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Final Reflection by Rachel Wagster: We Left Our Hearts in El Espino

As I sit here in my cozy bed, with my puppy cuddling by my side, I cannot help but feel that something is missing. Just as I was reflecting on the experience, one of the compañeras from the trip texted me that she left her heart in El Espino. It hit me like a ton of bricks; we all left our hearts there. My heart is with the community that embraced us fully without knowing us. My heart is with the students who wake up before the sun to make it to school on time. My heart is with Xiomara and her family who did everything they could to make us feel at ease in a new environment, by means of giving up their own beds for us to sleep on. A piece of heart is with the every kid with whom we played soccer, and it stayed with them when we scattered from the field before sunset because of the gang initiated curfew. My heart is with every person I met, and with those I may never meet, who have or are suffering in El Salvador. My heart is as full as it is heavy, and I have never felt this way before.

I did not want to write a reflection immediately after our flight landed in the US out of fear that my words will not do El Salvador justice. Furthermore, it is taking a lot of time to process everything that we just experienced. As a group, we know how shocking, amazing, and beautiful everything was down there. However, trying to explain that to my friends and family has proven to be far more difficult that I had imagined. I am not ashamed to say I cry every time I look through pictures or tell a story about the trip. I cry because my family down there is so beautiful and taught me so much about love and strength. In addition, I cry when I see all the things we have here that they do not have access to down there. It truly breaks my heart to see how so many people are struggling in El Salvador. On the contrary, the abundance of laughter and love I experienced shows me how resilient and incredible they are. I hope to bring the light that shined within El Espino to Colorado.

I remember the welcoming ceremony and seeing all the scholarship students for the first time. Everyone was laughing and smiling, and despite a somewhat problematic language barrier, we all felt connected. Going to Xiomara’s house for the first time is a memory I will never forget. It was so beautiful, and overlooked a hill covered with trees and plants I have never seen or smelt before. Meeting Jeisón and Milagro for the first time was exciting. I had no choice but to speak Spanish. I think the first day was hard because I was scared to speak. However, as time passed they started to understand my gringa Spanish and Xiomara even tried to use English. We slept on our own beds that first night and the entire family slept in one room. That is just one example of how giving and kind the people of El Espino are. I snuggled up with my blanket from home and quickly fell asleep. When I woke up, an unfamiliar face greeted me in bed. A chicken had wandered in at some point in the night and slept in the corner of my bed. Another memory I hope to never forget. I washed my blanket I brought on the trip but it still smells like El Salvador. I hope that smell never goes away.

Every day we spent in the community we grew closer to the people who live there as well as to each other. I admire their strong faith and feel honored to have gone through this experience. I hope to never forget their stories of heartbreak and loss as a result of violence. A fire was sparked in Anna 11 years ago, and a fire is lit inside me now. I will continue to give my heart and energy to those people and the foundation. Thank you for the experience of a lifetime. I miss everyone and my new home already. Until next time…

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Final Reflection by Benjamin Gemoya: The Way Home

So the last day of this trip was pretty sad and exciting. Exciting because I finally get to see my family after 9 days. I actually miss them. I could stay away longer but my mom will probably kill me. Sad because I am leaving El Salvador and because I hope I get to stay in touch with all the people that came on this trip. It was an awesome group. We all loved each other and had one of the best experiences we will have in our lifetimes.

On the way home, I do have a lot of thoughts but it’s too much to write down. I know I have a lot of time on this plane, but you have any questions, just give me a call. I’d love to tell you more about this trip. I believe it changed the way I am going to live my life. Especially I am not going to be so needy and just be thankful for what I have now and just live life to the fullest.

Your one and only BenJAMIN Gemoya.

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Final Reflection by Kelsi Madrid: All You Need is Love

I have been pondering ways to write my last reflection. How do I even begin? My heart hurts extra today as I think of everyone in El Espino. I fell in love with that country and those people. Everything I do, everywhere I look, I am reminded of El Espino. I found myself smiling in class today remembering all of the laughs my family and I shared. My life is changed forever.

Never in my life did I think I would be welcomed with such open arms to a place I have never been. The physical beauty of El Salvador is unbelievable but the real beauty is beneath the trees and inside the little square houses. The real beauty is the people.

The community of El Espino will always be in my heart and on my mind. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity I was given, for the forever friendships I made on this trip, and most of all the family I stayed with. They were the kindest, most amazing people I have ever met and I thank them the most for making my trip better than I could ever imagine. I believe that I will someday return. I wish I could go back right now to heal the heartache of being away from these incredible people.

So thank you to everyone who supported this trip, to Anna and the group for being so awesome and to the people of El Espino for showing me that all you need is love.

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Final Reflection by Audrey Maddox: Aching Heart

My heart aches to have returned to U.S. soil. So here, in the comforts of Houston, TX, I close my eyes and I imagine El Espino. I feel the thick, humid air hydrating my every pore viagra england. I hear the jungle leaves gently blowing in the breeze. I see the bright, glowing smiles of the locals as they kindly look into my eyes. I picture my sisters Vanessa and Stephanie giggling as I attempt to teach them to play “Go Fish.” Roosters, turkeys, chickens, cats, and dogs meander the grounds. People speak to me in rapid Spanish and I listen in desperation to understand them. I sense the spirituality floating through the atmosphere and I drink up every bit of it.

Memories of the past week are evident everywhere. The pink bug bites covering my legs, the fading sketch of Izote, the national flower, drawn by Celso on my shoulder, the handmade cards given to me inexplicably by adoring children, the amazing group of people that shared this experience with me, and the heavy feeling in my heart.

I don’t know how to express all that I’ve learned or all that I’ve felt for El Salvador. I don’t think that it’s possible. I can show some of the many photographs that we took on this magnificent journey, tell some of the heart-warming stories of our powerful experiences, or describe some of the beautiful people whose memories are forever imprinted on my soul, but the feeling of standing in the humid air, looking out at the jungle filled with humble homes and big hearts, that I can only share with the people who were there with me. The group arrives back in Grand Junction tomorrow. It’s the same place we were nine days ago, but none of us are the same.

Never in my life have I received so much love from people whom I didn’t even know. I am in awe of their hospitality, strength of spirit, and endless beauty. I’m so grateful for my time spent with them. I truly hope to return to see them again as I now feel we are family. I want to say thank you to everyone who supports the Foundation for Cultural Exchange, all who helped send me off on this amazing journey, the group that shared it with me, and most of all, the people of El Espino. Gracias por todo lo que ustedes me dieron. You are forever in my heart.

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Last Day Reflection by Jessica Trujillo: What Do I Do From Here On Out?

I am currently on the flight back home (or to Houston) from El Salvador  I have a lot of mixed emotions right now. I didn’t cry when I was saying goodbye to my family I was staying with, but I cried laying in bed last night by myself thinking about leaving. Yes, it breaks my heart to leave those amazing people behind in that difficult place while I get to go back to such a privileged life in the States… but I can’t help but feel like the phrase “breaks my heart” doesn’t fully explain what I mean. Yeah, that definitely doesn’t explain what I mean.

It’s not fair that just because they were born into a third world country, or just because I was born in a first world country, they get so little and I get so much. Neither of us did absolutely anything to deserve what we have. And maybe because the family I stayed with, Delmi’s family, maybe because they were sooooo similar to my family, I feel so strongly about this. Or maybe because I realized how much of a reality that lifestyle is to so many people. Regardless, I think that I’m already having a hard time accepting the fact that there are good, loving, beautiful people out there who are living in such dangerous places and it’s completely not their fault. Why did they get that life and I get my life? Who would I be to see and live in that world, in that life for as long as I did, and come back home and do nothing? Who would I be to go back to my world and just continue to be wrapped up in my own life full of materialistic objects?

But at the same time, I have to accept that that IS my world… my life is in the United States viagra frankreich. My life is at a nice, 4-year university with a car and a smartphone and working showers and clean water and electricity and a trash system and there is no gang violence directly endangering me or any of my loved ones whatsoever. I live every day in this world. I just, after seeing El Espino, after LIVING in El Espino, what do I do from here on out? I don’t know… all I know is it can’t be nothing. There’s no way.

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Midpoint Reflection by Leah Jane Davidson: What Binds this Group Together

I am always learning. Each day I find something new to ponder and work through in my thoughts. It’s interesting to me how different things affect different people, how some interactions leave a lasting impression while others are gone with the wind. El Salvador has been an amazing journey for me for many reasons; the food, the incredible resilience in the people, and the cultural differences. We have explored, eaten great and interesting new foods, and have been living life in what people consider a third-world part of the globe.

However, a huge and impactful part of this journey for me has been the other Americans that I have been sharing this incredible experience with. To be perfectly honest with myself, people have much more of an influence on me than my independent-minded self wants to admit. I thrive when others thrive, I feel what others feel, and I fall in love with what other people are passionate about. This, combined with a divine curiosity for the world around me, has truly defined how I travel and what kind of memories I make.

Here we are, aliens crash landing on a foreign planet… hoping for the best, preparing for the confusing, and laughing with each other along the way. The ten of us (including Anna) have been developing together the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. In lieu of being cliché, we are ten individuals who are entirely different and separate, but one thing connects us all. This thing is strong, forgiving, passionate, and important; this thing is that all of us truly care.

Whether we are interested in Spanish… or not. Whether we are invested in humanitarian work… or not. We all care and we are connected by that very fact. We have been having such incredible conversations about the things we have been experiencing together and I can truly see how sensitive and interested these people are in the world around them. I admire my new friends with a great gumption and lots of love from the inner workings of my heart.

With a bit of sadness I reflect upon the fact that this trip is halfway over. But with a smile shining on my face and my soul beaming with comraderie and friendship I know that this isn’t over. The work we are doing here and together… this is only the beginning.

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Day 6: Reflection by Kelsi Madrid

Today was a very powerful and emotional day for me. We went to the coffee plantation and got to see how everything is made. We also got to hear the stories of the workers and the plantation’s background. Listening to the stories is when I realized how much the war has affected everyone in El Salvador. Yesterday was mostly about Oscar Romero and the fact that he impacted so many people’s lives didn’t really settle in until today. This coffee plantation has been through so much and the people have stuck with it. During the war most of the leaders at the plantation were killed and now the sons and one of the wives are keeping their legacy alive and hope to keep the legacy going for many more generations. Hearing the struggles that these people went through to keep this plantation going really touches my heart and inspires me. They genuinely care about making the community better. They have all organic coffee and are trying to make many more things to improve the community.

The place we went to today is one of the farms that belongs to the cooperative and it was breathtaking. This place was so beautiful and peaceful I just wanted to put up a hammock and lay there forever. I ate a banana off of its vine which was also really cool, but the coolest part was that we got to plant a coffee tree. Along the way we met a man who was digging holes and I found out that he did that for a living. He would dig 30-100 holes a day depending on the season and get paid $6 for the day. At that moment my heart started to hurt for these people. They work so hard and receive so little. This man’s shoes were barely held together by staples and they looked like dress shoes. It is about a 20 minute hike just to get to where the holes are to be dug. I had a hard time in my shoes that had little traction; I cannot even imagine doing that hike every day and digging 100 holes in those shoes with no water. I wish so badly that I could help these people and give them the life they deserve. It pains me to see people struggle for something they care so much about but I have so much respect and admiration for them that they will stay in my thoughts forever.

I couldn’t help in extreme ways, but I could help by buying their product so I bought 5 bags of coffee. I don’t even drink coffee. Hopefully the purchases from today will help a little bit. Today was an incredible day that I will never forget and I am so thankful that Anna Stout took us to the plantation. So thanks, Anna, and thanks to the people who made this trip possible for me.

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Day 6: Reflection by Amanda Willmarth

Today was filled with all new sights and knowledge. We went to a coffee cooperative to learn about what they do and how they do it. I personally don’t like coffee, but it was still really interesting to learn about what these people do for a living and how much effort it takes to grow the coffee trees and make the actual coffee. When we arrived we met an amazing woman, Alicia Morales, who is the president of the coffee cooperative. She is also the only female president of a cooperative in El Salvador, and she seems like the perfect person for the job. Alicia has taken many classes to learn how to produce organic coffee in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment but helps it instead. They implement these methods that she learned in all of the locations where they grow coffee. We went to see the location where it all started (which was quite a hike), helped plant one of the trees, and learned about why they plant the way that they do. They told us that the planting season is in June, but they’ve already been digging holes in preparation for the June planting. It’s crazy to think that each farmer needs to dig so many holes per day in order to get his small wage of just $6. Benjamin only had only dug part of one hole and planted the tree and he was already sweating a lot. It’s really hard work and each person has to do so much each day just to earn such meager pay. It’s still hard for me to believe how hard these people have to work for so little while most people in America earn way more than them in just an hour of work (which is usually way easier than digging 100 holes in the blazing heat). We are so privileged in America and most of the time we don’t even realize or appreciate it.

The other place that we went to today was the ruins of a community that was buried under volcanic ash around 1500 years ago. It was really intriguing seeing the ruins and learning how the people used to live. There were 13 different structures which had been uncovered, a few of them were houses, but the rest were all different. They had a shaman’s house, which acted as their doctor’s office, a public kitchen area, plots of corn next to the houses, and a sauna. It was surprising to see that they had a sauna way back then, but it makes sense when you think about how they used it to purify themselves spiritually. There was also a life-size recreation of the sauna near the ruins themselves which we tourists were able to go into. We had to crawl through the entrance, but once we were inside I could imagine all the Mayans huddled inside it purifying themselves as a community; it was really cool.

Overall, today we all learned a lot about El Salvador, its history, and its culture. We also got to see some amazing ruins, take in an incredible vista of a beautiful lake at the coffee cooperative, and spend more time having fun and getting to know the other members of the group. It was a really good day.

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Midpoint Reflection by Kailyn Miller: The Dirt on My Toes

As I sit here in the capital with access to a running, hot, shower, I stare at the dirt on my feet and ponder three words: entitlement, need, and love. I know that the dirt will easily rinse off of my toes because I am blessed with running water. I am not concerned with “rolling around on the ground,” because it is not considered an addition to my workload to get the dirt out of my clothes or skin. This happens simply with the turn of a knob or the push of a button. The definition of entitlement reads, “a belief that one is deserving of certain privileges.” I think that this is an epidemic in many parts of the world. It is easy to adopt an entitlement attitude toward running water, toilets, and the fancy materialistic items that fit into the mold of the “American Dream,” as well as an entitlement to education, security, and love. It is a common assumption that if you have accomplished an unspoken set of goals, you “deserve” love or education. This is an extremely broad statement that I have made, and I do not in any way intend to step on anyone’s toes, but what idea are we as a society pushing? What quality of life are we trying to achieve? One of the definitions for love mentions an object of attachment. Why is it possible to love an object? I feel that the word love has been so grayed because it has become so easy to love things and not humans.

Another word that has been dancing in my head is need. Our leader, Anna, stated that after this trip she hopes that the word “need” is prickly and unsettling to us. This word has sat with me in that manner for a very long time, especially because this is my second time returning to this country. I am discomforted with the idea of needing a luxury item or an unsubstantial experience. Throughout my walk of life, I have met a great deal of people who are appreciative of what they have, but I also know a lot of individuals who would not know what they need until they are actually in need.

I believe that all of these issues tie together in a knot that is much larger than I am currently aware of. That said, I have spent a few wonderful days in a community that shows the ability to thrive despite many hardships. One of our delegates stated today, “They are not rich, but they are richer than we are.” I believe that this community knows how to love one another, to the core, unconditionally. They know how to place little importance on material items. I also have never seen someone value their education like an individual who has experienced the direct repercussions of violence and poverty, but has been given the potential to establish a “way out.” To me, true appreciation is requisite for the presence of beauty.

A mindset that has stuck with me from the previous year is my view on independence. This is very difficult for me, because I am constantly butting heads with those who are close to me to maintain my independence. However, I think that this is a dangerous way to raise individuals. If we are raised to value and work for our independence and personal growth over everything, how will we know how to love each other? How will we know how to truly live for each other if we only know how to live for ourselves?

We left the community yesterday to spend a few days in the capital. I think that this is very beneficial to the individuals who are here for the first time because of the culture shock that they are experiencing, but since this being my second time here, I am not experiencing it. My head is spinning with too many other thoughts. Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I remember visiting the place of his assassination, as well as his museum last year and being greatly unsettled by the actions of people. Not just of the government, or whoever you are comfortable blaming, but of the inhumane acts of humans. However, the only part of the experience that brought me to tears last year was seeing the very graphic images of the murdered Jesuits. I was in a different emotional state last year and I was very eager to recognize these unsettling emotions and just push them out of my head. However, due to the state I am in this time, this energy existed within me all day. I couldn’t even look at the graphic pictures this time. I think that my exposure to the balance of love and poverty in the community last year has slowly helped my “empathy fire” rekindle and ignite. That said, I have been disturbed by human capability all day.

Backtrack. I left the states with the very comforting feeling that people care about me and are concerned for my existence. If that isn’t selfish enough, it took me until today to be concerned for theirs. I have not had contact with anyone from the States, and not once have I thought, “maybe they died.” Why? I have been expecting everyone to be alive, but why? Is it because we have created an entitlement for life among our entitlement for everything else? I was exposed to countless, soulless crimes yesterday and it surrounded me with heavy energy. Being in the community and knowing my luxuries in comparison to what the people in the community are thankful for has surrounded me with heavy energy. Was I not concerned about anyone’s death from the States until I realized that I need the peaceful energy of certain individuals to balance me out? I don’t think that this is fully the case, but I do believe that I have created an attitude of entitlement for their lives that I did not realize existed until so much inhumane death was forcefully pushed to the front of my mind, and I needed a knowledge of their well-being.

Fast forward back to human capability. I am still and forever will be in awe of the fact that people can live with more than they would be capable of using or needed if they tried, while so many suffer and fight for the basics viagra generika indien. This is true with poverty-stricken countries as well as in our own backyard. Why is it so easy for us to push out the suffering of others, just like it was easy for me to push heavy emotions out of my head last year? I don’t understand this; however, I know that I will forever be anxious to help in any way possible. I know that I will always be drawn to hardship and tragedy in all forms to attempt to bring light and love. The difference in my current circumstance is that love is prominent everywhere in this community. The pain is small compared to the presence of love. The pain still affects everyone here to a great degree, but they are quick to somehow move forward. I am blessed beyond words to spend my time serving with individuals who are so “rich.” I am humbled to have the opportunity to aid in their educational growth.

I believe that God has introduced the community in El Salvador to me to lay a foundation for a life of service. I pray that God uses me to show love and light to people everywhere, be it the children I work with in Grand Junction, or the children in another country. I pray that my faith never weakens, especially when every day I am exposed to the capability of humans. I pray that I never establish a need for understanding or affirmation of my actions. I pray that I never become tired of work that is filled with so much substance. I pray that at least once, everyone can have empathy for another human, especially one who is suffering. I pray that I can always be the working hands of God.

Considering the fact that it is 12:30 in the morning, and I need my rest to attempt to play soccer against kids who are better than me even if they are sitting down, I am calling it a night. Dulces sueños.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier” –Mother Teresa

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Day 6: Reflection by Adrian Reyes

Yesterday one of my most precious dreams came true, the dream to visit Monseñor (Archbishop) Oscar Romero’s tomb. Since the moment I learned about his life I have always wished and wanted to come and visit not only where he fought for Salvadoran civil right but this magnificent country full of culture, love and caring people. We visited the University of Central America yesterday, where we learned more about the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, where Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits’ university and brutally murdered the six Jesuits, together with two women. Our tour guide gave us a lesson about Monseñor’s best friend Rutilio Grande, and the big impact Grande was for Romero to speak about the war and against the Salvadoran government.

One of the most powerful moments for me was at the University of Central America, when the guide showed us where the six Jesuits where killed. They have a beautiful garden full of roses for all the people that died during the war. The moment was so heartbreaking for me that I was forced to wear my sunglasses to cover my tears. Inside the museum of Oscar Romero in UCA, they had some stuff that belonged to Monseñor. Being so close to those items made me realize that I was standing on holy ground.

All the people at the chapel were absolutely nice to me, providing me with information about Monseñor and what his mission was. The chapel was semi-full with people from all over Central America, and others parts of the world. Everything that I learned made me realize the big role the American government played in all of this killing, and how easy it is for someone to kill or disappear someone.

Reading some of his quotes and being in the same place where he preached and he defended the Salvadoran people was absolutely amazing. It was an experience that I can’t find the proper words to describe.

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