Hey there! My name is Daniela, but most people call me Ms. Lombardo. I am an elementary school teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Many people think of teaching as a great profession that comes with the benefit of vacation during the holidays, and a two-month break during the summer. For me, teaching just happens to be a way of life that allows me to do the things I love the most: spending time learning with children each day, and spending my vacation exploring the world.
This past summer, my travels brought me to the country of Guatemala. After volunteering in Rio de Janeiro last year, I knew I wanted to return to Latin America, specifically to work in a slum community. Weeks of research led me to learn about Lemonade International. Within moments of reading about the organization’s mandate, I knew instantly that it was a work I wanted to be part of. I spent the month of July volunteering as an intern, working in the ghetto, and living at the Lemonade House. I spent each day with the teachers, learning in partnership with them through a variety of workshops about teaching strategies. My love for teaching and children was heightened as I learned so much about life from a group of loving and dedicated individuals.
When you spend time thoroughly immersed in the culture of a new country, it suddenly becomes more than a place on a map, a name in the news, or a stamp in your passport. It becomes a community in which you have become a part of, and in turn, it becomes a part of you. I have spent quality time in other countries before, but no place has captured my heart like Guatemala, specifically La Limonada. Genuine kindness, love, and appreciation permeates throughout the community. Peace and joy abound in a place that appears to be burdened with despair.
Upon returning home from a long trip abroad, the greatest challenge is communicating your experiences with loved ones. No matter how much you search for the perfect words to describe your memories and feelings with friends and family, it seems impossible to capture the essence of what you have witnessed. When it comes to volunteering in places that are overflowing with poverty, encouraging others to think about how they can help is not a simple task. At the same time, it is hard not to think about poverty without picturing dollar signs. There is also the challenging task of asking people to help through donations, but not just think about the money. Organizations led by philanthropists of all ages have sought out creative solutions for this dilemma. One idea is to sell fair trade goods from a variety of countries as a way of fundraising. As such, I decided to take this idea into my own hands, with hopes of bringing a piece of Guatemala home for my dear friends and family in Canada.
While in Guatemala, I visited a variety of markets, and collected accessories such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and scarves. I attempted to spend some time with each of the vendors while making the purchases, creating a connection rather than a simple transaction. Each piece I selected was “one of a kind,” with the colours representing the vibrant diversity that represents Guatemalan culture. After settling back home, I prepared to translate my summer experience into an event I hosted called “Amor Por La Limonada,” which simply means, “Love for Lemonade.” I invited my friends, family, and colleagues to join me in a celebration of love for La Limonada. Throughout the planning, I was insistent on creating a memorable experience for the guests.
I spent time researching Guatemalan recipes, and cooked a traditional dish called “frijoles coloradoes con arroz,” a bean stew served with rice. A party in honour of a Central American country would never be complete without nachos, salsa, guacamole, and refried beans. There was lemonade punch to drink, and a variety of lemon, lime, and orange desserts. Last, but certainly not least, there were “chocobananas” (chocolate covered bananas), a true Guatemalan delicacy. Along with the food, we were surrounded by pictures of the schools in La Limonada, to remind us of the focus of the event.
In an open house style, people came throughout the day to check out the Guatemalan goods, and a total of $1,415 was raised for Lemonade International. While such a monetary amount represents the day’s success, the real achievement was the fact that people came to support the work of the schools in the ghetto in a way that did not just focuso n money. For one day, people came to partake in the sights, sounds, and tastes of a country so different than Canada. It is hopeful that through this experience, Guatemala is no longer a place so far away, but can be recognized through the beauty of its people, and those who are dedicated to helping children in La Limonada.