By Diamond Richardson
GUATEMALA CITY – Looking at spit from one of her students on the floor of a newly renovated classroom, Krista Edmonds realized her volunteer job would entail more than just teaching English.
“I have always felt called to work in Latin America but I never thought I would end up as a teacher,” Edmonds said. “But a friend told me, ‘If you hear God calling you to go somewhere and do something, just go.’”
And she did go. Edmonds’s volunteer teaching journey began when she accepted a position as a fifth-grade teacher in American Samoa. She also volunteered in Mexico before accepting the long-term volunteer position with Buckner International to teach English as a Second Language in two Guatemala City communities – El Cerrito and Santa Rita.
“Krista is great as a missionary and a teacher because she has a tremendous love for kids and it is evident in the way that she relates to them,” said Dexton Shores, one of Buckner’s regional directors for Latin America, who worked with Krista in Mexico . “She is willing to do whatever it takes to transform kid’s lives.”
Edmonds arrived in Guatemala in September 2010 to find children with behavioral issues who were uninterested in learning.
“Many kids there grow up in single parent houses where the mom or dad works all the time,” Edmonds said. “They are just out wandering the streets without anyone to set boundaries for them.”
Edmonds found herself taking on the role of a parent. She helped organize an informal before-school care program where students could work on crafts. Edmonds also began setting boundaries for her students by taking away classroom privileges as punishment.
“I never use to understand what my parents meant when they said discipline hurts them more than it hurts you, but now I do,” Edmonds said, laughing.
The teaching portion of her job also presented new challenges. Edmonds had to develop an ESL curriculum from scratch with few supplemental materials.
“It was hard but you do the best you can with what you have. I tried to focus on getting the kids to talk as much as possible in class,” she said.
As time progressed, Edmonds felt she was making progress with the children, in the classroom and on a personal level.
“When people would come from the States, the kids were so excited that they could say ‘What’s your name.’ To hear that they were using English outside of class was encouraging.”
Edmonds grew close to a group of three siblings, two boys and a girl. Evelyn, the girl, was shy and suffered from an untreated skin disease that left scabs on her face. The two boys, Marlin and Luis, were rambunctious and misbehaved often; Marlin was the one that spit on the floor.
“After he did that, then did it again, I told him to go stand outside for five minutes,” Edmonds said. “They needed to learn that their actions have consequences but that I love them, and I believe in second, third and fourth chances. After awhile they began to straighten up.”
Edmonds also saw drastic changes in Evelyn. Gone was the painfully shy girl that rarely spoke. Evelyn became spunky, confident and loved to talk with the other students.
Later, at a going-away party for Edmonds, the siblings bought her wrapped boxes. In them were a stuffed animal and a necklace.
“Stuff like that really validates your time,” she said. “Not the fact that they are giving you gifts but that they are sacrificing for you; most of these kids don’t have very many nice things, so for them to give me their own belongings as presents meant a lot.”
Edmonds began going on mission trips in middle school, so cultural adjustment was not difficult for her. The one change that was hard to adjust to was the glaring income disparities in Guatemala.
“Driving from where I was staying into the communities where I taught every day was mind blowing. The area I stayed in was as nice as any neighborhood in the States, then I would drive into an area with dirt floors and scrap metal walls. It’s an insincerity that sticks with you.”
Edmonds realizes that in the grand scheme of things, her 10 months in Guatemala were a small part of the work being done there.
“I would love to see people continue to step into roles over there and maybe in 10 years we can see real change,” she said. “What I did was just a small part in the larger story of what I know is going to happen through Buckner in that community.
“My biggest hope is that I left the kids with a sense of worth. I hope I showed them that they are valuable and precious children of God and that they are not limited by their circumstances,” Edmonds said. “I want them to remember that God always loves them.”
To learn more about long-term volunteer opportunities, please contact Jane Ann Crowson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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