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Yes I do!

Once upon a time, I managed an AmeriCorps*VISTA program. It was my responsibility to recruit people to accept a stipend that was below the poverty line to work in tiny little towns in California that no one had ever heard of. Now I’m managing a volunteer teaching program, and recruiting English speakers from all over the world to teach in Guatemala for six months. The really cool thing about this position is it is direct service. And it’s getting out of dodge when the going in most English-speaking locales is decidedly tough. It should be easier to recruit people, right? Wrong. Recruiting English teachers for Camino Seguro is decidedly more difficult. Just like VISTA, the stipend isn’t enough to live on without dipping into savings or ending up in debt. Plus, six months is an awkward amount of time – most people want either 2-3 months or a year commitment.

But the most difficult part is the inflated negative side of Guatemala that foreigners see reflected in the news. Just when I started this position and ramped up recruitment efforts, accounts about the eruption of Volcán Pacaya and tropical storm Agatha showed nothing but death and destruction all over the country. Stories of violence and brutality, especially of incidents in Guatemala City, are everywhere. Tales of danger and disaster abound. So, it’s no surprise that it’s hard to recruit people here.

This is really sad news. I feel sorry for everyone who is missing out on Guatemala. Sure, it has its dangers and drawbacks, but what location doesn’t? There are most definitely areas of San Francisco where I wouldn’t go walking by myself, just like there are in Guatemala. The crime here isn’t as random or prolific as the media would make people believe. You just have to know what the high-risk situations are and how to take care of yourself. It’s true, anything could happen. But, anything could just as easily happen in any other place. Guatemala is a gorgeous country, with a fun-loving, energetic populace. People here have this electric glow about them that’s magnetic. Everywhere I go, I see beauty and I see goodness. I couldn’t possibly say enough positive things about life here. I think everyone should get to experience the wonder of Guatemala.

Which brings me to the great news. I have English teachers! In the month of August, I brought on four new teachers, which completed the English team for the first time since I started. And if you thought I gushed about Guatemala, wait until you hear me gush about this teaching team. They are AWESOME! They’re not just a little bit awesome. They’re a lot awesome. They have so much energy, enthusiasm and essence. Their ideas are amazing. Every single day I’m blown away by them. Let me introduce you:


An American biding her time until she enters the Peace Corps, this sports enthusiast will most often be found finding ways to incorporate throwing balls into her English lessons. Her competitive spirit and drive to be the best gives her a zest that is infectious. She’s an ace at maintaining both a clear head and a playful attitude.


This cheeky Brit exercises her dry wit liberally. She keeps me in stitches all day long. She can often be found saying, “The little scamps!” and, “I absolutely love them!” in the same breath. The one most likely to dive into the art supplies, she’ll never run out of uses for glitter. Hannah always, but always, tells it like it is. Ask her about the Magic Bag.


Born in Canada, raised in the States, this globe trotter holds three passports. You can thank her Irish folks for that! She’s a rockstar Céilí dancer, although a bit too introverted to show it. She’s taught English all over the world, and is an expert at getting into the minds of her students. Keara has a presence that draws people in simply by being there.


The lone wolf on the English team, this Southerner teaches our 1-6 year olds in the Guardería. TJ, or “Tomás,” does a mean “Old MacDonald.” His two greatest loves are sports and college football. Watch for him carrying one small child under each arm, with another one on his back. And one clinging on to each leg.


From the northernmost reaches of North America, this retired social worker is lending her expertise to the youth of Safe Passage. She loves to incorporate music and movement into her classes. One of the most caring hearts I’ve ever met, she always goes out of her way to make someone’s day. In her off-time, she absconds to play in the kitchen.


With enough creative energy for about 5 people, this Canadian blows me away at every turn. Self-described as “shy,” Jillian comes alive when she enters the classroom. She’s brazen and ballsy and full of wonderful surprises. If a classroom starts to get raucous, all she has to do is hold up a finger. Silence.


That’s me! A ring leader of sorts, taking care of all of the behind-the-scenes that keeps the program operating smoothly. In an exercise with the program heads, I was described as, “the one who makes things sustainable,” a badge I wear proudly. I’m often found being teased by students for my rendition of the YMCA. “Baila, Shanno!”

You can see how lucky I am to have this team! They complement each other incredibly well, and really feed off of each others’ energy and ideas. It is an immense joy to see them work together. In the short time that they’ve all been here together, a palpable shift has occurred in the students. They ask about English and hold each other accountable to participate and do well so they don’t lose any stars in class. The English program has come alive. The air about the office is electric. I have never been such a happy camper. The months without a full team were difficult. You don’t want to shortchange some classes by not having an English teacher for them, and I struggled with that in my heart every day. But, it’s also shortchanging them to bring on a person who isn’t what the students need. I’m so proud and excited to say that we now have the right team to engage the students in a meaningful way and move the program forward.

This week I saw peace in a worthwhile wait.

More about Shannon Malone…