NYU rising senior Nick Torsitano and recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate Abhishek Alla were brought together in Guatemala by their common work with a small company named Serengetee.
Thirteen people, including Torsitano and Alla, traveled from all over the United States to meet in Panajachel, Guatemala, a small town about three hours outside of Guatemala City. The group also included the two co-founders of the company, which centers its brand around fabric. Purchasing product from over 25 countries supports artisans, their families, and ancient fabric making traditions. Portions of the profits also go back into those communities. (For more information, visit Serengetee.com).
This specific trip worked with Mayan Families, an organization that improves the quality of life for those in need in the local villages through education, food, shelter, and other resources.
Among other things, the group served lunch and played bingo at an elderly center in San Jorge, met a group of 25 weavers who make some of the country's most popular fabrics, played with preschool children, and installed four fuel efficient stoves and two water filters for six different families.
"Each family was more gracious than the last," Torsitano said. "Seeing the smiles on their faces from the moment we arrived to the moment we left made the whole experience for me. Being able to make an impact on a family's life, even on such a micro level, was enough to make me want to go back as soon as I can."
"It was a really good and special experience for me as I had never been on a service trip before," Alla commented. "It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. I definitely got more cultured and got to witness firsthand how an organization like Mayan Families helps and gives hope to many families and children who are in need."
The stoves they installed use significantly less firewood and divert more smoke out of the home so that parents are able to cook while holding their babies without risking their respiratory health. The stoves generally last 10-12 years. The water filters, if cleaned properly, also last about a decade and rid the water of dangerous parasites that the families would otherwise have to boil out.
"I would go back to Guatemala in a heartbeat and I would encourage anyone looking to make a difference in someone's life to help Mayan Families because their work is so genuine," Torsitano added. "Most of the families spoke little or no Spanish (the national lanaguage) so the language barriers were a challenge, but their smiles were universal."
"Being a rep for Serengetee and knowing that a portion of the profit goes to organizations such as this and that they provide steady income to the weavers in this rural area by creating work for them inspires me to start making a change in this world," Alla said.
"Most of the time it didn't even feel like we were working," Torsitano stated. "Our group was always upbeat, fun, and ready to take action, especially when there were children around."