Volunteer Work in Guatemala: Language Schools in Need
by Gabe Stein
For hippie backpackers looking to pick up some travel Spanish to senior citizens who have always wanted to learn the language, Guatemala’s intensive Spanish language schools are becoming more popular each year.
Most of the schools are owned and run by Guatemalans, many of whom do not speak any English. Native English speakers who can also communicate in Spanish are needed to create the cultural bridges between students, administrators,
teachers, and host families.
In Quetzaltenango, (also referred to as its indigenous name “xela” pronounced “shay-la”), the second largest Guatemalan city, nestled in the Western Highlands, there are more than 30 Spanish
schools, ranging from small (average of five students a week) to much larger (average of 25 students a week). Most schools have coordinators, primarily from Canada, the U.S., and Europe. Some of the jobs are voluntary positions and others
pay quite well, like my position for a year at Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Espanol (PLQE), where I was able to live comfortably on my salary of $250 per month. This salary
is at the top of the pay scale, so dot not expect this much.
The work relationship that I formed with my compañeros (comrades or coworkers), who are all Guatemalans, has made me feel less like an outsider and more like a fellow worker. People from developed countries
find it almost impossible to understand what it is like to live in Guatemala, a country which suffered a brutal 36-year civil war and continues to be plagued by corruption and extreme poverty. But through their smiles and their songs and
stories of passion, pain, and hope, my compañeros shared a piece of their lives with me.
Working as a coordinator in a Spanish school is also great for your Spanish. Part of my responsibility was to translate conferences, news sessions, and activities that touched on issues directly affecting Guatemalans.
Almost a year into my job at PLQE, the Spanish teachers would correct my speech every day. There might not be anything better for your Spanish than working five days a week with 24 experienced Spanish
teachers. Working in a foreign country is itself an endless lesson that changes the way we see ourselves in the world and how we interact with others, with whom on the surface we may have little in common.
Quetzaltenango Spanish Schools
Many of the following schools offer four or five hours a day of one-on-one Spanish study, a stay with a host family including room and board, volunteer opportunities, and extracurricular activities.
Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Español (PlQE): 5a Calle, 2-40 Zona 1, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala; www.hermandad.com (in Spanish). A large, collectively run non-profit school catering to politically oriented students interested in issues like free trade, human rights, and organic farming. Volunteer opportunities available
teaching English, music, art, and computers.
La Escuela de la Montaña: (the same contact information as PLQE) This is the smaller, sister school of the PLQE located in the lush and humid coffee growing region just an hour outside
of Quetzaltenango. There is no other school in Guatemala that will get you as close to “real” Guatemala. Attend an array of social, cultural, and political conferences. Take hikes in the surrounding areas and volunteer
on a coffee finca (farm).
Association Pop Wuj: 1a Calle, 17-72, Zona 1 Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Tel. 011-502-7761-8286; www.pop-wuj.org. A large, collectively run school that offers students several social service projects in which to participate including volunteer work in a day care center for the children of battered
Celas Maya: 6a Calle 14-55 Zona 1, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Tel: 011-502-7761-4342; www.celasmaya.edu.gt; contact: International
Coordinator, Lindsay Smith. A large school which caters to the younger crowd. Short- and long-term volunteer opportunities available.
For more info about Quetzaltenango and Spanish schools go to xelapages.com.