Carlo Testa ’06: Pursuing ‘great work’ with passion and purpose

Gettysburg College acceptance letters with the college's logo on the front
Gettysburg College acceptance letters being mailed to accepted students.

Gettysburgians are hard workers. They’re critical thinkers. They’re passionate. And when hard work, critical thinking, and passion merge, our alumni leave their mark on the world.

For alumni like Carlo Testa ’06, who serves as the director of educational outreach for K’uhul Balam—a nonprofit charitable organization committed to improving the health and quality of life in rural Petén, Guatemala—the desire to build a better world through the work they do is rooted in Gettysburg’s charge to “Do great work.”

Carlo Testa headshot
Carlo Testa ’06

“‘Do great work’ has stuck with me,” Testa said. “Gettysburg gave me the focus of wanting my work, which has my name and reputation attached to it, to always be great. But then, I want the work that I do to also be of great significance, and that kind of inspires me to place myself in opportunities where that is possible.”

Testa, who majored in history and minored in political science at Gettysburg, always felt a strong pull toward education, and planned to use his foundation in history to become a social studies teacher after graduation. Since graduating from Gettysburg, he has worked as a classroom teacher, a curriculum and instruction coordinator, an instructional coach, and worked at the state-level department of education. He is now a full-time assistant principal at St. Elizabeth High School in Wilmington, Delaware, and invests his free time into his “passion project,” K’uhul Balam, on a volunteer basis.

K’uhul Balam translates from traditional Yucatan Mayan language to mean “sacred jaguar.” In Mayan mythology, jaguars were believed to be god-like guardians of the people—keeping the community safe—and it is this imagery from which the mission of K’uhul Balam was inspired.

Founded by Testa’s cousin Janet Barber and her husband, Joseph Barber, in 2019, the duo’s primary focus was to improve the health of the people in Petén, Guatemala, by providing access to healthcare supplies and the health-related knowledge that would bolster their overall quality of life for generations. In learning about K’uhul Balam, Testa saw an opportunity through which he could use his talents to make a difference.

“I’ve seen pictures of the schoolhouse in Petén where the students are learning. There’s no running water. There’s no electricity. There’s, maybe, a chalkboard and a few chairs,” Testa said. “School has been at the center of my life since I was six years old, both as a student, and then as a teacher, and now as a school assistant principal. Education opened so many doors for me, but I can only imagine how hard it must be to learn, to achieve, to thrive, and to grow, if when you try to educate yourself, you don’t have the materials. And I knew I could do something to change that.”

Collaborating with the Barbers, Testa has led an expansion of K’uhul Balam’s programs to include educational outreach. He’s since organized fundraisers and drives for school supplies, which have been delivered to teachers and students in Guatemala.

Carlo Testa and his family at a fundraiser
The Barbers—founders of K’uhul Balam and relatives to Testa—run a school supplies fundraiser for students in Petén, Guatemala.

Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the opportunity for outreach through K’uhul Balam has slowed for the time being, but it hasn’t defeated their deep-rooted mission. It hasn’t dulled Testa’s desire to use his talents and passions to help others.

Testa and the K’uhul Balam team are planning for the future—brainstorming ways in which their work can have a long-lasting impact. In the months to come, Testa hopes to create a curriculum that will equip the people of Guatemala with a strong educational foundation, and more broadly, the organization has plans to build a well to supply the community with clean water, and improve access to medical supplies, antibiotics, and medications.

Reflecting on the three words that have stuck with him for the last 14 years—“Do great work”—his charge for others comes from the same place: Find your arena for great work.

“Find the thing that’s most important to you, and then find someone who needs help with that. … I found a way to help people who don't have access or the materials for basic education,” Testa said. “If it’s really important to you, as education was and is to me, throughout my whole life, you’ll find a way to live out that passion in a way that benefits others—in a way that makes a difference.”

Read about how Gettysburg College’s Center for Public Service engages students, community members, faculty, and staff to facilitate partnerships, education, critical thinking, and informed action.

By Molly Foster and Sokuntheary Heang ’24
Photos courtesy of Carlo Testa ’06
Posted: 01/21/21