If you want adventure combined with an amazing learning opportunity, try a short term mission trip. You may go with the intention of helping others, but you will find you get more out of it than you could ever give.

 In 2009, I flew to Guatemala with my 14 year old daughter and three others from our church. We joined several other church groups with the goal to build houses for some families in a poverty stricken area. Reading about third world poverty only partly prepares you for the reality of their lives. They have no running water or electricity. Their drinking water is from the polluted lake, which of course leads to parasites and sickness. They carry water in jugs on their heads up the hill from the lake. They cook on a wood burning stove outdoors, even in the hot summer weather.

 The house we built is probably bigger than your kitchen. The one room structure is built with cinderblock walls and a dirt floor. I don’t know how they sleep in the rainy season, with the hard rain falling on their tin roof, but they are grateful to be dry.

 I was so impressed by the people we met. Despite their difficult living conditions, they were happier than most Americans you meet. They wore colorful homemade clothing,   and the children were clean and well behaved.  Many in our team bought beautiful jewelry that the women made. The people in the area spoke their native Mayan language, but in school they learn Spanish. 

 While we were there, a tragic incident occurred. The woman whom we were building a house for got news that her brother was killed. She was not allowed to attend the funeral because of religious differences. We went to visit her mother and family members later, and through interpreters learned that her brother was the sole provider for many family members. Our group took up a collection to give them some money to provide for the funeral and to cover living expenses until they could figure out what to do.

 Our team brought suitcases full of shoes. Many people had no shoes, or had one pair that was the wrong size. One little girl had a deformed toe from wearing shoes that were too small. When we handed out the shoes, they received them with such joy! Shoes are so precious that they might have one pair, but often save them for special occasions and go barefoot the rest of the time.

 A medical team held clinics to pass out medicine. They also brought suitcases full of donated eyeglasses. So many people got a pair of glasses, and were able to see clearly for the first time in their lives!

 Our trip to Guatemala was full of amazing experiences. All of us who went would gladly go again. I would highly recommend short term mission trips to anyone who likes traveling to new places and interacting with the people.