Leaders are learners

Serving in Guatemala teaches Rutendo Taruwinga what true leadership looks like

Rutendo Taruwinga is a sophomore business administration major. She was one of six students to take part in a Guatemala mission and cultural trip this spring break. 

I’ve heard it said before that being a leader means putting yourself in a position to learn from others, not to put yourself in charge. Traveling to Guatemala over spring break and witnessing first hand the incredible amount of work done by small business owners there challenged me to lead by learning.

Our Guatemala trip was the second annual business service trip led by Johanna Attoh, associate professor of economics and finance, and David Lopez, director for the Center of Humanitarian Engagement. Our aim was to collaborate with local small businesses through workshops and presentations in a way that helped meet their needs from a business standpoint. Serving these communities required us to step up and lead by teaching business practices learned in WWU classes. In sharing skills and concepts I have learned, I quickly realized the need to remain open-minded and adaptable. Working with small businesses in Guatemala did not mean we were there to give them all the answers; it meant learning to help meet their needs and work together.

If being a leader means being a learner, the Guatemala trip definitely offered a great opportunity for both. At the end of the trip, we spent Easter weekend in Antigua, observing parades, festivals, and beautiful street decorations. As a Christian, I found the celebrations to be very meaningful in both their celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and their display of a culture that was new to me. Learning about Guatemalan culture was critical to our success in collaborating with small business owners. 

Spending a week working with small business owners in Guatemala was not without challenges. I was challenged by the language barrier but also struck by how much can be communicated when people have patience and a desire to learn. I was challenged by presenting business topics but also grateful to watch skills learned in the classroom translate to the real world in a very tangible way. As someone who hopes to become a lawyer one day, I also learned that first impressions are never a good reason to jump to conclusions. 

Leadership is an incredibly important skill to practice. At some point, everyone will be put in a position at some point in their life that requires them to be a leader whether or not it be in a traditional sense. Service is an excellent way to grow as a leader and is something I hope to do much more of in the future. Every single person you meet has a different life experience that you can learn from and something to share if you are willing to listen.

Posted May 1, 2024

Group of students in Guatemala
Student in Guatemala