Changed forever by missionary trip, helping families
As soon as Kelsey King returned from Guatemala all she could think about was going back.
“I definitely want as many more times as I can there,” King said of her missionary trip to the impoverished country. “It’s definitely life changing.”
The Destrehan High School graduate helped build two houses for families in Lemoa, a tiny village in the mountains about 6,500 feet above sea level, during Mardi Gras break. Her trip had been arranged by her aunt who has gone on many of them herself.
By senior year, King’s weeklong trip was arranged and became her senior project.
“It was a great experience being there and witnessing it all,” she said. “It’s different being there than just seeing it on the Internet. It’s a big eye opener, and it’s something really hard to explain exactly how it is. The feeling of it … you can’t get enough. You want to go back and do more.”
What King witnessed firsthand was an impoverished people living in houses made of adobe brick that carried mold and made families sick. King helped build the foundation for cement houses, which were completed by a group that followed.
“We were right next to the family,” she said. “They were giving us food while we were doing the work and one of the kids tried to help. They were so appreciative. I passed out some Polaroids, which we weren’t supposed to do, but they thought I was passing out treasure.”
King said this was her first experience on her first day in Lemoa, and it was a pivotal one for her.
Although some of the religions there believe taking a photograph is equivalent to stealing their soul, she said there were many there who wanted a photo.
“They were all asking me to have the photos – the mothers and kids,” she said. “When they told me to stop passing them out I was pretty upset, but that’s okay.”
They got photos and she got happy.
“It was life changing,” she said. “It definitely helped me see more about appreciation and it made me realize all the things I have. What’s big for them is small for us, and it’s like I should be showing more appreciation. It’s crazy because these kids don’t know what is bad so they like smile and act like nothing’s wrong.”
But she also saw the beauty of the people, having arrived at the time of their own festival. They had confetti-filled eggs and smashed them on each other’s heads “in an egg war” and King recalled joyously how they all had confetti in their hair.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” she said.
Seeing their world firsthand was much different than seeing it on the news, King said. Being there and seeing it all in person made the difference for her.
King made friends and the language barrier wasn’t really a problem.
She’d been warned about not drinking the water, but got sick eating the food. King also was warned not to toss toilet paper in their poor plumbing system, a lesson she only had to learn once that required retrieving that toilet paper.
For the Destrehan resident, everything had changed.
“Before, I wasn’t so appreciative of everything I had, but coming back I definitely realized I had to show my appreciation, especially to my dad,” King said. “He’s like my mom and my dad in a way. He helps me. He does everything he can for me.”
But in Guatemala, she was the giver.
King recalled playing hopscotch with the children and then seeing it drawn out in their house the next day by the children who lived there.
In the meantime, King plans on attending Nicholls State University in Thibodaux to become a marine biologist.
“I’ve always had an interest in learning about the ocean,” she said of a calling so apparent to her friends that they call her “Fish.” “I find every creature living in the ocean just fascinating.”
She is concerned about ocean pollution and also wants to volunteer to help clean them. And King has her sights set on returning to Guatemala, adding, “It’s definitely something that makes me happy.”