Earlier this year, we announced our latest FLYTE partnership, with the Victor School from rural Montana. Our goal was to send a group of its high school students to Guatemala for a week and a half of learning, service, and travel.
Quick side note: If you’re new to this website, FLYTE (Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education) is the nonprofit foundation we created just over 3 years ago to send high school classes on educational and service trips overseas. Our mission at FLYTE is to empower students through transformative travel experiences.
We know the power of travel can change you – and so do the teachers we partner with. Unfortunately, lots of schools just don’t have the resources and funding to send classes overseas. That’s where FLYTE comes in. We serve underserved communities around the United States that don’t have the resources to send their students on class trips abroad. So far we have sent entire classes to Mexico, Ecuador, and Cuba.
And with your help, we did it again. We raised over $18,000 to help these students go on their school trip to Guatemala!
The students, the school, the parents, me — we all thank you for being part of this!
In late June, they landed back in Montana, so today I wanted to give you an update on their trip so you know where your help went. (I know, I know. It took a while for this update to happen. I’m a slow writer.)
Remember, Victor School is located in the small rural town of Victor, Montana that serves a total student population of 300 where 100% of the students receive free or reduced-price school lunch. The poverty rate is high in this community and many families struggle to make ends meet. Their teacher Lindsey was excited to partner with us to make sure her students had the opportunity to see a part of the world they’d never gotten to see before.
After three flights and nearly 20 hours of travel, the kids made it to Guatemala. For most, this was their first time leaving the United States, visiting a developing country, being in a place where the culture and language are starkly different than that of their hometown, and for some, it was their first time out of Montana!
FLYTE trips are not just vacations for teens. The itineraries are crafted to include various forms of learning, teaching, adventuring, interacting with local communities, and participating in activities that push themselves out of their comfort zones.
The students spent the first part of their trip in the city of Antigua, where they took Spanish lessons (which brought their language studies from Montana to life) and climbed the Pacaya volcano. That adventure impacted the students and what they thought they were capable of so much that they stopped on their way down and journaled to document their exhilaration and acknowledge themselves for what they had accomplished.
On the shores of Lake Atitlán, they experienced living communally. Part of their service learning took place at the Amigos de Santa Cruz, a local NGO, where they made authentic Mayan cuisine, learned about vocational training programs, and donated books they collected in Montana for the NGO’s preschool library. They also spent an afternoon connecting, playing soccer and hacky sack with the neighborhood kids.
They spent time volunteering with Konojel, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce chronic malnutrition and endemic poverty. They helped out at the community center where undernourished children receive healthy meals and educational enrichment.
The trip to Guatemala ultimately changed their perceptions about the world outside the United States (and small-town Montana) — and what they wanted to create with their own life.
As the students reflected on their trip, we heard a few common themes.
The first was the realization that what they heard on the news is not always actually accurate. They now understand how powerful and important it is to see and experience things for yourself. It’s a sad reality that we see on the news is not the whole picture and that all too often if it bleeds, it leads. Just check out what the students had to say about their shift in how they viewed Guatemala once they experienced it first-hand:
“I wasn’t going to go to Guatemala because of all the stuff I heard others saying about it, like that I would be kidnapped, or that it was poor, or that I would get lost. But I’m very happy I did, because that wasn’t true at all,” said Zoe. “I’ve never had people smile at me randomly, but these people in Guatemala did.”
Or as Sam R. said, “A lot of [my] family said Guatemala was a dangerous place and gave it a bad reputation without ever being there, but when I went, everyone was super friendly and I was comfortable.”
And even though these students come from an economically-deprived, more rural part of the United States, traveling overseas made many of them realize how lucky they have it compared to others. This is one of the key things I realized when I went on my first trip overseas. It’s what got me out of my head and made me realize that I had a lot more opportunities that I thought when I was living back at home.
Sam thought that “(being from a family with no money) I had nothing, yet there are places with even less than us. It makes me more grateful for all of the little things we have, like hot water.”
Ellyse couldn’t believe that “little things to us — like school and clean water and toilet paper — are such a privilege and we abuse it” after seeing how rare those were on the trip. “I thought Victor needed a lot of work and that it was rural, but it’s not [that] bad.” Most of the students came back from Guatemala much more grateful teens. They shifted their perspective in a way that had them looking at how many opportunities they actually have, rather than focusing on what they don’t have.
This was also echoed by Sophie, who said, “We realized how much we take for granted, like toilet paper, clean water, and free education.” For Emma, “it made me more grateful for what we have, like good water, garbage/recycling services, etc. I am so lucky to live where I do and I am so grateful for all I have.”
Sam wants to work harder in school “because I now know what kind of opportunity I have.”
Summer observed, “We are so spoiled. We have so much more than some people in Guatemala could even dream of.” Sam S. said, “that although Victor is considered poor by American standards, we still have it very easy.” Madison felt that she had “a personal experience of how the real world works, how different countries are truly so different. It made me appreciate my home so much more.”
The students had other epiphanies as well. Gracie realized that “everyone has their own way of living, and mine is no better than anyone else’s.” Emma said, “It’s easy to forget that there’s so much outside of your little bubble and bigger issues in the world that we don’t see or experience in the U.S.”
Many realized they could push themselves beyond their comfort zone and do things that they never thought they could do.
Sadie “tried many different foods and tried to enjoy things that would normally scare me,” and Emma said “I achieved my goals by putting myself really out of my comfort zone. I learned that even in rough times, I can do what I need to make myself feel better.” Gracie really liked the shared hostels (two thumbs up from me!) even though she had never experienced anything like that before.
This trip inspired them to travel more too!
Zoe wants to go to Hawaii and also possibly back to Guatemala (“and bring my family with me so they can see it’s not dangerous, just adventurous”). Ellyse would like to go to Sydney, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Summer also wants to visit Australia. Julia wants to study abroad in Spain. Audrey wants to go to Greece, Norway, France, Spain, “and so many more countries.” Sam would love to go to Guatemala again to see other areas. Madison has been inspired to travel “everywhere!”
Sophie plans on traveling, and this trip “helped teach me not to have any presumptions about a place I’m going and to just allow myself to learn there.”
These lessons that the students learned are why I created FLYTE — and why it’s so great that so many of you support the mission too.
With the division, lack of understanding, and fear of the other that’s permeating our culture today, this is exactly what makes the fundraising, the coordinating of group travel logistics, and the challenges of running a nonprofit — all worth it. These students left their comfort zones and had experiences that created a shift in their perspective.
Will this single trip of Guatemala change the world? Maybe, maybe not. But what it does is put these kids on a path toward success, toward growth, and toward thinking bigger! And we never know the ripple effect that occurs once we’ve thrown that first single pebble. By cracking open the door, we allow other things to get through that will only widen it with time.
Thank you again for helping us raise money for the school and making an impact on these teens and the future generation of globally-minded citizens!
Three final thoughts:
First, if you or someone you know is an educator in an under-resourced school and wants to have an experience like Victor School’s, you can let us know here and we can contact you when applications are open again.
Second, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it took an entire community to send these students to Guatemala. Thank you to all our partners for making it possible for students to experience new cultures and countries and to broaden their worldviews! We are forever grateful to these sponsors:
- World Nomads, our travel insurance provider, which donated coverage for all our students and chaperones. A very big thank you to them for helping out and ensuring our students were protected!
- MYGHT Travel, which managed all our airline bookings and donated eye masks so the students could get some shut-eye on their flights.
- Om the Go, which donated Asana pillows for the entire group. The kids practiced yoga daily and loved that they all had their own personal yoga mats to stretch out and sweat on.
- Our team of FLYTE Champion blogger fundraisers, who created their own fundraising pages and helped us fund this trip: Carol (Wayfaring Views), Kristen (Kids Are a Trip), Gabi (Dream of Travel Writing), Anisa (Two Traveling Texans), Nicole (Wandering with a Dromomaniac), Amelia (Passports from the Heart), and Maggie (The World Was Here First).
- Path’s Crossing, a travel card game that prompted questions that made the group both laugh hysterically and cry with gratitude. The company donated a game to Victor School and a percentage of all its sales to FLYTE.
- Mahadevi Ashram, which housed the group at Lake Atitlán and provided them with daily yoga and meditation at a discounted rate.
Lastly, infinite thanks to our individual donors. We know that there are many worthy organizations out there, and we’re honored that you chose to donate to FLYTE. You made this trip happen and we can’t thank you enough!