My Trip to Monterrico, Guatemala

LILLI CROWE | September 20, 2015

Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation does amazing work with the people most often taken advantage of in Atlanta: the low-income. In this group, Spanish-speakers are often disproportionately affected by slumlords and unscrupulous employers. I came into this job last year having spoken a little Spanish, but not nearly enough to properly assist these vulnerable clients. I had the opportunity last month to spend two weeks intensively studying Spanish in Monterrico, Guatemala, to help me better support the Spanish-speakers who call our office.

I attended a tiny language school in a tiny town, where I was lucky enough to stay with a family and live like a Guatemalteca. I slept under a thatched roof in an open-air hut, spent four hours every morning with my tutor, Elsie, talking about the educational, social, and political systems in each of our respective countries, sweated through the 106 degree afternoons, learned to appreciate cold showers and the breeze created by swinging in a hammock, walked the black sand beach, talked to the locals about our homes, shooed the ever-present roosters, ducks, iguanas, and pigs away out of the house, read by the light of one of the four lightbulbs in the house, and ultimately vastly improved my proficiency and confidence in speaking Spanish.

It was simultaneously the most alone I’ve ever felt, traveling solo through a brand new country without any idea of what was ahead of me, and the most incredible experience of my life.

I was there long enough to make friends with the kids running the cash register at the local open-air shop, and when I walked to my taxi on my last day with my backpack on, many asked when I was coming back. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be immersed in Spanish and be able to participate in and learn the life of a tiny beach town for a few weeks. Upon my return to AVLF, I not only was armed with a better handle on Spanish, but also a strong motivation to make sure that my time away was not in vain. Since then, I’ve been able to explain the dispossessory process, tenant’s rights, and the securities that a Temporary Protective Order can offer to a few of our Spanish-speaking clients. I have been working to uncover a path for AVLF to help even more people, and I’m thrilled play a role in helping our most vulnerable and unprotected clients get justice.