Last February, I traveled to Guatemala with a support team for an incredible week of volunteering at the Safe Passage schools. With nine other students from Falmouth High School in Maine, I spent my days running around with kids at the Escuelita, helping out in English classrooms, and guiding art and science projects in classrooms at the Reinforcement Center. One of the most memorable and exciting moments of my week was when our support team led one 7th grade class in a project called “rotocopter building”.   

For those who don’t know, a rotocopter is a paper helicopter of sorts. It has two wings that make it slowly twirl to the ground when dropped. The other support team members and I remembered making rotocopters in 6th grade and getting a huge kick out of them, so when we were planning projects to do with the classes at Safe Passage, rotocopters seemed like a fun idea.
    This story begins with our support team walking into the classroom on a sunny morning, our second day in Guatemala. A hush spread from table to table as students looked up and realized there were unfamiliar people in the room. We were greeted by eager eyes and friendly smiles, a welcoming face all of the kids at the school never hesitated to wear. Nonetheless, it was always slightly intimidating to meet a new group of students.

Our support team included a fluent Spanish speaker, someone who’d never been in a Spanish class before (myself), and everyone in between. Most of us on the support team were getting comfortable communicating with the students as best we could. We began with a name game, standing in a circle and tossing around a ball, introducing ourselves and naming our favorite animal. It didn’t take long to break the ice and soon the room started to get louder and louder with laughing and “Spanglish” chatter.

The students on our support team all had opportunities throughout the week to lead various classroom activities, and I volunteered to explain this particular project. Standing next to Victor Garrido (our AWESOME Safe Passage Support Team Coordinator), I led the class in the steps of folding and cutting that rotocopter building entailed. I stopped along the way to let Victor translate. All of the students were incredibly engaged and eager to make their own version of the rotocopter I’d shown them. After the last step, folding the two flaps over, the rotocopters were ready to launch. Climbing up on chairs, the students dropped their creations and watched them gracefully twirl to the floor with “oohs” and “ahs”.

But the rotocopters hadn’t yet been personalized. We pulled out the markers and crayons, and inner-artists emerged! Many rotocopters read “Real Madrid” or “Barcelona”, as the opposing boys in the classroom battled over which team was better, urging my Falmouth friends to take sides. Other rotocopters sported butterflies, stripes, or the name of the artist. After the rotocopters were beautifully decorated, there was only one thing left to do: Drop them from the balcony right outside the classroom. This idea was received quite well! All the students ran out of the room and lined up against the railing, arms outstretched, ready to launch their rotocopters. I stood at the bottom of the stairs with a few other support team members and counted off: “uno…dos…….tres!”

The multicolored rotocopters swirled through the air and piled on the cobblestones. The kids clapped and cheered, racing down to the bottom of the stairs once the rotocopters landed on the cobblestones. I loved seeing each kid scoop up a handful of rotocopters and hand them back to their owners, rather than only searching for their own. And immediately the students were racing back up the stairs to do it again!

After repeating this pattern of dropping, running, collecting many times, we had to return to the classroom. A boy named Kevin had been particularly ambitious during the rotocopter building, trying to use English as much as he could during the class (such as making sure he was pronouncing “rotocopter” correctly). When we were back in the classroom, he embraced me in a huge hug. Looking at me, he held out his rotocopter. I said, “para mi?” (I learned that week that many things can be communicated with few words).

He smiled and said, “si.” So we traded rotocopters. I’m not sure where my rotocopter ended up, but I know his is taped in my journal. I might never see Kevin drop his rotocopter from the balcony again, but I know I’ll never lose it. And I hope in the next few years I’ll be back to the Safe Passage school, maybe making more rotocopters with new friendly faces.