Brookings couple eloped, then volunteered in Guatemala for honeymoon

BROOKINGS – Newlyweds Andrew and Ashley Engel celebrated their marriage this past December by foregoing a traditional wedding and reception. Instead, they went to serve as volunteers for various people in need in Guatemala. 

They worked through a company called International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ). This New Zealand-based company works as a middle-man for anyone who wants to be a volunteer in another part of the world and for many organizations that need volunteers in their respective countries. The company has over 50 different destinations all over the world.

The couple decided to elope to New Orleans and have a small ceremony in the French Quarter and then flew down to Guatemala. Together they served at a macadamia nut farm, an orphanage and at a retirement community.

New Orleans was the best choice for the two of them because they had never been there and wanted to explore the unique historical areas and their music and food. The pair say they thrive on adventure and new experiences. 

They left Christmas Eve and came back on New Year’s Eve.

Ashley is a special education teacher at Hillcrest Elementary, and Andrew is a grad student at South Dakota State University studying plant science. The two met several years ago in Aberdeen and kept in contact throughout Andrew’s decade-long service in the Army and National Guard.

“We decided to elope because, one: time. Being a special education teacher, sometimes I think she has more homework than I do as a grad student,” Andrew said.

“And then he works over the summer for research, because that’s when a lot of plant research is supposed to happen; it wasn’t feasible to have a wedding,” Ashley said. “Plus, there was the cost of the wedding.”

According to The Knot, a wedding guide and research website, the average cost of a wedding in South Dakota in 2016 is $18,500.

“So, for five grand, she and I eloped to New Orleans and then went on a volunteer trip to Guatemala,” Andrew said. The $5,000 they spent covered the wedding, licensing, travel insurance, plane tickets, food and other items for their trip.

“It’s kind of bucking tradition, but there were parents who weren’t super excited about it … but once they came around to the idea, everybody was fairly supportive of it. Just had a small reception with the family later on (after they came back to the States),” Andrew said. “The volunteer trip by itself was outstanding. This was the way to go to see another country.”

“IVHQ actually sets you up with home stays, so we were staying in somebody’s home,” Andrew added.

During their time working with the children at the orphanage, they had a Christmas celebration with the kids, saying that it was “unforgettable” and “a blast.”

When the two were at a nursing home in the area, they had the opportunity and met with the first lady of Guatemala, Patricia Marroquín. 

Marroquín set up these facilities in Guatemala for older generations because of Guatemala’s civil war back in the ’90s. Family is important in Spanish culture, many of the grandparents were left without homes and families for them to return to.

The Engels did lots of exploring on their downtime in Guatemala. 

They went to old ruins of cathedrals in the area, they hiked a volcano and roasted marshmallows from its heat, learned salsa dancing and also went to an old Mayan coffee farm, where they roasted and ground their own beans and had the “best cup of coffee imaginable.”

Volunteering and adventure are cornerstones to their relationship. Ashley said they were looking into more trips like this and will most likely work with IVHQ again.

“We’ll probably go through IVHQ just because they have such a great setup, great organization, they talk about how safe everything is, they set it up for you ‘ABC’ on what you need and what you have to have. For instance, you have to have travel insurance and a background check,” Ashley said.

“It’s cheaper, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Who doesn’t want to do something good?” Andrew said.

Andrew and Ashley were interviewed by the “New York Post” for an article that was published in June. That article discussed the growing popularity of newlyweds foregoing tradition and turning their weddings and honeymoons into volunteer trips. 

The couple said they didn’t run into any other couples in Guatemala but heard of dozens of couples volunteering in Costa Rica.

“This way you don’t have to come up with seating arrangements,” Andrew joked.

For more information on planning your next volunteering adventure, visit the IVHQ website at

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