Alternative Spring Break 2014

Final Thoughts by Emily Valdez

“Te amamos con todo el Corazon.” To be loved. Isn’t that what we all want in this life?

My whole life I have looked in so many places–some good, some bad–for love. I’ve looked for comfort and love in having tons of “friends”, in money, and in materialistic things. I have worked so hard the last few years to travel the world and “do my own thing” without my family and without anyone holding my hand. All of these ambitions, all of these things, have always fallen short of what it truly is that I have always desired.

This week that I have spent in El Espino, an impoverished, dangerous, and materialistically-lacking community, has given me more fulfillment than any “thing” ever has. One fact of life that I have so greatly seen and learned is that in poverty there is wealth beyond money and beyond objects. When there is nothing else to give, one is able to know the love that he or she is able to give. The people of this community gave love in such an unconditional way. Their love was so quickly given without boundaries or hesitation. In just a few short days I was fully embraced as a friend, a sister, a daughter, a niece, a cousin, and a granddaughter. I was family and I received all the genuine love that the people of this community express so greatly every single day. It was such a simple and humbling experience, but such a huge opportunity to see life in a different and beautiful way.

As a college student, you don’t see living without running water as a great Spring Break, but it is because we have lost a desire to step back and analyze what truly matters in life and have gotten caught up in the everyday bombardment of technology. In an honest effort for a pure and simple life, we can find the love that is such a desire in each of us. We can allow ourselves to love full-heartedly and in turn be loved without fear. It breaks my heart to know that I could not bring every one of the beautiful, loving, and deserving people of El Espino back to the U.S. with me; but it also scares me to know that I am back in that world that has so many “things” and yet lacks so much. My web of emotions is full of fear, sadness, and most importantly love. I pray to God everyday that these feelings remain in my heart, not because I enjoy them all, but because I know these emotions can make a person do some incredible things.

My fire has been lit, and I know I will go back to El Espino. I know that the people of that community are working hard for better lives and I want to be a part of their efforts!

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Final Thoughts by Josh Adams

04/01/2014

Two hundred and forty hours. Fourteen thousand four hundred minutes. Eight hundred sixty-four thousand seconds.  When written out it may seem like an eternity. If you take a closer look it’s really only ten days. A third of a month and only 0.02739 % of a year.  A little more than nothing than a blip on the radar that is our life. This ten-day blip was especially special.

Along with nine other people I made a trek to the community of El Espino, El Salvador. As a group we were immediately thrust and welcomed into the community with open arms. The moment we stepped off the micro we were showered with an endless line of hugs and smiles. One word jumped to the front of my mind. Unconditional. These Salvadoran people had an unconditional love for these ten American strangers.  After being welcomed into their home and being declared the newest member of their family I realized that they didn’t care what mistakes I made in the past. They were just happy to have a new brother.

The entire community is set on fire with a desire and passion for education. Knowing that one day they can become the focal point of change in El Salvador. Witnessing that passion firsthand was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It really prompted me to take a moment and think about how much of a shame it would be to not take some of that fire and share it with our own communities. I’m pretty sure it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This small community in the middle of the small country of El Salvador has taken those words to heart and are working together to be that change.

All week we heard that the scholarship students look up to us as delegates for The Foundation of Cultural Exchange. Those scholarship students will never really know how much we look up to them. The challenges they go through each and everyday in order to be that change they so desire to see is nothing short of amazing. In writing this reflection I am sitting here wishing that everyone I know could experience that unconditional love and passion for life that the people of El Espino shared with me. Then it dawned on me that they can. I can live my life happily and show my passions and exhibit an unconditional love for all and be that change I wish to see. I may be a blip on the radar and mean absolutely nothing to El Espino when this is all said and done, but El Espino will always be a huge blip on my radar and will always have a special place in my heart.

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Final thoughts by Mary Muncher

There are a variety of emotions filling me on this last day of the trip. I don’t know whether to cry because I am missing everything so much already or to smile because it happened. I am overwhelmed with thoughts of El Espino and the beautiful people within it. I have learned so much about myself and the El Salvadoran culture in this short week.

It’s impossible to describe to you everything that has happened because there are no words that suffice. Nonetheless, there are certainly things that stand out in my mind and must be shared for the good of the people.

It’s important to know that what I have seen and experienced is not the same as any other group member, no matter how alike our stories are. What my eyes saw, what my heart felt, and the impact this place had on me is unique to my own being.

At this very moment as we are flying farther and farther away from the land that offers so much love I feel as if a piece of my heart is breaking. I feel like I am leaving my family. I say family because these people truly have a significant spot in my heart. Since day one they greeted us with open arms and protected us as is if we were their own. They have accepted us and passed no judgment. They have fed us their finest cuisines and made us feel like kings and queens in their homes. They have showed us patience like no other, especially when simple conversation turned into complex translation. They have introduced to us the beautiful sound of music through their joyous sounds of By the time justin bieber songs list turned 18, Bieber Fever had become a global epidemic, and the world’s most famous “Boyfriend” had amassed more than 24 million Twitter followers and 45 million Facebook fans. laughter. They have showed us the importance of kindness in everyday actions. Most importantly they have showed us the power of love and unity. These are the things family teaches you and these are things El Espino has showed me.

I feel a sense of guilt returning to a place where I have so much knowing that they are still there having so little. Why me? Why them? Perhaps this question will never be answered. Perhaps our paths were meant to cross though. I truly believe that they were. My fire has been lit and I will not let my family down. I will return to El Espino and I will continue to do everything I can for them. I will share their stories and always carry them close in my heart.

Until I see you again, El Espino, much love and gratitude.

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Final thoughts by Kathryn McConnell

After being reminded of the immense love of the Salvadoran people, and basking in the light of their smiles and the warmth of their embraces, it breaks my heart to have to say ‘adios.’ Just this morning mi Mama told me that I am now part of the family and a new hermanita to Caro, Veronica, Lisseth, David, and Raquel. I truly feel like these people are my family, and they have taught me so much about love and generosity that I can’t even begin to express it. When I went to hug Veronica goodbye, she held me so tightly that I lost the little control I had on my emotions, and tears streamed down my cheeks. When she let go, I turned to be pulled into the arms of Jose, and he looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t cry Kathryn. Pease don’t cry. We will see you again. Please don’t cry.” Next, I fell into the arms of mi Mama, and through her tears she told me, “Kathryn, daughter, you know that we always love you and you are always welcome in our home. Please give greetings to your family for us.” She then handed me off to my hermanita Raquel and she hugged me and whispered “adios.” Then, even though I didn’t know them well, the other moms came up and hugged and kissed me goodbye. They told me it was great to meet me and to have a safe trip home. I walked to the back of the bus and had to say goodbye to one of my best friends in the world. He held me and tried to comfort me, and when he let go, he gave me a smile that reassured me that it would be ok. I stepped off the bus and into the arms of our guide. She told me something and I thought about it and smiled as my new family drove away in the bus. She had told me, “Look at all of those people. You mean so much to all of them and they truly love you. You know that when you come back, all of those people will be waiting to welcome you home.” I may be back in the United States, but the people of El Salvador are forever with me in my heart.

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Final thoughts by Rain Felkl

I don’t even know where to begin or if I even have the words to describe these new feelings of such gratitude and love for the families and community of El Espino. They so welcomingly took my roommate and me into their homes. They have made us feel like nothing less than one of their own daughters. I think sometimes people in America look at housing others as a burden and that you overstay your welcome so easily, but not here. Our new family has welcomed us with open arms, and everyday not only tells but shows us how much they love and care for us, and that we are very much now a part of the family.

Sometimes in the beginning I found it hard to be myself, because back home I communicate and show my feelings towards people with only or mostly words viagra 50 mg kaufen. Here I could not do that; no one understood me with the language barrier. But I soon came to realize it’s not about the words, and that it actually is about the action of showing your feelings toward others. Then there really is no barrier at all.

I now have a new perspective of love for a country. Having a love for a country I think is more about the people and community of the country. That is what I want my overall experiences in a new country to be about, not about the fun activities or luxuries of the country. El Espino will always have a place in my heart.

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Final thoughts by Kendra Wildenberg

I cannot believe I’m flying back to Colorado right now. Back to my reality. Back to my life, my apartment, my friends. Back to a place I have called home for so long. So how can it be that I feel as if I am leaving all of that behind? El Salvador has not just opened my eyes but captured my heart in a way that my home in the US never has and never will.

Its funny hearing other people in our group talk about how El Espino has filled a void in their heart because throughout this whole trip it has slowly mended mine as well. There was something missing, something off; a thirst I have felt for so long that I could not quench. This place was my oasis.

In the United States I’m realizing that although we have so much opportunity, life is dry. Void of instant love and acceptance, of gratitude, of true joy, passion, strength and dedication. I cannot thank my new family and the community of El Espino enough for leading by example and gently showing me the ways in which I could improve not only my life but the lives of those around me.

I can’t wait to see the person I am and become, back in Colorado, with these new perspectives. I hope the spark that has been lit manifests itself into a fire that burns stronger with each day and each thought.

This trip stumbled upon me and fell into place in the most mysterious way, and I thank God for intervening in my life at the time I needed it the most, and bringing me to an unexpected place with unexpected people. He broke me with this trip, only to take the shattered pieces and put them back together to design something greater. Brokenness is a blessing, because it gives you the chance to start from scratch.

<span style="font-family: Calibri online casino Regular;”>I have learned to see emotion as a strength, not a weakness. Feeling is a good thing, a online casino great thing in fact, something that we tend to water down in the US as it is more acceptable to be strong, perfect and always happy. Those moments I feel vulnerable, touched, breakable, are the moments that end up having the most substance and the greatest impact.

Love is the most powerful emotion, and my family in El Espino lives that message each day. Why waste time knowing the depths of a person before love can be shown? They loved me and accepted me without knowing anything about me; treated me as a daughter, sister, grand-daughter, with no knowledge of my past, my mistakes or my views.

Love does not need a reason to be given or shared. It does not require a checklist to be felt. It does not have a minimum time to which it is deserved. And it sure doesn’t have a limit. With love family grows and your world expands to a beautiful place into which nothing else can get you. I love El Espino, I love the people, I love my family, I love my travel team, and I love the unknown of what great things are to come from this trip. With as much heart as I have, I thank you.

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Final Reflection by Kailyn Miller

Originally this reflection was going to be different. I began summarizing my experiences here and basically trying to explain everything that I have felt emotionally in words that the majority of our society can relate to. A task like that is not possible. There is absolutely no way that I can summarize this experience and what has happened. No matter what I say, I cannot make any of you really feel any of these emotions to the depth that they were actually experienced. However, hopefully what I do say reaches some of you with some depth.

As a group, we had a reflection today and were asked what three things we learned or could take away from this trip. Personally, I felt the most obvious of the three that I felt everyone in the group could relate to was how important family is here. Not only is family the number one priority to the individuals in the community we visited, it is number one, requiring all of your effort, all of the time. It is never an obligation. No matter what is going on in the lives of the people, their family gets 100%. My family here in this community was shocked when I told them how often I see my family in the states. The culture is just so different here. On top of just being there and sharing love with each other, they help each other all of the time, no questions asked. It is the rawest, purist, most direct love that exists. I am not saying that we are not capable or that this doesn’t happen in America. I am just saying that we fall-myself included. We make our own lives priority. Sure, if something happened and our families needed us, we would drop everything for them. What about when they don’t need us? What about when everything is perfectly fine? What about when they push us away? My family is very large, and we have had our fair share of fights. Why? What is the purpose? You have one family. No, you don’t get to pick them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to love them with everything you have.

The second thing that I’ve taken away from this trip that hit me much more abruptly is the fact that love doesn’t have to take time. As a culture, or maybe just who I am personally, it takes me a very long time to love. I try to quickly appreciate people for who they are, but it takes me a very long time to love and really trust them. Honestly, things happen in everyone’s past that build these walls and boundaries. That being said, I have learned from this trip that love does not take time at all. Getting to really know someone takes time, but why does it take so long to love? Love is the most beautiful gift that we are capable of as humans. Why don’t we take every chance we have to use and share it? My grandmother here expressed her love to be immediately. Every time she greeted me, it was with, “hello my precious love”. I also lost count of how many times she blessed me and asked God’s angels to watch over me. This didn’t take time. She wanted God to protect me immediately because she loved me. There is no reason why something like that has to take so long to develop.

The third thing that I took away from this trip was that acceptance can be immediate. In our culture, the majority of us think that it is necessary to learn about a person’s character before we can accept them. We also create a food chain of people who are accepted or kicked to the curb. There is no reason for something so sick. As people, do we think that we can accurately judge who is a good person and who isn’t? Why do so many of us live with an “I’m better than you” mindset? We cannot accurately judge other humans. We do not know other people’s real motives or intentions, and there is no reason why any one human should think they are better than the next. Accepting people opens the door to appreciate and learn from them. It presents an opportunity for respect. Here in El Salvador, even though Americans do not have the best reputation, I was accepted immediately.

I took away much more from this trip than I have explained to you so far. I cannot even begin to explain to you the experiences that led to this, as well as everything else that I am feeling. All that I know is that this trip has been beautiful. I got way more from these people than I gave to them. Sure, El Salvador is dangerous. Who cares? The people that I have been in contact with have some of the kindest most beautiful hearts, and even though many of them lack formal education, they have wisdom that I can only pray to have. They have helped me fill so many holes that life has created. I believe that I have grown more spiritually in the last week than I have in the last year. I know that God’s love is present in my life all of the time, but it is so direct here. On top of that, I look up to my friends and family here. They are so dedicated and they work so hard. We are spoiled in America. We believe that we are entitled to so many things. I wish that I could put so many people in the situations here just so that they can develop appreciation for something as simple as a flushing toilet. I wish that so many of the children that I work with could recognize a love like this as a possibility in their life.

Today I said goodbye to my friends and family. I did not cry, because I knew that I would be coming back. I will come back for selfish reasons, because they give me so much more than I will ever be capable of giving them. At our reflection tonight, we spread the light of candles to symbolize how when you help someone, your light does not get any dimmer. This was when it really hit me that the families here have helped me and shown me so much more than I could ever explain. They have touched my heart, and like many people from my hometown in Illinois and Colorado, they will hold a place in my heart forever. I could talk for days about what I did here and the experiences I have had, but what is really important is how overflowing the love is in this country. What is really important is the fact that I have learned what I need to succeed and grow spiritually from the experiences of one week. What is really important, is that even though we come from different cultures and have different personalities, we are all capable of treating people like we are breakable, like we are souls, and like we can all share love.

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Another reflection by Kathryn

The inexplicable love and tenderness of the Salvadoran people has changed my entire life. Even though most people who read this will not understand why these people mean so much to me, I can honestly tell them that for me, these people are the missing half of me; they are the fire blazing in my heart, full of pure and untainted love.

Like many delegates, I came to El Salvador the first time thinking that the Salvadoran people were missing something that I could help them fix, but in reality, I was the one who was missing something. I was the one who needed to be helped. After living among these people, I have learned more about true unconditional love and family than I could have ever taught the Salvadoran people. I have opened my heart up to receive and accept the love of others; and I learned not to judge a person by their appearance, but by their heart and not to judge a country by its poverty, but by its people.

I know that my heart will always be half in America and half in El Salvador. I have struggled to accept the immense amount of love they have bestowed upon me and with why I was given this incredible opportunity. I struggle every day to find a way to give back to the community that has given me much more than I could ever give them. Being back among these people makes me realize that I have the chance to help them. I can do something, and even if in the big picture it is insignificant, it is something.

And most of all, today I realized something: I have so many people who understand and support me that I will never be alone on this journey… I mean how can you be alone when you have 27 brothers and sister walking by your side?

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Day 5 Reflection by Kathryn McConnell

The inexplicable love and tenderness of the Salvadoran people has changed my entire life. Even though most people who read this will not understand why these people mean so much to me, I can honestly tell them that for me, these people are the missing half of me; they are the fire blazing in my heart, full of pure and untainted love. Like many delegates, I came to El Salvador the first time thinking that the Salvadoran people were missing something that I could help them fix, but in reality, I was the one who was missing something. I was the one who needed to be helped. After living among these people, I have learned more about true unconditional love and family, than I could have ever taught the Salvadoran people. I have opened my heart up to receive and accept the love of others; and I learned not to judge a person by their appearance, but by their heart and not to judge a country by its poverty, but by its people. I know that my heart will always be half in America and half in El Salvador. I have struggled to accept the immense amount of love they have bestowed upon me and with why I was given this incredible opportunity. I struggle every day to find a way to give back to the community that has given me much more than I could ever give them. Being back among these people makes me realize that I have the chance to help them. I can do something, and even if in the big picture it is insignificant, it is something. And most of all, today I realized something: I have so many people who understand and support me that I will never be alone on this journey… I mean how can you be alone when you have 27 brothers and sister walking by your side?

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