In Guatemala, we recently hosted the Secretary of State during his participation in the Organization of American States General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala, a beautiful colonial city that was formerly the country's capital. As Cultural Affairs Officer, I organized two cultural events for the Secretary in Antigua -- a rare opportunity.
The two cultural events were different in nature, but both gave Secretary Kerry the opportunity to have meaningful and genuine interactions with Guatemalans of all ages. First, he visited Iglesia San Francisco, a gorgeous church and former convent that is partially in ruins like many buildings in Antigua, which has suffered disastrous earthquakes over the centuries. He lit a candle in the church and received a spontaneous blessing from the friar who led the tour. I think everyone who was present was moved as the friar asked for wisdom and fortitude for the Secretary in his work.
The next day, the Secretary stopped at Casa Herrera, a colonial home in Antigua that The University of Texas at Austin uses as its base for programs in Guatemala. Our friends at Casa Herrera generously loaned us the space for an event with students in one of our Embassy programs, English Access. This scholarship program enables underprivileged teenagers to study English for two years. In Guatemala, we have the largest Access program in the Western Hemisphere, and many of our students have done amazing things: they've won scholarships, gotten jobs as teachers and translators, and paid it forward by teaching free English classes in their communities. Diana Perez, an Access alumna who won a scholarship to study in the United States because of her English skills, greeted Secretary Kerry at the door and introduced him to about 100 Access students and alumni. Some students shared information about tourist sites in Guatemala with the Secretary; others talked about the impact Access has had on their lives.
The highlight was at the end. Knowing Secretary Kerry's ties to Boston, the students sang "Sweet Caroline" –- a Massachusetts (and Boston Red Sox) favorite -– as he departed. The University of Texas students and staff also joined in. Afterward, Secretary Kerry told them they should perform the song again, next time at Fenway Park!
About the Author: Kathleen Guerra serves as Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala.