The first of this year’s CULP trip reports is from Cadet Jeanmary Aray Freites, who attends St Lawrence University. Her trip was truly a hands on experience since she was serving as an interpreter for a medical humanitarian mission, working side by side with Army Medical Officers.
Guatemala Through the Eyes of a Cadet:
When I was first accepted into CULP, I was ecstatic for my humanitarian deployment to a Spanish speaking country. I was certainly excited to use my Spanish to benefit others and to dip my feet into humanitarian work. I was not, however, anticipating the rest of the trip to include a visit to the only military academy in Guatemala, nor the Ministry of Defense. I was also not expecting to be completely emerged into their society and after a few days, appreciate and understand their culture and their way of life. Although our mission was to interpret for the medical staff at Beyond the Horizon, I am able to reflect on the trip and benefit from the experiences outside of the MED-RETE.
Although I understood that San Marcos, the location of our mission, was a poverty stricken area, I did not anticipate the degree to which the village needed us and US intervention. When first arriving in the early morning, we were overwhelmed with the heat, the trash, the amount of underfed parents and kids, and the living conditions just outside our small clinic. As the gates opened, we saw each patient and carefully addressed their needs and concerns. However, the doctors and cadets all came to the realization that some people had traveled hours and had been standing in line for most of the day. Although we sat sweating in a gym-like building with a fan beating behind our backs for 8.5 hours a day, we will never understand nor be able to empathize with those who had waited for the USA to come and provide them with the medical care their country was too impoverished to provide. As we tended to patients with illnesses like STDs, interpreted for patients needing teeth removals and parents with children who needed check-ups, cadets saw and experienced what it was like to truly help someone first hand and also give hope to those who felt like there was none. Having the opportunity to interpret for the doctors and get to know the patients opened my eyes to my privilege as an American and also the impact the USA has in Central America.
Once we ended our rotation at the MED-RETE, we were afforded the opportunity to travel around Guatemala and experience their history through various excursions. One of the many excursions included the overnight stay at the only Escuela Politecnica in Guatemala. We were able to go to class with the Guatemalan cadets and learn more about their officer training program and military. We shadowed them and adopted their customs and courtesies, giving us the opportunity to not only see a different military learning environment but to also see the type of officers and the curriculum other countries have set forth for their future leaders. The cadets at the Escuela Politecnica gave us tours and during the breaks, we exchanged stories and experiences knowing that one day, we may cross paths again. The complete submersion gave cadets, including myself, the opportunity to reflect on the freedoms we are given in the Army ROTC to pursue education and extra-curricular activities as well as a sense of appreciation for programs like CULP. After visiting the school, we headed to the Ministry of Defense where we learned more about their military operations, their budget, their battalions, and their version of Special Operations called Kaibil. During this part of our trip, we were treated like ambassadors and greeted with food and music. The respect that we were given as cadets will be something I will never forget; it spoke of their respect towards the USA as well as our influence in Central America.
As I finish my remaining 2 years in college, I will carry the experiences ROTC has afforded me through this Cultural Understanding Language Program. Visiting Guatemala has advanced my Spanish speaking and interpreting skills as well as given me countless opportunities to become the leader I want to be. Lastly, it has given me a deep sense of appreciation to be an American and a future Army Officer. My CULP trip to Guatemala as a medical interpreter has fueled my existing interest in humanitarian efforts and given me the opportunity to make a difference while still pursuing an education and developing my leadership abilities.
The opportunities these CULP trips offer to these Cadets never cease to amaze.