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…