Odunola Ojewumi is the Marie Claire and United Nations Population Fund winner of the fourth annual Americans for UNFPA Student Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. Ola, a sophomore from the University of Maryland College Park, is blogging directly from her weeklong visit to Guatemala.
I landed in Guatemala City today, thrilled to have my luggage in tow and filled with anticipation of the week ahead. Apart from one trip to Nigeria (when I was too young to remember), this trip to Guatemala as the 2010 Americans for UNFPA Student Award Winner is my first trip outside of the United States.
My heart skipped a beat yesterday, when Angeline Martyn, Director of Communications and Marketing, and my travel companion from Americans for UNFPA, called me to say there was little to no chance she would make our connecting flight (she was flying in from New York to Miami). As I waited patiently, I channeled my energy into getting the flight crew to hold our connecting flight! My powers of persuasion came alive at 7 p.m. as I begged and pleaded with the American Airlines flight attendants to either release my luggage or hold the plane so Angeline could get on the flight with me. At 7:30 p.m., our night took a frustrating turn, when Angeline called to say she was running through the terminal to meet me, and I replied that the flight gates were officially closed and the plane was backing away on the tarmac. So there we were — stuck in Miami for the night.
After rearranging our plans, we grabbed a quick dinner, got a glimpse of Ocean Drive and then headed to bed, to make the first flight to Guatemala in the morning.
I got up the next morning even more excited and anxious than before, with a permanent smile on my face. I admit, I have a lot of expectations for the week — I know it is going to be life-changing! And after a first day of meetings and exploring, I already have memories that will last a lifetime. I vividly recall my first memory of Guatemala from the window seat in the plane — all I could see for miles were mountains and stretches of forest.
Upon arrival, we were immediately whisked away to visit UNFPA Headquarters in Guatemala City. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is based in a huge complex with several other UN agencies. At UNFPA, we learned about some of the cultural and socioeconomic barriers women face in the poorest country in Latin America. Within the Guatemalan Office, their main efforts are geared towards the reproductive rights of women in that region, including safe motherhood. One of the essential leaders of the reproductive initiative, Dr. Alejandro Silva, explained: "Too many people do not view reproductive health as a right. It is a right and needs to be viewed as such."
This area of Guatemala City seemed like an escape from the realities of hardship in the region, with stores such as Domino's and Payless Shoes, wide open streets, and stop signs that looked just like ours. In 15 minutes of driving, we exited Guatemala City en route to Antigua and I immediately began to see a change. Claudia, our primary liaison from UNFPA Guatemala, called the area "pais de la eterna primaver" — the land of eternal spring. Even though it is July, we experienced several mini "April Showers" today, so I get what she means.
Large shopping malls and fast food stores were replaced with images of indigenous people selling fruits and garments on the streets. Antigua was more like what I imagined Guatemala to be — there were no more paved roads, just cobble stones. The whole city had a more personal touch. It was colorful, green, and felt intimate.
And, finally I got to meet the woman of the hour, the woman of the week, Marta Julia Ruiz, the 2010 Americans for UFNPA International Award Winner. Her smile lit up the room and I am not exaggerating when I say that all of my thoughts were confirmed instantly — I know I'm going to learn a lot from her and I can't wait to get started!
Read all of Ola's blog posts:
Seeking Inspiration from Maryland to Guatemala City