Coronavirus: 36 Canadian Mennonite University students, 8 staff trapped in Guatemala

Thirty-six students and eight staff members from Winnipeg’s Canadian Mennonite University are stranded in Guatemala.

The South American nation closed its borders to travellers over the weekend, trapping the students who arrived in Guatemala during the first week of January.

“We have a small lot. The house is big so accommodations are fine, food is great but we are confined into this area,” says Aaron Doerksen, an 18-year-old student at the Canadian Mennonite University.

Aaron Doerksen, 18, in Guatemala during a Skype call with Global News.
Aaron Doerksen, 18, in Guatemala during a Skype call with Global News. Skype

Doerksen and the 35 other students are in Guatemala as part of CMU’s Outtatown Discipleship School.

The majority of the students reside in Manitoba and Ontario, but CMU says some of the stranded students call anywhere from B.C. to Nova Scotia home.

They were scheduled to return home on April 2, but they booked flights back to Canada last weekend amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Renee Willms, the ‘Outtatown’ co-director for the Canadian Mennonite University.
Renee Willms, the ‘Outtatown’ co-director for the Canadian Mennonite University. Submitted Photo

“Before those flights could actually be taken up, the borders were closed. That happened literally overnight in Guatemala so we have a group of 43 people in Guatemala,” says Cheryl Pauls, CMU’s president.

Renee Willms, a co-director of the program, has been in constant communication with the group since day one.

Canadian Mennonite University students and staff in Guatemala.
Canadian Mennonite University students and staff in Guatemala. Submitted Photo

She says at first, the students were excited about the possibility of staying longer.

“As this situation has progressed and as they’ve sort of come to understand the seriousness of the situation here in North America and around the world, I think there’s a definite sense of, it’s time to come home,” says Willms.

All 43 Canadians are being isolated in a large compound, which they’ve been instructed not to leave — an opportunity the students are taking to stay in touch with their families.

“Just about every day, I call them every few days and always text them about news and how things are going over there and also how things are here, always keeping in contact,” says Doerksen.

On Sunday morning, Guatemala was added to a list of countries that the Trudeau government is working with to get all Canadians home safely.

CMU staff hope the foreign minister’s tweet helps bring their students and staff home safely.

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