February 2015

Pre-trip Reflection by Rachel Wagster: Together we can make the world a better place

In four short weeks we will embark on a journey to El Espino, a trip that will change our lives forever. Even though we are yet to go, I have learned many lessons in preparation for this adventure. First, I have seen the passionate and giving nature of those around me. I am eternally grateful to my friends and family who have helped me fundraise the money to make this trip possible. They have been more generous than I could have ever imagined. Since we’re on the topic, thank you for your interest in this experience. If it were not for the people involved with the Foundation for Cultural Exchange, none of this would be possible for the group or incredibly deserving people of El Espino.

I am flooded with feelings when I think about how soon we will venture off on this new experience. Anna, Hunter, and the entire group have been preparing us weekly on the culture, climate, and conditions to expect in El Salvador. However, I know there are some things they cannot put into words—and that is what the experience is going to be like. I am only told about the immense love and gratitude I will feel going down there (feelings on both ends). I could not be more thankful to meet the scholarship students, and learn all about their lives. They inspire me to work hard and appreciate life—another lesson already blossoming inside me in anticipation of the trip.

I hear stories of how beautiful El Salvador is, and also stories of how tragedy has struck so many in their country. It makes my heart ache for their struggles, yet I am eager to witness their beauty. There is tragedy in all countries just as there is splendor. We know that there is risk involved in going. However, this risk is one that needs to be taken (might I add we trust Anna’s judgment and experiences there to keep us safe). I whole-heartedly believe that going to El Espino is an experience I am meant to have in order to grow and become a better person.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be adventuring to El Salvador. I hope to continue the spiritual and personal growth before, during, and long after this trip. I know that the people of El Espino will give me so much more than I could ever give them. Hopefully, one day I can repay them for their kindness and love. I am so excited to meet my family, and converse with them in Spanish. It is truly special that they will host me in their homes for an entire week. When I think of such selfless people it gives me faith. I hope that the lessons I learn on this journey can be translated into my passions back home, for the rest of my life.

I look forward to the life changing experiences and long lasting friendships to come. Thank you for your help, love, prayers, and support. Thank you for making this experience possible.

Juntos podemos hacer el mundo mejor / Together we can make the world a better place

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Pre-trip Reflection by Kailyn Miller: Filling an empty cup

My cup is empty, and I am more than ready to have it filled.

I am a returning El Salvador delegate, and even though I know what to expect from this entire trip, I still feel as though I am navigating uncharted territory. The individuals that I was blessed to interact with in El Salvador still hold a very prominent place in my heart. That being said, my spiritual cup is beginning to feel dry and I know that what I need is those people and that culture to help me feel whole again. I can smell El Salvador and I can feel the air and sun on my skin when I think about my previous trip. I can feel the love from all of the individuals who live there, and I am so eager to be surrounded by this love.

On my previous trip, I was very blind. I was blind to the culture and way of life, and I was blind to the love that I would experience. Now that I know what to expect, I feel that I can take less time taking in the “shock” of everything, and more time giving. I want to spend more time giving love and more time listening to everyone there. I feel extreme comfort in the thought of going back to El Salvador. However, even though I know what to expect and I am no longer blind, I am still in the dark. I am at a different place in my life this year compared to last, and I am worried about the emotional toll that this trip will take. It’s like getting hit with a bat. If you don’t know it’s coming, maybe you don’t really feel it and it will just knock you out, leaving you to recover. Now I am sitting in a chair watching this bat come straight for my face. This sounds incredibly morbid and terrible, but I can’t explain how excited I am. I can’t wait to see my family and to finally be submerged in this beautiful culture again. I can’t wait to live, at least for a while, in a place where loving one another is expected to be your top priority. I am also extremely excited to watch the same transformation that happened for me happen for our new team of delegates. I feel that we have an incredible team full of big-hearted, open-minded people. People who will absorb this beauty like a sponge and not reject it for its differences, or for the fact that there are negative aspects of the country. The truth is, danger and negativity are everywhere. Love is also everywhere, and love can also be spread everywhere. I want so badly for everyone to experience this language of love.

The trip to El Salvador can not get here fast enough. I am eager to experience the love, as well as the spiritual fullness. Though I like to think that I am very strong in my faith, being in this culture strengthens it, and my heart needs that. My cup is empty, and I am more than ready to have it filled.

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Pre-trip reflection by Jessica Trujillo: On Taking Life for Granted

Five weeks from today, I will be completely immersed in a different country, a different culture, speaking a different language, in a completely different world than the one I’m in right now. It’s weird to think about how fast it’s approaching. I remember when I first found out the news I was going to El Salvador a few months ago, I was so excited. I was humbled when I realized that I really found a way to do this, and that my friends and family were so willing to support fundraising this trip for me. But as my loved ones started planning their own trips to more “touristy” parts of America for their own Spring Break trips, I had to remind myself the reason I wanted to do this in the first place—this is my calling and I’ve never done anything like this. It’s my dream to travel and spread God’s word and help others, and I can only hope that this trip is the first of many to come.

Our group met again yesterday to talk about the gangs in El Salvador. I knew from the get-go that there are lots of gangs in El Salvador, but it was eye-opening to hear and read about the real life people my own age who live every day in fear for their own lives. The gangs are real, and simply walking to the wrong place at the wrong time can be dangerous for them. Anna told us that the average homicide rate recently dropped to four people per day. That’s insane. Although it’s been said that that statistic is going down, the system that the government and the gangs are walking on is a delicate one. Everyone is living in constant terror every day.

Being in college, I walk everywhere I go every day. I was thinking about this today while walking to class: Everyone I’m surrounded by, including myself, take the lives we live for granted. We just go about our daily routines on campus, going building to building, without fear of being robbed or killed or the safety of our loved ones. It almost seems silly to say that, when really, real people live in that constant paranoia every day, they grow up living that way. They don’t have dreams for the future the way we all do. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be terrified to walk out of my own door.

This is why I think going on trips like this are so important. It’s important to open your eyes to the world outside of America. It’s one thing to read about it, see pictures of it, but it’s another to do something, even if that means simply living a day or two in these shoes. As much as I want to think that I know what to expect, I don’t know if I really will until I’m actually there. I’m worried that my inability to speak Spanish will inhibit what I’m able to do while I’m in El Salvador, but I know and trust that God has a plan for me while I’m there. He’s gotten me this far, hasn’t He?

Sometimes when I think about this trip, I think to myself, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe

I’m seriously doing this.” But when I think about it more, I know I’ve never been more excited for anything in my entire life.

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Pre-trip reflection by Adrian Reyes: Dreaming about El Salvador!

Dreaming about El Salvador!

I have never been so excited to share and to talk to people about any of my past trips. We are just weeks away from diving into a new completly different culture for which I am absolutely excited for. I have being having some difficulty trying to find money to pay the rest of the trip since one of my scholarships was cut this semester and I had to pay for school on my own, but “primero dios” everything will be fine. I am having my first fundraising this Monday, where I will be selling “choco-flan” to raise money for my trip. Our local church here in Alamosa is making me do a little presentation about my trip to El Salvador for which I am already prepared and ready to explain them why they should fund us!

In the other side is my family; they have been extremely helpful, sharing my trip to anyone they know might be interested in it! They are also helping me with some money to buy the ingredients for the cake as well as help me sell some of them. My friends are playing a really important role as well, as they all have offered me help cook and sell. I feel this trip has make me reconnect with some old friends and some people around the community for which I am really happy to see and talk about this great opportunity.

Some of my friends unfortunately can’t help me financially but I know if they could they would, however they are going to keep us in their prayers now, during and after the trip to El Salvador. Throughout all this process trying to find money for the trip to El Salvador, I have been thinking about our last week’s assignment which was to read about two scholarship students in the program. I relate my personal struggle trying to find the money to their daily struggle to succeed and to accomplish their individual dreams.

I have been thinking about this trip every day: how is this trip going to benefit my community? How is this trip going to help me have a different understanding about social justice and living as humbly as possible? I am thinking, how am I going to benefit from this amazing opportunity? I hope to learn as much as I can and to share and impact some of their lives in a meaningful way and I hope they influence my life as well! I have been reading about all the students and thinking about me and what would I do if I was in their situation?

I know this trip will make me a better person and I certainly hope to make long life friendships with my brothers and sister down in El Salvador!

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Pre-trip reflection by Amanda

We’re now a couple weeks closer to our trip to El Salvador, and we’re starting to get a lot of responses back from our fundraising letters to friends and family. I’ve been truly surprised and humbled by the shocking generosity that so many people have displayed during my fundraising experience. My family has helped me out tremendously with their generous donations. Even old family friends whom I haven’t talked to for many years have shown their support with donations. However, the one that surprised me the most was a friend who I spend time with every week. One day I was talking to her about how excited I was to be going to El Salvador over spring break and about the fundraising letters that I was writing for it. When she heard about the letters she got really excited and said that she wanted one. So, I added her to my list and wrote her a letter. I wasn’t really expecting much from it because I thought that she just wanted to read more about the trip and maybe help out a little. Boy was a surprised. Last Friday she handed me an envelope. When I opened it and saw what was written on the check inside I was literally frozen with shock with my mouth hanging open. Cliché, I know, but true. My dad saw my face and thought something was wrong. Words wouldn’t form, so I just handed him the check until the words finally came, “It’s a check for $200.” I called her later to thank her a million times for her help, and she just waved it off like it wasn’t a big deal at all. She said that she’d been on a lot of mission trips over the years and that people had always helped her financially as well. She was just so happy to finally be on the other end, giving to help someone else to their goal. I am still just so surprised by the generous, giving nature of so many people. I’d like to thank all of them for their help and support. When the group leader first told us that we had to raise $500 to go on this trip, I didn’t really think that I’d ever be able to raise that much money. Now, I have actually exceeded that goal. It’s such a great feeling to know that there is such good in humanity, just waiting for the right time to appear. Unfortunately, not all of humanity shows its goodness. In fact, a lot of times they show the exact opposite. Our group’s assignment for last meeting was the read the information about two of the scholarship students in El Salvador, which we discussed at our meeting. Each student had a different view on the subject, but the basic fact was that they were scared. They all talked about the ever-present gangs, constant violence, death, and uncontrollable fear that they lived with every day. Many of the students have been robbed more than once. They are afraid to walk too far from the college campus for fear of being attacked. Many of their friends and family have been murdered by gang members. The violence and fear is so prevalent that they can’t even feel at ease within their own community. It is incredible how strong they all are to simply get up and keep going, keep fighting every day to get just a little farther ahead in life. I hope that the love and care our group shows when we visit will give them some hope that the world isn’t as bad as it seems and that it can get better. The point of the scholarships is to help these students make their own life better, one day and year at a time. It’s great that our group will be able to help fund the scholarships once we get back from the trip. We want to help these students succeed, because each of them is an amazing person with a lot to offer the world and their community. Some of the students we talked about in our last meeting each had a unique view of the world and their own aspirations in life. Some were high school students, others were college students majoring in many different subjects, like English, Law, Chemistry, and more. They want to be teachers, law officers, bankers, and members of the national orchestra. In order to achieve those goals, they push themselves every day. Most of the college students wake up by 4 or 4:30 every morning to get to school after a two hour bus ride. Their classes end at 1:30; then they take the bus home, help with chores around the house, and finish their homework before going to bed late and starting all over again. Many people here in America complain about how hard their life is, but our lives here are so much easier compared to the lives of these students, and we don’t even have to deal with nearly as much of the fear that pervades their society. Learning about these students and their lives makes us so grateful for our own lives. It also makes us excited to be able to visit with them, learn from them, and share some of our hope with them.

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