WINNIPEG -- Canadian Mennonite University is keeping a close eye on their students as they wait for a chance to evacuate Guatemala due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of 43 from the university, including 36 students, are currently waiting for a flight home after the Central American nation closed its borders to stop the spread of the virus.

The group had been in Guatemala since January as part of the university’s Outtatown initiative, a two-semester program where students travel across Canada and then to Guatemala for education and fellowship.

The students were set to come home on April 2, but CMU made the decision to end the program early and had flights ready for the students after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged all Canadians abroad to come home.

“That weekend, we learned that Guatemala was shutting its borders effective virtually immediately, and at that point, we weren’t able” said Renee Willms, co-director of the program, speaking from Winnipeg.

The majority of students are from Manitoba and Ontario, but the group also includes students from Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, said Willms.

Gabriella Lampman, a Winnipeg student among the 43 stuck in Guatemala, says it was a shock when she learned she and the group wouldn’t be able to get back to Canada immediately.

“It was a bit nerve-wracking, because everything was so unsure,” she said over Skype on Monday. “Especially, our families were very concerned about us.”

The group is currently staying in place at a large home in the country, and Lampman says the group is managing their time while waiting for a flight home. Games, exercise and a graduation ceremony from the program are among the ways they’re passing the time.

“We’ve had a lot of experiences in the last six months to be flexible and creative with our time, because things aren’t always predictable,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of creative thinking as to ways we can spend our time and support each other in the best ways possible.

“It’s really been a blessing to have this community and to have had that background.”

Lampman says she and other group members remain in close contact with their parents back home.

“They’re fairly patient, which is great, but they’re also eager to have me back home,” she said.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department has listed Guatemala as one of the countries where they’re working to repatriate Canadians, though Willms says it is unclear when the group will be able to get on a plane and leave.