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My name is Natalia (Yaya) Miller-Forrest and I am 14 years old. I am part of the Immaculate Heart of Mary confirmation class. I participated in the Alternative Spring Break trip as my retreat requirement for my first year of confirmation preparation. For the ASB trip, we traveled to El Salvador and visited a little community named El Espino.
I had a couple of favorite parts of this trip; one being the food. If you know me at all, you know that I love to eat and I eat all day every day. I liked all of the different types of food and how it is a different culture from Colorado. My favorite food we ate were the pupusas, even though by the end of the trip I was getting tired of them. Another one of my favorite parts of the trip was meeting all of the new people; especially Evelyn, our guide, Jimmy, our driver, and my host family: Abelardo, Mayerli and Jaimie. I enjoyed all of the family time we spent with our host families. For our house, BJ and Evelyn came over because they lived right next to us, basically on the same lot. While they were there, we played a lot of cards and we hung out in the hammocks that were hanging up and we talked.
Some of my biggest challenges during this retreat were not having my own bed, space, plumbing or being able to use a faucet or refrigerator if I needed to. At home, I have my own bed and I have my own room, but in El Salvador, I had to share a bed with my sister Grace and Andrea, one of our chaperones (while we were staying with our host families). Although we had our own beds at the guest house, I still did not enjoy having to share my space, especially since it was already hot as Hades when we were there. Another thing I did not enjoy was not having running water. In the United States, we can just turn on the faucet and wash our hands or go to the refrigerator and get a drink of water, but you couldn’t do that in El Espino. Instead, you had to use water out of a big tub outside for washing your hands and you got the clean drinking water in these big tubs that we brought with us.
During this trip, I saw God’s love the most when we were at the school. All of the children were so kind to one another and they were so happy when they got the small present we gave them, which was two pencils. Also, it didn’t matter what you had or how old you were or what you looked like, they all were treated with kindness and love by one another. Also, I saw God’s love when we were welcomed into the community like we were their own right from when we got there. I really enjoyed how kind and selfless everyone there was and how willing to give up what little they had for someone that they loved.
Overall, I really had what I think was an amazing experience. It showed me that I could live with the simplest of things and I will still be happy. Before this trip, I always thought that in order to be happy, you have to be successful, have a family, be well off, have a good job among other things but this experience has really opened my eyes and showed me that all I need to be happy is my family and maybe a little bit of food, since I love to eat.Read more →
Today we went to Santiago Texacuangos to visit the coffee cooperative, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know my way up from down here. But the city, the city is so beautiful I can’t help but watch it go by, a mish-mash of homes and restaurants and markets. From the mountain it looked like a huge splatter of red brick and white in a valley of green hills. Of course, up close the view was a little dirtier than that. In fact, that is the exact way I would describe El Salvador: a beautiful mess. A living, breathing city of pupusas, coffee, and mass confusion.
So we finally make it up to the coffee cooperative, and honestly, just sitting around the massive quantities of industrial bagged coffee made me sick; I mean coffee is great, but wow, I finally understood what Anna meant when she said you will smell like coffee and sweat. We spoke with Salomon and he showed us the process of how they make their coffee, which is nothing short of incredible. They separate out the coffee beans by hand so that it is more pure than anywhere else you could buy from in America!
I’ll be frank, I wasn’t able to finish the hike that we went on to our little piece of “Territorio de Colorado”, but I made it as far as the beginning of the territory and was able to plant a coffee tree. What an honor for me, to be supporting and helping this community in any way I can, even if it is as small as planting a coffee tree. When we came back from our lunch with Salomon we returned to the warehouse and cooperative administrative office where we met the president of the cooperative, a woman who was more vibrant than I’m sure I am in one whole year. Her name was Alicia and she explained how important what we are doing here is; she explained that our lives in America and El Salvador and even the world are dependent on each other.
We departed from the cooperative and made our way back down the mountain into the city where we visited the tomb of Mons. Oscar A. Romero. I’ve always been fascinated by the way people build cathedrals in large cities; they seem to become more grand everywhere I go. However, La Metropolitana tops everything that I’ve seen in my life so far. So detailed and extravagant I could hardly believe that where I was at was a real place. The market was the same, exactly how I guess you would picture it, or how you have seen it in movies: color, life, people, and bartering whispers between those who can’t speak the same language. Everywhere in the market you hear, “bienvenidos, pasen adelante,” which is code for “come in, I’m going to sell you something.” I was the epitome of their dreams though, maybe. I was willing to buy, and why wouldn’t I? It was all so beautiful that I was lucky to have left that place with only 3 bags in hand!
One thing I have noticed about the way the Salvadorans act towards each other is it’s like a family. I’ve known Anna Maria, our driver, and our families for barely a week and we act like we have known each other our whole lives. I call the youngest boy in my host family “mi sobrino”, or “my nephew”. I barely am able to act that close with my neighbors in my dormitory. I want to be more like this family though. Much like the city, they are a living unit of people; a family that would put their lives on the line for me, and what’s more, I would for them.
Without this feeling that I have with my family here in El Espino, I wouldn’t be able to have the hope to come back to America and continue on with my life. How can I continue on the same life after what I’ve seen here? Here, this is the first time I’ve thought about not acting for my future. How could I go back to such a frivolous act when I see more important and pressing matters here? Who am I to have chosen a career like that without needing to mind hearing about repercussions?
I want to go back to America with the hope that the people in El Espino have. I want to be able to be open to everyone around me, and most importantly, I want to build relationships with people like the ones that I have with my family here. I want to uphold the values of trust and love that emanate from this community, and show the people back home that I can make a difference in people’s lives, no matter how big or how small. The work that is done to support this community is priceless in ways that money could never begin to replace; a bond of brotherhood that is only matched by the hospitality of the residents and students that we live with.
Tomorrow we continue our journey, but I understand now that I will always be here no matter what the situation is in my spirit, in my mind, and in my heart.