This trip is providing fruitful experiences, which I hope will benefit people other than myself. It’s a whole new world here in El Salvador, and the lives of people here are greatly affected by violence that I have had the luxury of not knowing.

Yesterday we went to see the children at the school in El Espino, and it is like night and day in terms of the school back in Grand Junction. The first thing we heard was the children gleefully yelling, “gringos, gringos!” at the gates, which was very endearing. We pulled up and brought our annoyingly heavy bags—filled with school supplies and donated books—into one of the school buildings. We unloaded everything in a storage room by the principal’s office, where I saw the same English books that I used when I was first learning here in America. Other than that, however, it was clear that the work the FCE is doing is benefiting the school, and therefore the community. The books we brought added to the library the FCE is helping to build in the community.

Then the students and teachers welcomed us and even allowed us to participate in their assembly by letting us present the books that we brought. After that, the children practically attacked us with their love, and even though most of the time I had no clue what they were saying, it was a beautiful experience and I could see their equally beautiful souls. We took pictures and exchanged many, many hugs. They were the most accepting and wholesome people, let alone children, I have ever met. There was this little girl with flowers in her hair who was totally mesmerized by my camera, so I let her take a few pictures. It was extra cute because the little girl had a hard time pressing the button to get the picture taken.

We then spent the rest of the morning giving each child two pencils, which is a really thoughtful gesture the FCE makes, because sometimes those two pencils are all these kids will get to use for the next school year. Anna told us before we came that there are times when the students can’t do their homework because they don’t have the resources, like writing utensils, that they need to do their homework.

While we were parading around with the smaller children who adorably attached themselves to our sides, the high school students were taking a four-hour math exam. Every time we went to get more pencils, we had to walk through where they were taking their test. They were in the old auditorium, which was kind of like a courtyard with a tin roof. Besides us going back and forth, commotion also came from the classrooms, which don’t have windows, only bars. I don’t say that to compare the school to a prison but to highlight another difference between schools in the U.S. and El Salvador.

We ate lunch in the school’s computer room, because it’s the only room with real windows and air-conditioning, so naturally it was our favorite. While eating lunch, we had a meaningful reflection about the situation that people here are living in, and about the gangs’ tyranny. For example, it’s really hard for students to get into the morning classes (as opposed to the afternoon schedule). Anna compared it to Black Friday in the way the moms line up at 3:00 in the morning to try to get their child into the morning shift. The reason they are so worried about this is that afternoon kids get out at 5:00 and the gangs are out. So getting to and from school can already be really dangerous because the school is the dividing line between the two gangs and because of that a lot of parents won’t enroll their child if they get the afternoon shift.

After lunch, we went out and attended the afternoon assembly, then we distributed the rest of the supplies. The afternoon was pretty much a repeat of the morning, except that there was a soccer game for the high school students and a banner art project for the younger children. Evelyn and Moneé played soccer with everyone. Needless to say by the end of the day we were exhausted. So we headed home and ate tamales for dinner. And just so the world knows, my host mom, Jamie, is like the best cook in the world. After dinner we played a game called Spot It that Andrea brought and Crazy 8’s. We laughed late into the night.

This morning we had to wake up early to head to San Salvador and I thought I was going to die, because we really don’t get coffee. Then we set out to meet Fernando Llort, the iconic painter who lives in San Salvador. Growing up, his dad wouldn’t buy him art supplies so he made abstract art from materials he found on the street. Another artist told him that he had potential and was very talented but that he needed to find himself. So he left home, and while he was gone, he came across a little boy on the street who was rubbing a seed on the ground. When Fernando asked to see it and the little boy showed him, he saw a landscape in the seed.

I thought that story was beautiful. Fernando then told us about how he began to teach art and how the workshops became an industry and provided so many jobs to people.

After we visited his beautiful workshop and giftshop, we headed to the university to hear about the Jesuit martyrs. Then we headed to CIS (Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad) to become more informed about all the opportunities that we have to get involved here and gain a better understanding of the foundation Anna had built.

A short while later, we went to the place where Oscar Romero (the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador) was killed, and then to his home. I think that gave us a deeper understanding of what living simply means. I think that his loving education and how he was an advocate for the people is what makes the people admire him as much as they do.

After seeing Romero’s home and hearing about him I think that the term living simply has changed for me. It’s no longer a concept used to label the minimal amount of material things, but a term that defines how you appreciate what you have and who you have to share it with.

My Salvadoran family also has shown me this in their own way. The mother, Jamie, hardly talks but she labors to get us the best food she can and is very generous. Abelardo, one of the FCE’s high school scholarship students, is very funny and he loves his animals. The family has 21 animals, not counting the chickens! My favorite are the geese. His little sister Mayerli is quiet like her mother and runs around their house getting things and helping her mother.

Anyway, then we attended church at Romero’s chapel, and it was in Spanish so I can’t tell you what the priest said, but it sounded pretty. Then we meet a gypsy from Germany who knew three languages. I think this has shown me the importance of education and how necessary it is to be able to speak more than one language.

All in all, this trip has been really eye opening; there is so much out in the world and I have been lucky to live in a place like the United States, where we are not oppressed. People in our country joke about the presidential elections, they choose not to do their homework, they take advantage of the life they live. They have opportunities that are ignored, but they think it’s fine because they have the freedom to do what they want. But on the other side of the world, people are dying in the hope that their children might have that chance. This experience has humbled me so much, and now when I think of America, I think about all the opportunities that are being wasted because people don’t know what truly being oppressed feels like.