Mindful Consumerism – Guatemala with Gillian

We talked to Gillian  to hear about her OG adventure in Guatemala in 2018. Here are the highlights of her program, tips for travel and reflections! 

My name is Gillian Fairles, and I’m from Ontario Canada. I am a culinary management student, but my other passions include Crossfit and hockey! I’m 21, I have two older sisters, and a dog. 

I did the Guatemala Seed to Shelf program in September 2018.

How did you hear about Operation Groundswell, and what about it made you want to travel with them?

I was drawn to Operation Groundswell because they were a local company. The base for OG is Toronto, one hour away from my hometown of Waterloo! I mostly was drawn to them though because of the purpose they put behind travelling. It seemed like they would give me the tools and knowledge to go to a new country, like Guatemala, and help me appreciate what this beautiful country had to offer. I chose the Seed to Shelf program because I was interested in where coffee came from and the process behind it. I was also drawn to Guatemala, since I had never been south of Mexico before. 

What were you most nervous about before your program?

I was most nervous about the language barrier and trying to blend in. I spent months researching what to pack and the customs Guatemalan people follow so that I wouldn’t offend any locals.

That’s so important, and awesome to hear! Was there something that surprised you on your program or in Guatemala?

I was really surprised with how well my OG leaders guided us through the country. I felt like I got way more out of the program than I thought I would, because my leaders (Cat and Pete) knew so much about the local culture and history.

Do you have a favourite memory from your program? 

I have two favourite memories. First, at the OG Hub, we had an experience with the igloo-sauna. I will never forget being that hot and then getting to jump into the lake right after. Second, we had an eye-opening conversation at Santa Anita about the process of coffee, from the field right up to brewing a cup in Canada. The conversation focused on the business side of coffee. I never realized how little farmers got paid for the work they put in, and how much effort goes into a morning cup. That was more than a year ago, and I still tell everyone who will listen about that conversation. 

Ah, the temazcal! Although “igloo-sauna” is a pretty accurate description haha. So, if you had only three words to describe your program, what would they be?

In-depth, eye-opening, and hectic.

After returning home, how did your program leave an impact on you?

My program taught me how to become more mindful of what I’m consuming and where it comes from. I no longer support businesses that don’t support their farmers. I’ve applied this mindset to lots of other areas in my life now too, including food and clothing. This program with OG has made me more aware of the world and my impact on it; more specifically, how I can make a positive impact. 

I think we can all be a bit more mindful about what we consume. We can totally also all have an impact – I love that. So, what advice would you give to someone about to depart on their first OG program?

Keep an open mindset, and try to laugh at your situation if something doesn’t go right. Embrace the moment and appreciate that you’re lucky enough to travel and get this new experience, not everyone has that chance! As well, get some form of water purification… buying plastic bottles everyday is so bad for the environment and you’ll go broke. Finally, if you’re travelling to a Spanish speaking country, just try your best! Do what you can, and don’t sweat what you can’t. Have fun!

Having fun is the best! Let’s talk a bit about some fun stuff, then. What’s your top carry-on item when you travel?

Always. Carry. Cash. And a water bottle, hat, and snacks!

What are the top three places you’ve been, and three places you want to visit next?

My top three favourite places I’ve been to are, in no order: Nepal, India, and Guatemala (with England a strong contender as well). Three places I’d love to see include Tibet, Ireland, and Switzerland.