School may just be letting out, but Alexis Witherite already knows how she’ll be spending her summer vacation.
In July, the Penns Valley Area High School student will travel with a group from Trinity United Church of Christ to the Northern Highlands region of Guatemala to perform missionary work.
Witherite is helping to coordinate and lead the trip to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor that an up-and-coming Scout can achieve.
Below, she talks more about the upcoming mission and her other plans for the summer.
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Q: Have you undertaken missions or trips like this before?
A: No, I have not. Through my research I’ve learned a lot about the struggles of the Maya people. I’ve also read many stories from others who have traveled to Guatemala. I’m really excited to experience it for myself. I think it will be life-changing.
Q: Do you remember how and when you first became aware of the situation in the Northern Highlands region?
A: Yes, it was during my confirmation classes in 2015. My pastor, Dave Downer, and I talked about the need for community service and the different ways we could serve others, not just locally but globally. Pastor Dave has actually traveled to Guatemala in the past and was able to share photos and stories. I knew immediately that I wanted to go as well.
Q: How big is the group traveling from Trinity UCC?
A: We have a group of four individuals from Trinity who will be participating. At 16, I’m the youngest on the team. We will also be partnering with another church in Virginia.
Q: What kind of work will you be doing in Guatemala?
A: The mission involves two main parts: building cook stoves and reforestation. Maya women cook their food over indoor fires with no ventilation. Cooking this way is very time consuming and labor intensive. More importantly it results in wide spread respiratory illnesses, especially in children. Our team will be building ventilated three-ring block cooking stoves. They are safer and much more fuel efficient. We will also be planting trees to help sustain the environment and to provide fuel for the new stoves.
Q: Your volunteers have been coordinating with another group from a church in Virginia. How important is communication in an endeavor like this?
A: It’s essential. Trinity has never participated in a mission like this before. We relied heavily on the Virginia church for guidance and support as they have much more experience than we do.
Q: As a young person, how important do you think that it is to experience other cultures at this stage in your life?
A: I think it is very important. Most youth today, myself included, live in a fast-paced world dependent on technology and convenience. I think we could all benefit from having our eyes opened to a different way of life.
Q: Can you describe a few of the challenges of putting this trip together?
A: The biggest challenge was probably trying to recruit participants. The unknown can be scary for some and scheduling conflicts were an issue for others. Funding can also always be a challenge. And last but not least we had to take all of the safety and health concerns into consideration.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?
A: I am most looking forward to building the stoves and planting the trees. I want to walk away knowing that I inspired confidence and courage in my team, in myself and in the Maya villagers. We need to open our minds and realize the potential in all of us to make a difference in the world.
Q: Do you have any other plans for the summer?
A: I have a summer job working at a local greenhouse. I’ll also be taking some online school courses and training for the fall cross-country season. As a horticulture and landscaping student at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, my classmates and I will be representing CPI at a state FFA nursery and landscaping competition this summer, along with also traveling to Massachusetts in September to compete in landscaping on a national level. I will also be showing my 4-H projects and animals at the Grange Fair, and will be working on my Gold Award for Girl Scouts.