After arriving in the capital late last night, today we got our first glimpse of El Salvador in the daylight on the road to El Espino. The team crammed all of our luggage into the back of the van, piled in and observed the scenery in anticipation of what was to come. With the Spanish language dominating every street sign, the brightly colored graffiti covering the walls, and the verdant greens of the grass and trees, it was evident we were in a place very different from Grand Junction. I eagerly watched the locals walk through the twisted pathways on the sides of the streets. Some spots along the road were piled with trash and the images of Salvadorans meandering through it together struck me.

Once in El Espino, we passed an armed soldier as we drove through the gates to the community building. There, I was honored to meet the hardworking students and families of the scholarship program. I immediately felt warmth and acceptance in their presence, and was grateful to be in this unique environment that allows me to closely witness this culture. After learning more about the community and the country from the students, we shared a delicious feast with rice, potatoes, beef, and tortillas, complete with two vegetarian-friendly meals made especially for Anna and me. After the meal, I was nervous to reach out to the Salvadorans and make them to listen to my gringa Spanish, but I forced myself out of my comfort zone with the desire to learn more about them and connect with them. I was able to get to know several students in the program and I am extremely impressed. They were energetic, hardworking, patient, and extremely grateful. One of my fondest memories of the day was playing limbo with some of my fellow ASB team and many Salvadoran students. Enthusiasm was high as we cheered each other on and laughed as the bar dropped too low and some fell to the ground. It was so relaxing and awesome to be able to connect with these people that I have heard so much about.

The biggest surprise of the day was the safety and comfort I felt within the gates of the community building. I could go up to any person of any age and they welcomed me completely. I loved announcing “Tengo que hacer pipi” (“I have to pee”), which happened a lot, because I’m making sure to stay hydrated. (You’re welcome, mom!) Just before we left, I was able to give out packs of school supplies to some of the scholarship students I had gotten to know through the course of the day. I was truly honored to present them with this small gift after speaking with them and hearing them share a bit of who they are with me. I can’t even imagine how much love I’ll feel for them by the end of the week after spending even more time with them.

Tonight, I am filled with gratitude. It is an honor to be participating in this program. I am a privileged person and I want to do something positive with that privilege. Coming here and participating in this program gives me a taste of how I might be able to do that. I am so grateful for my time here. I have so much to learn from the beautiful souls surrounding me throughout this experience. After today, I’ve realized that I have no idea where this journey will take me, but I am filled with gratitude to be on it.