with service learning, cultural immersion and adventure. This is our chance to explore healthcare in a new and different landscape while reflecting on the challenges facing practitioners in Guatemala and back home in Canada.

Here are a few of the highlights of the program:

  • Visit big city hospitals and small rural clinics and learn about Guatemala’s healthcare system alongside local practitioner.
  • Join the doctors and nurses of Primeros Pasos and see how a small rural clinic is affecting health outcomes in the shadow of Volcan Santa Maria.
  • Ride along with members of the Red Cross and Bomberos and see challenges for Guatemala’s volunteer first-responders.
  • Meet the social workers, teachers, and students of EDELAC and its Hogar Abierto to see how an innovative educational program is impacting health and wellness in Las Rosas.
  • Stay with a Guatemalan host family
Day 1 – 3|Guatemala City

February 22 – 24, 2020

We begin our adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. There in the hustle and bustle of Guatemala’s capital the group will acclimatize to the sights, sounds, smells, and smiles of the region  while getting a crash course in Guatemala’s economic, social, and political context. We’ll join JR from Hijos (Children of the Disappeared) for a very different type of tour exploring Guatemala’s recent history and the city’s socio-politically charged street art. Finally, we’ll visit the Hospital Roosevelt, the largest public hospital in the country, and begin to unpack the healthcare system in Guatemala. Get ready for a whirlwind orientation!

  • Local & Climate: Guatemala City is BIG. think 4 million people and growing. It’s got a slightly gritty vibe and streets are pretty chaotic. At 1500m above sea level, so while it can be warm to hot during the day, evenings can get cool and chilly.  It will also be RAINY SEASON, so be sure to pack a rain jacket and waterproof cover for your pack.
  • Partners and Projects: Hospital Roosevelt
    •  Note: We’re not going to be volunteering here, this is more of an introductory activity (part of orientation!) to health and healthcare in Guatemala. We’ll be doing more interactive and community-engaged learning in Xela and San Juan La Laguna
  • Activities:
    • Day 1 will be the first full exposure to both Guatemala and OG’s educational and travel style: So, as part of orientation, we’ll facilitate a number of ice breakers, team building games and conversations about Guatemala, and how we want to perform as a group of backpacktivists.
    • On day 2, we’ll continue orientation and begin to talk more about health and healthcare with a visit to the National public hospital where we’ll learn get a glimpse into how local healthcare works. 
  • Accommodations: Hotel Spring is located just down the street from the central plaza, so you’re in the heart of the action.   It’s a common spot for activists and NGO workers, so while it’s nothing fancy, it has all of your basic comforts including flush toilets, electric showers, and wifi. There’s also a beautiful courtyard common space and you’ll be sleeping in twin beds in shared rooms.
  • Transportation: We’ll take taxis or a private micro (kinda like a club van) from the airport. Then we’ll mostly be exploring by taxi and by walking in the city.  
  • Food: Lots of beans, corn tortillas, eggs and chicken!  We’ll be delving into these local staples right away. 
  • Physicality: We wont; be doing any hiking or adventure activities but we will be walking around the downtown quite a bit and days will full of other types of  activities and engagements.
Day 3 – 5| Xela, Quetzaltenango

February 24 – 26, 2020

Next, we’ll travel by bus through the Western Highlands to the city of Quetzaltenango, popularly known as Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Here in Guatemala’s second city, we’ll immerse ourselves in highland culture and engage with a variety of healthcare initiatives that serve the regions indigenous population. We’ll stay with local families and get a little lesson in medical Spanish at Escuela La Paz. We’ll also team up with EDELAC, the Red Cross and Primeros Pasos to learn about some of the local challenges by engaging with their nurses, social workers and first responders. Finally, we’ll celebrate our time in Xela with a little trip to nearby Zunil and the therapeutic waters of the Fuentes Georginas.

  • Local & Climate: Xela is Guatemala’s 2nd city with a mixed indiegnous and ladino population. The city itself is a little rough around the edges but is well known for its vibrant culture and positive energy. Staying at around 2,360mt in elevation, days are hot (when it’s not raining!) while evenings are cool and chilly. Bring layers!
  • Activities: Arrive in the indigenous metropolis of Xela where we’ll be meeting up with some cool orgs and exploring this urban center on foot.
    • We’ll scavenge and explore the market of Xela in small groups.
    • We might do a cool cooking or weaving workshop with Café Red Kat or Yabal handicrafts
    • We’ll also divide into groups and engage with 2-3 organizations depending on the group’s size and specialties. (See below)
    • Surprise activity 
  • Partners and Projects: We won’t be doing any clinical work here but may have the opportunity to shadow practitioners on their rounds. We’ll also be learning from orgs around the city to learn about health-related challenges and how local folks are tackling them.
    • EDELAC or the school of the street is an organization that provides education, shelter, and healthcare to vulnerable children in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Their goal is to restore family relationships and give children better opportunities for a better future. OG has worked EDELAC and its social enterprising arm, Quetzaltrekkers, since 2011. We maintain a scholarship program for students from the Hogar Abierto “open home” and have worked collaboratively on a number of projects including on a health and hygiene program. 
  • PRIMEROS PASOS or FIRST STEPS is a non-profit organization based in Quetzaltenango. Primeros Pasos works collaboratively with health professionals, health educators, volunteers, and community leaders, to provide quality and affordable health care and health education to the rural, underserved communities of the Palajunoj Valley.
  • THE RED CROSS was founded in 1919, the IFRC comprises 190 member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, a secretariat in Geneva and more than 60 delegations strategically located to support activities around the world. The Guatemalan Red Cross provides disaster relief, capacity building and emergency medical services including ambulance.
  • Accommodations: Homestays in Xela are organized through Escuela La Paz Spanish school. Comfort levels may vary a bit depending on the family but participants can definitely expect to have their own bed. Rooms will be individual or shared with 1-2 other participants. Homes in Xela have electricity and running water (that generally means flush toilettes) but hot water can’t always be guaranteed. Breakfast and dinner will generally be eaten with host families and vary by home but likely consist of beans, rice, tortillas and other local staples. Most families don’t speak any English but are super friendly and patient with those that want to practice their español.
  • Transportation: On day 3 we’ll take a shuttle bus for 4hrs along the Panamerican highway, a bumpy and windy road that will take us up into the western highlands. (Bring gravol if you get motion sick!).
Day 6 – 8| San Juan La Laguna, Solola

February 26 – 29, 2020

At Operation Groundswell’s place-based operations or Hub, located on the beautiful shores of Lago Atitlan, we’ll have the opportunity to rest our legs, and centre our minds in the vibrant indigenous community of San Juan. The Hub is also the physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people and local partners through conversations and collaborative projects. So, our team will team up with two of OG’s local partner, La Voz and the Centro May, who one of OG’s partners and engage with a local health initiative underway. On our last night, we’ll gather around a BBQ and bonfire for disorientation. A staple of every OG program, this is the time to kickback and reflect, discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare
for our return home.

  • Local: Located in the indegenous community of San Juan La Laguna, the Hub is Operation Groundswell’s base of operations in Guatemala. It is also a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people and local partners through conversations and collaborative projects. It is also a site where OG can test and develop new ways to create positive impact alongside our participants and our local partners.
  • Activities: 
    • Projects – We’ll spend 1 morning learning about and working on some alternatives to the prevailing monocrop systems we’ve been experiencing. Working at the Hub, you will experiment with on-going projects such as the vegetable garden or aquaculture system.
    • Disorientation – On the afternoon of day 7 we’ll celebrate disorientation, a staple of all OG programs. This is a chance to kickback relax and reflect in a beautiful setting where we’ll re-live memories of the program, recap the lessons that we’ve learned, discuss how to stay connected, and collaborate on projects in the future.
  • Partners and Projects: 
    • Alma de Colores is a social inclusion organization that works with and provides employment for adults with various disabilities.  They maintain an organic vegetable garden on the Hub site. We’ll be getting our hands dirty working in their garden or on different community project in San Juan.
      La Voz is a local organic coffee cooperative located about a five-minute walk down the street from the Hub.  You’ll have to opportunity to round out your coffee edumacation with an insightful chat about the world of international coffee trade with Andres, the president of the cooperative. You’ll spend a morning learning about and working on some alternatives to the prevailing monocrop systems we’ve been experiencing.  Working at the Hub, you will experiment with on-going projects such as the vegetable garden or aquaculture system.
  • Learning: Disorientation! On the afternoon of day 8 you’ll take part in disorientation, a staple of all OG programs.  You’ll have a chance to unwind and take it slow in a beautiful setting where we’ll re-live memories of the program, recap the lessons that we’ve learned, discuss how to stay connected, and collaborate on projects in the future.
  • Climate: Warm to hot during the day, cool at night (nothing too extreme on either end).  We’re right on the 1500m mark, so there are some bugs, but it’s not overly mosquito-y.  Possible rain but not likely as it’s DRY SEASON.
  • Accommodations: You’ll be sleeping with your entire team in the Hub’s bamboo dorm right on the shores of Lake Atitlan.  Be prepared to share in communal living, including team cooking, and to live off the grid with dry composting toilets, cold gravity showers, and solar power that can be unpredictable.
  • Transportation: On Day 8, we’ll depart via shuttle for the capital (4hrs)
  • Round Trip Airfare
  • Accommodation
  • Travel Insurance
  • Meals
  • City & Rural Hospital Visits
  • School Visits
  • Professional Shadowing
  • Red Cross Ride Along
  • Hot Springs
  • & More!


Second Payment
Third Payment
Final Payment


$149 +/-



*Price may increase or decrease depending on exchange rates, final vendor quotes and number of participants.

$1799 +/-

TRIP DATE 02/22/2020





This opportunity is available to all Niagara College students and alumni within 6 months of graduation. Please note that part-time students are not eligible for the Be World Ready Grant.



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*Note: if we will be flying through the United States of America, you must have permission to enter and leave the United States. If you require a U.S travel visa it is your responsibility to obtain this document and email [email protected] a copy/photo.