Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fundraising Success

A guest blog post from the team at WePay, an AFLV Associate Member.

Fundraising can be a difficult animal to tame. Unless you have pockets filled with gold and/or an extremely generous conscience, chances are you probably rarely donate to fundraising causes. And nobody blames you- anytime you're trying to separate people from their hard-earned money you are faced with an uphill battle, but here are a few suggestions that I found helpful in fundraising for my fraternity:

1. Start a committee
- One of the reasons fundraising efforts flop is a lack of perseverance and accountability. As I said, fundraising is tough, so after people get turned down a few times, they often lose interest and eventually stop making the effort. By creating a committee of members you trust, you have a group that is motivated to help, and more importantly, made answerable for the progress of your fundraising campaign. A short forewarning- the committee is only as effective as the members who make it up, so choose wisely (you may even want to head up the committee if necessary).

2. Make it into an event
- If you can offer something in return for donations, you’re much more likely to score. An easy way to do this is to invite all the donors over for a campaign dinner; it doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, just something more appealing than a blatant solicitation for a check. Its also a good way to prove to would-be donors that your house is taking its fundraising efforts seriously. My house is a great example. We always run a fundraising campaign around our National Fraternity's anniversary. My sophomore year we actually invited alumni to the house for a "Founders' Day Dinner." Everyone was excited to come back to the house, see what progress/changes had taken place, and reconnect with other alumni. We reaped the benefits of such an event, as we hit it out of the park with donations. The very next year we got caught up with our social calendar and hurried to send out a pamphlet highlighting our house's accomplishments while also soliciting donations. While the pamphlet might have looked nice, let's just say things didn’t go so well that go-round.

3. Send invites early- This should be a no-brainer, but it is often forgotten (as in my chapter’s case). Not only does this ensure your potential donors know about the event early, but it also gives you a chance to showcase the chapter by explaining the current state of the house and why it needs donations. In our case we focused on a few alumni who recently landed prestigious jobs and the GPAs of some of our most academically-inclined members. As difficult as it is to collect donations, you want to give your donors as much time as possible to plan accordingly.

4. Reach out to your young alumni and chapter advisory board
- If you had to choose between donating to a stranger who shows up at your door and one of your friends, you’d probably take your friend without question. The same goes for your donors; if you the alumni personally knows somebody in the house, they are more inclined to donate, and not only that, they probably have some other alumni friends who they’ll tell about the fundraising effort. Recent alumni and those who are involved on your chapter advisory board are a great start, as they can utilize their own personal networks to help the chapter reach its fundraising goals.

Fundraising is unquestionably frustrating, but if you plan ahead and take the right approach, you’re much more likely to walk away with fruit to show for your labor. Make it fun and worthwhile for your alumni and make sure your chapter is strategic in its efforts and you’ll be on your way to running a successful fundraising campaign.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Eyes Opened

So please bear with me world as I have never been one to blog or know how to so I am going to simply reflect over this amazing experience.

This one trip has provided a multitude of different experiences I never could have imagined. There was no way that I could have ever guessed what was bound to happen when you coupled 20 fraternity and sorority college students with a war torn country in need of all the help it can get. From the beginning most could assume that this trip would definitely be a hit or complete miss when it came down to how successful a program can be. But I suppose we all should have known better when every participant had agreed to give their time of from school up in order to go to a country that is struggling in every way after an unimaginable civil war that almost seems to continue. Please forgive me for not being able to remember who it was that said it, but the message is what is important. “ There is nothing more powerfull than the will and strength found in a volunteer.” This could not have been proven more correct than in these short days we spent together volunteering our time, energy, health, blood, sweat, tears and from the end looking back, our hearts. Many of these people whom I have had the privilege of working along with, I also have the privilege of bonding and connecting through the work we did with eachother. But what I feel is more important than being able to come together with other motivated greeks is the impact that this small group of individuals can make in only five days of work. Yes there are those that would disagree, but those are the people who do not understand. In five days, the foundation was set for a family who is living under a piece of tin metal and surrounded by blankets and sheets, In those same five days, the foundation was also set for a future daycare that will see hundreds upon hundreds of children from one community and give them a safe haven from the cruel world constantly pressuring them to join the gang life here that misleads the countries youth. And lastly in these last days the children who do not have parents to look after them were given a temporary family of ‘gringos’ who they could not let go by the end of every single day. Soon these children will be continuing their education while looking for a better life and a family of eight will no longer live worrying about the eight month old daughter will die from the heat and unforgivable sun.

Yes the effect of a volunteer is truly unstoppable when put into action. But again, this was not what I could have imagined when I came. When I first applied for this program I was beyond excited because it all seemed to fit so perfectly. It was a volunteer project in Central America involving children and building structures the communities need. I am currently studying to become a high school spanish teacher who already has over ten years experience in various manual labor jobs. It screamed my name louder than the fireworks of New Years. I consider this all the biggest among blessings I have ever come across in my life and I noted it right away. For me, I was unable to express how great I felt because I was able to transfer all my skill sets to this one project from the manual labor to connecting the language barrier between the locals and the volunteers. It was extremely personal being able to communicate with locals and being able to truly understand the words of praise and thankfulness that they tried so hard to express. And I could not be more proud to help everyone just by doing what my family had raised me to do, understand two languages and work to my full potential. For a short time I had come up with a quote that I have always done my best to live by for a long time now. “Blessings are not the things that God gives us, but the things God gives us to share with others.” This project opened my eyes to see that I am not only willing to break my back for my family, but for complete strangers as well. I love my family and of this there is know doubt, but I have never had more satisfaction than I did this one week working to better the lives of people whom I will most likely never see again.

This actually leads me to my next point and a very important lesson I had already known, but finally also opened my eyes too. During the middle of this week I had to stay home with the sick group. I myself was not sick but for an overly active ambition I hurt my health and was forced to stay. After two days of extreme work in a new enviroment my body had run out of gas and this was further worsened by my lack of water. But because I wanted so much to keep helping I pushed through the early symptoms of dehydration to work a half day at the most difficult work site available. To give a small description, the task at the site was to deepen trenches that were filled with rocks, boulders and literally half concrete half clay soil all on the side of a large hill with absolutely no shade cover. I chose to continue to this site because I felt I could help out so much and advance the project because of my background. Unfortunately because I ignored what my body was telling me, within the first hour of climbing down the large hill to retrieve drinkable water for the family that we were helping I had developed a fever. With three hours left at the site I further ignored my body, refused to sit down and kept working in the unrellenting sun. To keep the story short, our time at the site was done and I had a full fever with the biggest headache ever. Fortunately as soon as we met up with the other group I did ask for medicine at the right time and my health slowly but steadily began to get better. But because I did not listen to my body the night before/morning of and chose to work, I was now set up to miss the next full day of work instead of just a half day. The moral of this story is that even the most ambitious motivated volunteers need to be smart and take care of their body because if you are not at your best health you will not be able to give your best help, or worse miss a whole day of it.

My final note for the night is to reflect to what my eyes were most opened to, and that was the development of myself. When I came I had a few assumptions of what I was going to be doing. The biggest of which I guessed I would be helping translate for those who did not know the language. Never could I possibly imagined that this one issue would be what helped me make my biggest personal break through. To give some background, even when I applied I infromed the selection group that I can be a good leader but am a better “second in command” you could say. I have always felt more comfortable letting others take the lead with things and focusing on being their best resource to help accomplish anything and everything. If need I would always be ready and able to step up and lead any group, but I always stepped back. This trip and being the most fluent spanish speaker forced me to step up in many different ways, yes mostly just translating a few sentences here and there. But soon those sentences were the instructions on what to do at each job sight, explaining to children what they are to do for activities and relaying information back and forth for drivers, leaders and project coordinators. Today however was where I made my breakthrough. I not only spent the whole day translating anything and everything for my fellow workers but also, a doctor, a nun, a dance group and a music group. Being able to do these things wasn’t where I grew. I grew when I finally accepted my success in what I do and stepped up to translate for the our group (and another group of tourists who were at the historical site we were fortunate enough to visit today). For me it was more than just converting the words others could not understand, it was becoming the leader of the group (even if by default). It is truly a feeling I cannot express in these few words but the short version of it all is that I have never felt more useful to so many people and it all built up from the second day at the orphanage to standing in front of groups of people being the one person who could help give meaning to what they were experiencing.

I really do wish this could have been written better but the fact is this experience is better told in person, but will always be best experienced. The other fact is that Tricia is waiting impatiently for my to stop typing so we can all go to bed and be up before 5am so we can catch our flights. (Luckily for me I usually have to be up by that time so I will be fine, but since I would like to come back to this opportunity next year I will let her go to bed because I need she helps pick who gets selected). And if you are still reading this thank you. You like those who I have experienced this opportunity made this opportunity the unique life changing experience that it was, because you are the ones that I will now work to reach out to in order to help better the world. Again my ambition shows, but if you think that is crazy, but wait and see what myself and this group of individuals accomplishes when we return. I will end this with a quote I will never forget.

“Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgivable.” – Johnnettta P. Cole

Jesus Chavez is a Junior at Arizona State University and a member of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity Inc.

Final thoughts...

Friday January 7th, our last full day in El Salvador. Although it is extremely sad to think that tomorrow all of us will return to the United States and begin once again our normal separate lives, I think it is safe to say that all of us are leaving here forever changed in a very positive way. It is hard to even begin putting this experience into words. All words seem inadequate. I have had an amazing experience here in El Salvador with 19 other wonderful people.

After finding out I was accepted to participate in this experience I was nervous for it. Although I had been on a mission trip to Central America before, I had never been thrown into a situation in a different country with people I had never met. I am a shy and reserved person and being around 19 active greek leaders seemed intimidating. At first, it was hard for me to find my place amongst the group, but I soon began to realize that although we come from diverse backgrounds and involvements within our greek communities, we all came on this trip for a single purpose. We all applied for this trip with the passion to want to work as hard as we possibly could to help, to put a smile on someone’s face and to open our hearts to a world and a people unfamilar to ourselves. I believe our group strongly bonded over this shared passion and from the beginning of the week it already seemed as though we had known each other for more than just a day or two. I have learned so much from the people I have shared this experience with and I truly hope I can take what I have learned and bring it back to my own chapter.

The last two days I have unfortunately not felt my best. Initially I tried to hide my sickness from Lynette, I wanted to be able to help with the construction in Ilabasco one last time. Of course I was busted by Lynette within an hour after our arrival. I was forced to spend my day inside the family’s home and napping in Don Israel’s hammock. Even though I initially was upset about not being able to work it turned into such a blessing. I had the chance to color with many of the children, learn a lot about the life of the family (for example, I learned that they catch rattlesnakes down where we fetch water, eat them, and then hang the skin and bones in their house to dry so it can be used in things such as tea), and get the adequate down time I knew that I needed to feel better. My favorite part of the day occured when I was helping the children color one of the neighboring mothers asked if she could color also. It shocked me that she was 22 and had never colored before. I helped her pick her page and colors to use, and then I watched her color mulitple different animals. She was in the house coloring for at least two hours at the little table with the children. The smile on her face was priceless. Although I wasn’t able to do a lot that day, I was still apart of something. I made a difference in this women’s life, not matter how small it was.

Today I decided to go spend my last day with the children at Las Delicias. I played dominos with a little boy, put together several puzzles, got hit multiple times by a plastic ball while I was the pitcher in baseball, earned the nickname Lady Gaga from the older group of boys, danced to the electric slide and the YMCA, and jump roped with all of the adorable little girls. Throughout the course of the day I began to be attached to a 14 year old girl named Iris. She would hold my hand and lead me to whatever activity she wanted to do next. Although our conversations never got much past “what’s your favorite color?” I believe my bond with her grew much deeper than something language could have provided ( although it probably would have helped a little bit ). At the end of the day she gave me a drawing that she had made, it was a picture of two heart shaped people holding hands, and above it were our names and the word love (in english). Additionally, when I was in the van ready to leave for the day she ran up to my window, I opened it and she stuck her hand in showing me the smiley face I had drawn on her hand earlier. I put the smiley face that she had drawn on my hand against hers and that is how we said our last goodbye to each other. It was a really touching moment to know how much she cared about me being there and how that even with a significant language barrier we could still somehow understand each other.

To end the day our group traveled to the location of Romero’s death. It was once again a significant learning experience about the history of El Salvador. In addition, we got to drive past the lava flow of the volcanic eruption that occurred in 2004. I have loved all of the additional little adventures we have taken and all the stories we have heard this week. I am definitely leaving this country a more knowledgable person about a multitude of things that I never expected would be apart of my experience.

As this trip is coming to a close I hope I can continue what I learned once I return to home. I cannot say enough thank yous to Tricia and Mark for giving me this opportunity and also to my parents, my aunt Linda, and the many others who supported me in my dream to be able to come here. As quoted on the wall of the old daycare, El Salvador has inspired to keep my view of the world simple by following three simple rules 1. Give love 2. Respect everyone 3. Try to understand people. El Salvador has changed me in so many undescribable ways and I cannot wait to see where this experience takes me in the future.

Ashley Janssen is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Broken Hearts

Thursday. Day 6. The only thing worse than waking up to an air horn is waking up to an air horn when you aren’t feeling the best and when the air horn decides to sound about 20 feet from your head about 7 times. I have already been plotting on how to destroy the dreaded air horn, however when presented with the alternative of “Who let the dogs out” blasting, I had to rethink. I have decided that the song would be better as I have heard my father singing a pleasant version of it oh so long ago. Oh, and did I mention that this happens at 6:30 in the morning?? I think that says a lot, especially for a college student.

Today I went to Las Delicias, and more specifically I had the chance to go work in the local clinic. For your information the clinic is free for the people to go to. We, and by we I mean myself and Christina, a senior from Villanova, were dropped off bright and early with a woman named Morena. Morena is a local that works in the village and helps convey information and check-up on the locals. She was bringing us with to observe as she visited the local pregnant women, or so we thought. At the first home a young girl instantly ran up to me and jumped into my arms. “Oh, this will be a nice relaxing break from digging trenches” I thought, even though I have taken a liking to pick axing.

I was wrong.

Within 15 minutes Morena taught us how to give a child an entire physical examination. Thank God for Christina translating. We were supposed to check for lice, bumps on the head, if the eyes were linear and able to focus, the ears, the nose (for misplaced objects), the mouth, the throat, the stomach and even the genitals. We were even told that sexual abuse was common, so if a child became agitated while inspecting down below we should probably send them to the clinic. Now, for someone who is not in med school this entire set of instructions seemed extremely daunting, especially when Morena informed us that she wanted us to split up and go house to house. It is important to note that I have not practiced spanish in 5 years. So, I felt extremely uncomfortable walking into random houses and using my limited spanish to say “Can I look at your child?” or worse “Can I touch your child?” and even worse “Can I take off your child’s pants to look?” Needless to say and to my delight I was not forced to split up from Christina.

Also important to tell you all now, I am not illiterate. Even though it probably seems like it. I type exactly the thoughts that come into my head and they typically come all at once. Hopefully this helps you to understand.

Now to get more serious, I was also able to see a pregnant woman, 8 days overdue, at the first house. She sat patiently as 5 of us were allowed to touch her stomach to feel where the head was and to listen to the heart of her child. Unfortunately the day did not go as well. At our second to last house a woman had us all sit down in her living room and basically began to tell us her life story. She had twin daughters, 9 years old, living with her and her husband had died 5 years ago. She had blood sugar levels around 340, which for those of you who don’t know is about 3 times higher than what it should be, meaning she was extremely diabetic. She began to sob as she spoke of her son, who was older than the twins, and who had gotten involved in gangs and abandoned them a few years earlier. She has no idea if he is still alive. The worst part about this was the fact that I could not help her at all and more so that I couldn’t even tell her myself that I was sorry and wished I could help. I literally could not do anything for her and that is a terrible feeling.

At the last house on our trip we met a young girl who was about 1 year old. She was slightly anxious to have 5 large gringos (white people) enter her home. I was the only one who was able to get close to her, probably because I was a girl. Even then she sat and allowed me to examine her head but grew uncomfortable and ran away to a woman before I could finish. The eldest woman in the home informed us that she has had a cough and then proceeded to show us a large rash growing on her vagina. As we began to ask questions we found out that this was actually the womans granddaughter and she had been dropped of with them on January 31st. The cough and rash had been there when they started looking after her. Immediately I got sick to my stomach. Not to say that sexual abuse had happened but the thought that it could have happened to this girl. We told them they needed to get her to the clinic and they said they will bring her tomorrow. I can only hope that they do. Another frustrating thing for a “doer” like me are situations in which all you can do is hope.

At lunch we switched it up and went to a church to play with some of the children in the area. This place essentially keeps these kids out of gangs. Another girl from AFLV named Bry (also from Minnesota yesssssssss) and I were able to make bracelets out of yarn with the girls. Later on we had the 13 year old boys following us around. (They were too embarassed to admit they wanted us to be their novias (girlfriends), but they did.) They could not stop giggling and it simply warmed my heart.

I have learned more in these few days than I ever dreamed imaginable, but to summarize…

El Salvador is a place that will break your heart a thousand times, but it is also one of the only things to ever make it feel whole.

Mackenzie Olson is a student at Washington University and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority.

More Questions than Answers

One line that stands out to me in the Introducation of our booklet is “ We hope that you will leave this experience with more questions than answers.” Since I arrived here, I have nothing but questions. Day 1, the cab drove me from the airport to the house I am staying in. I questioned everything I saw from the kids riding in the back of the pick-up truck without getting pulled over to the highway signs to the first dead body I ever seen in my life on a pavement from an accident. Everything was very different to me. After a day, more serious questions came to mind. At the orphanage I questioned why a mother would leave such a precious child with a beautiful smile that I would do anything for? I questioned why half of the population here is living in poverty? Why shelters made up of garbage bags are their homes? Why after years of schooling, this is the first time I have ever heard about the civil war that happned here twenty years ago? Why the government and policemen have no control over the severe gang violence? Why a 51 year-old man who suffered from the civil war continues to work so hard for his family with nothing but hope and faith? I questioned the purpose of Greek Life and why this is the first I have seen all four councils as truly being unified? As we continue our purpose, I wonder if these little girls at the day care center looking back at me will ever have the opportunites I have if not, will their children, their grandchildren, etc? These questions motivate me to work and to learn and do as much as I can here.

This week has been a journey. I have been to all 3 project sites. I dug trenches for the construction of a day care center on Monday. Tuesday, I met the kids in the community and taught them how to dribble a basketball. Wednesday and today, I would say definitely put me in someone elses shoes every time I carried a bucket of water from the bottom of a steep hill to the top at Ilobosco. This is something the children and women have been doing three times a day, because they have no other sources of water. I also dug more trenches for the foundation of their new home. Everytime I leave these places,it hurts because I realized that this is reality for them. Some things that stand out to me about these people are their willingness to work, to work together as a community. For example, at all the sites, neighbors came by to help with the effort. Children stopped by in their bikes, asked what we were doing, left their bikes and picked up a shovel. This amazes me how much people here care about one another.

A couple days a go my facebook status was, “Although I hurt and miss home, I know I am making a difference.” This is exactly how I feel. I am glad to be here, and to be able represent my sorority, school, and region as well as build this bond with Greeks from all over the nation. It’s so rewarding to know that I am able to make an impact in someones life and to meet and see these people smile despite the the situation they are in.

Diana Bui is a student at the University of Georgia and a member of Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc.

What happens next?

It is the evening of the sixth day in El Salvador. From somewhere beyond the walls and padlocks the sounds of music and singing are drifting into the Casa Voluntariada. I can hear the excitement of the party and people yelling happily. It sounds like a different El Salvador than we have been working with during our time here.

A profound thing happens when one blindly embarks on something. You can read articles, surf the Internet, search YouTube, but nothing hits you quite like the brick wall of actually being in that situation. That is what happened to me when I got to El Salvador. The brick wall could literally be one of the 10 foot barricades that surround every building in San Salvador, but luckily we haven't run into any of those yet (nor had to contend with the barbed wire on the top.) However, no amount of research or worldly experience could have prepared me for this.

As we quickly learned, we all come from very different circumstances around the country. I do not pretend to know any one's story, nor them mine, but a healthy awareness of that fact is just the starting point for a group like ours to come together. We have all come here for the week from different experiences and are all experiencing different things. Different emotions. Different highs. Different lows. I would be remiss to say one of my lows has been the sinking feeling of realizing the abundance and wastefulness of my day-to-day life. Working with people who have next to nothing and thrive as best they can is humbling. There are of course highs to negate the lows: the high of working with your hands, speaking to the locals, laughing with the children, learning about a people and a country with incredible spirit and hospitality. There are few feelings like it.
Learning from my fellow AFLV group members and the people of Ilobasco and Las Delicias has had an impact on me that will be different from anyone else's, yet we all see that if we go back to our respective homes and sit idly by as if we had not come to El Salvador, we would be no better than if we had not gone. However, I believe (for myself in particular) that I can go home and share this experience and give back on a local level. Tonight we remembered that El Salvador is not unique in its struggle. This poverty exists in our schools, our neighborhoods, our cities. This service can be amplified back at our homes with our abundant resources and unwavering conviction. We have talked a lot about drops in the bucket, and how this trip is one of those drops, but drops create ripples and it only takes one off those ripples to take off on a new mission and spread further. The more drops in the bucket, the more ripples, the more people on the mission to make our global community better. This week is an incredible experience, but it is about what we do after the trip, once we don't have AFLV organizing a immersion, or Sister Gloria's air horn in the morning.
As Dean Brackley reminded us, it is not about the impact we have on El Salvador, but about the impact El Salvador has on us. How will El Salvador affect us in the coming days, months and years?

Katie Burwell is a senior at The Ohio State University and a member of Chi Omega Fraternity.

“Lend me your shoes so I can walk in your steps...”

Five days in and we are still learning! After we completed our morning service at our three sites (one at Illobosco and two at Las Delicias), we toured the University of Central America where we listened to Dean Brackley, a theology professor, speak about the culture and lifestyle of El Salvador. Two remarks stuck with me. First, a native Salvadorian remarked, “Lend me your shoes so I can walk in your steps” as she expressed her opinions on the need for change. Though we are only here for a week, we truly have picked up a “pair of shoes” and been immersed into the culture of El Salvador.
Each day remains a new adventure where we experience the joy and power of service, acquire a better understanding of a third world country, and share fellowship with our peers and the Salvadorian natives. A few memories that continue to touch my heart remain working side by side with the natives whether we are bending rebar into precise rectangles, using a machete to cut down limbs in the woods, or sharing words of encouragement; there is truly something special about embracing another individual’s culture. It is difficult to describe, but as the cliché goes, “it is the simple things in life that mean the most.” In El Salvador, I feel like the natives appreciate these the most. Granted, the affluence of North America is not present here, and though times are tough, maybe in the end simple is better? The exchange of a smile with a child, or the look of hope on a father’s face as he helps build not just a house but a home for his family is priceless, and the appreciation is undeniable.

Throughout the week as we have compared and contrasted the lifestyles of our two diverse cultures, one aspect continues to intrigue me—t he concept of a strong work ethic. I always used to think I was a hard worker, but when you watch a twelve year old, malnurished boy logging a wheel barrel of plus fifty pounds of dirt/concrete or using a pickax to dig an entire trench single handleling, you start to question if you really know what hard work is… For me, at twelve, I helped with yard work, but only every so often on the weekend, which I am sure I complained about doing. Furthermore, I spent my summers playing sports or capture the flag at night. Once again, you start to wonder when these children get to be kids? Of course, it is great for them to have a strong work ethic, and it is beyond impressive. Yet, one still wishes they could just be kids! Another problem though they do not even have any toys!

The second thought that impacted me were when Professor Brackley shared with us that “You cannot change El Salvador in a week, but El Salvador can change you.” When thinking about these words, I could not agree more. From these expereinces, I believe that I have grown- grown in my awareness of a country in need, grown in my appreciation for another culture, grown in my commitment to serving underprivileged areas not just miles away but in my own community back home. In the end, it is true we did not change El Salvador, but the steps we took in the Salvadorians’ “shoes” has changed us, and the lives of the familes and communities that we helped and provided hope for as we were there.

Julie Knox is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University and a member of Kappa Delta Sorority.

“We who have a voice, must be a voice for the voiceless.”

When you spend time in El Salvador it is impossible to ignore the images and stories about Archbiship Romero. He has been deemed a martyr for the poor people of the country and imortalized with annual celebrations, posters and movies. He believed that those who had a voice and the ability to speak out about injustices in the world should speak out and fight for those who could not be heard.

The quotation above is painted in the dining room of the house, and is visible to every volunteer as they eat their meals, mingle with fellow volutneers, and converse with the workers here. When I came to El Salvador a few days ago and read that quotation I interpretted it meant that El Salvadorans who had a voice should be the voice for El Salvadorans who were voiceless. I was wrong.

Having spent time at various work sites in Ilobosco and Las Delicias, travelling to the orhpanages, and driving around the country, the signs of poverty are everywhere and blarring. Shacks made out of scrap metal, inadequate waste disposal, lack of access to safe drinking water, and malnutrition are prevelant everywhere you look.

The most eye opening part of the day today was listening to Dean Brackley, a professor at the University of Central America, or the UCA, share his insights about El Salvador’s past and future. He shared that among the United Nations reports on country’s health and development around the world El Salvador ranks exactly in the middle. It was upsetting to think that half the world continues to live in conditions that are even more abysmal than this.

On the way back from out visit at the UCA and a day of working at Las Delicias are starting to think about Romero’s quote. I believe the main goal of the trip should be to return home and continue to be a voice for the voiceless. Not only those who do not have a voice here in El Salvador, but those that do not have a voice in America and around the world. This week has given me a greater sense of how lucky and blessed I am, but also a renrewed motivation to speak and fight for those less fortunate.

Courtney Wilhelm is a student at Illinois State University and a member of Alpha Gamma Delta Fraternity.

Happy Kids

After spending the last two days doing construction I decided that spending a day with the children in Las Delicias would be a relaxing break to the mid-week hump…man was I wrong! The minute we arrived and said “hola” to the children, they swarmed us with their little hands. Each picked one of us out and immediately pulled us to the games to pick one out. Clara, decided on playing with the play dough (which was personally my childhood favorite). Like any typical 6 year old, she got bored and moved on to jump rope after 10 minutes. The rest of the day was spent switching from game to game, never taking a break. All of the children amazed me with their energy and how comfortable they were around us. The highlight of the day was when they all got ahold of our cameras. For them, a camera is a rare object and when they get their hands on one they don’t want to give it up. Coming from a culture where a digital camera is the norm, I forget to realize that they really are a luxury.

I also spent a lot of time talking (or attempting to talk) with one of the mothers that was present. She knew that my Spanish speaking was limited and really tried to help me out. While making bracelets with her, she was constanly pointing to objects and telling me what they were. This really helps to show me that the people of El Salvador are greatful for what we are doing and are very friendly people.

In seeing the kids and their happiness I start to wonder why we as Americans need so much to be happy? Even little things that we don’t consider luxuries are luxuries for the families. I know that in going home I will think twice about buying that extra luxury or complaining when I don’t get something. Just knowing how happy the kids are when I gave them a coloring book is enough to make me happy.

Only 2 more days and I’m missing it already. Hi to everyone at home, I miss you and I wish you could all be here to experience this with me!

Jenni Abram is a student at Western Michigan University and a member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sick Day...

Being sick is the worst, not because bring physically ill is an inconveinience but because it prevents me from serving others while I’m here. It was the worst feeling in the world this morning to be told that I had to stay at the house and sleep when all I wanted to do was get down and dirty on the construction sites that I signed up to go to. I felt like I was letting my fellow AFLV and Villanova crews down by being unable to do my part and share in the experience of today. Realistically, this is all just another piece of the puzzle of a service trip. It’s not uncommon that those who participate contract occasional bugs; I was told today by one of the leaders that all of her group on a previous trip were bedridden on the same day with the same flu-like symptoms, which made me feel a little less guilty about sleeping them off today.

When I think about it, that’s all I had the strength to do today. I had two companions who stayed behind with me, making the experience more bearable. I read a book, ate some soup, and slept for about a total of 10 hours. I’ve had more water in the last 24 hours than I’ve had probably in the last month combined and only one caffienated beverage, a true accomplishment for a Diet Coke addict like myself. While this may sound like a walk in the park, for me it was like slowly pulling teeth. I’m the type of girl who has trouble letting myself rest and recuperate- I like to push through illness rather than lie dormant and fully recover. I go to class when I probably should sip on soup and I stay up late finishing my work when I should focus on getting a good night’s sleep. I’m a glutton for punishment, but I realized that that isn’t the best course of action to take. Had I been a trooper and gone to the site today and worked in the hot sun, chances are I would be twice as sick and miserable tomorrow and even less able to help the collective effort of the group. With resting today and taking care of myself, much to my chagrin, I am feeling back up to 95% of my normal self and ready to get back to firing on all cylinders tomorrow.

While I laid in bed today before dinner just waking from sleep, a song by John Legend came on my ipod that struck a chord with me. The lyrics say “We’re just ordinary people; we don’t know which way to go. Cause we’re just ordinary people, maybe we should take it slow.” No matter how many mountains I want to climb, leadership roles I’m elected to or excellent grades I get, it doesn’t change that fact that I’m only human and that every so often I need to slow down before I can run at full speed.

Brittany Barnes is a student at Kent State University and a member of Chi Omega Fraternity.


Cultural experiences come in all different shapes and sizes. What we learn and take from those experiences is what shapes the individual that we become. As far as a goal goes, becoming a global citizen is one of the most selfless goals an individual can have. Growing up in an individualistic society, the United States, it has become clear that collectivism and community is something that we often struggle with. After joining a fraternity, a group of men devoted to achieving a common purpose of becoming both more cultured and more trained for the greater world, it has become clear that vulnerability and the ability to lean on your fellow brother is a skill necessary for success in a chapter and in a global community. It becomes clear that the aches, pains and woes that we encounter are often looked down upon as weak and asking our neighbor for help has lost its meaning.

While I have traveled abroad before, to the jungle in the Dominican Republic, we often learn things about ourselves and community that have never hit us before. On this trip, even after just three days, it has become clear at what it means to be part of something greater than yourself. Working along side children who are swinging pickaxes in flip flops and have a large belly because of malnutrition (kwashikor) is unsettling. As no longer an individual, but rather just a human, how can we allow someone like us, who is us with different circumstances, to live a life like this? When both parties are at work together, the privileged and the underprivileged, the things achievable are unlimited. What this means is that people who do not have much are being compared to people who have lots and why did that dynamic start in the first place? Thinking about the deeper issues is how we get to a solution. There is a story that goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a nasty hurricane and this hurricane knocked all the starfish out of the water. If you were unaware, starfish do not have the ability to survive without water, so an intelligent individual walks to the beach and starts saving the starfish one-by-one, throwing them back into the ocean. He does this all day and the next day. On the third day, another individual walks up to them and tells the hard-working starfish saving individual that there are just merely too many starfish. There is no way that they will be able to save all of the starfish. Flabbergasted by this individual’s doubt, the hard-working individual bends down, picks up a starfish and throws it into the ocean, with the remark, “Well, I just saved that one starfish.”

One a very clea r level, this story shows that every little action that you do makes a change in the life of an individual or a group. However, the third part of the story is the systematic errors that allow the starfish to keep getting blown out of the water. Obviously in this story, stopping hurricanes is not feasible, but for every issue, what does that mean? We look at a family in America:

A young boy is being raised single-handed by his father, but unfortunately, this young boy doesn’t have access to many books or the infinite knowledge of his father, because his father is at work every day of the week, working two full-time jobs to provide for his son. The son has to go to a daycare center, where he misses out on important information from his family. Ten years later, that young boy is taking the SATs and doesn’t do so well, can we blame it on the father’s two full-time jobs when the boy was much younger? Well, why didn’t the father just get a better job, one that would pay for all of their needs without working enough hours a week to damage a family. Well, because he did not have proper education that he could apply to a professional job where he would make that, and in the economy he was living in, it was difficult to find jobs anyway, even if you did have a degree or specialized in a trade. Well, why didn’t he have education? Perhaps his parents were unable to provide and instead of buying books, they were concerned about buying food.

Let us take this simple model and streamline it up all the way back hundreds of years and you have the society that is living here in El Salvador. The major difference is that there are people that don’t live like this, that can help these people, give medicine and make a dire impact on an individual’s life to send them much closer to the amount of things that we, as members of the United States, have access to.

The name of this post, Esperanza, means hope. This is one thing that you can find in the heart of every individual found down here. Shared hope creates a community that people can only dream to live in. What can we, as a community, do to place hope in the hearts of the individuals to make them want to help malnourished and underprivileged communities like this down in El Salvador? Does experiencing the community and being able to walk in their shoes with global service make that change for an individual or is it something else that we are unaware of? Anyone who can spend eight days in a foreign country experiencing poverty and the understand the importance of a goat to a prospering community has a heart that cannot be helped.

In El Salvador (and also the Dominican Republic), hope in a lot of ways comes in the shape of church and God, helping to explain the mysterious and many unfortunate things that happen to them throughout their lives. While I have never much been able to swallow the thought of religion in a first-world country like the United States, it is very clear down here how important it is to them each and every day for success. There is no amount of hardwork and labor that can take that away from them and in a society where everything is a variable that is constantly changing, what other things do we have that are consistent in our lives?

Matthew Dempsey is a student at the University of Connecticut and a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Drops in the Bucket

How do you describe helping a family that needs so much help for only one day? You can’t. But I am going to try. I was startled awake by Sister Gloria’s horn at 6:30AM. This is something that doesn’t happen often when I am back in the states but today, I am glad it did.

Lynette, the mission coordinator for Project FIAT brought a group of us to Ilobasco to work with a family that one of our drivers knows from his village. Santiago has a wife and six children who lived in a broken down house far away from water and the main road. Don Isreal, a guard at the volunteer house, suggested that we build them a house and Project FIAT found two amazing people to sponsor the project. Their house now is moved away from the building sight and is constructed by scrap metal and plastic wrap around the front. When we are done, they will have a roof over their head with three rooms!

Our chores for the day:

1. Dig a trench three feet deep around the plot with a pick axe and a shovel
2. Start a trench on the plot for the next wall, with the same pick axe and shovel
3. Walk down a steap path of rocks and sand to get water for their baths and washing
4. Walk back UP that same path with a water jug on my head
5. Take a lunch break and eat fast so that you can play soccer with the kids
6. Hold the most adorable little girl, Maria del Carmen, and make her smile!
7. Work with more shovels
8. Hold the two five-day-old goats and the two two-week-old goats!
9. Work some more
10. Clean up the site and head home for a night of relflection and delicious food!

Today was such an amazing experience. I believe that the people that I am here with have helped so much in my experience. Being able to work with peers that feel the same way I do about this place makes the work much more rewarding and fun. Tomorrow I will be headed to help build a day care, so, more work and more fun!

Just remember, all we are doing here is becoming a “drop in the bucket.”

Bry Shablow is a student St. Cloud State University and a member of Kappa Phi Omega Social Sorority.

Tratar Los Con Respect

Day 3: Sister Gloria came by with her “New Years” horn and did her daily wake up call. I must have gotten use to the sound already because I slept through it. But luckily one of my roommates woke me up. I prepared for a day that was initially intended to be a day of working/ playing with the children from Las Delicias (which constantly reminds me of my favorite Mexican restaurant back home)…..

NEWS FLASH!! As I am writing this blog I felt my first TREMOR!! Shook the entire building; almost felt like a train was going by the building, but then I remember I am not by my old dorm, or nowhere close to a train.

Back to my story… Upon reaching the town Las Delicias I was given the opportunity to spend the day at a local clinic that Project FIAT had built for the community. The days plan was to include visiting the community and families who were given a goat. I waited for an “American” doctor to lead the way. His name was Alex and he had been in El Salvador for at least a year; it was very obvious that the children LOVED him. In Las Delicias there has be a program that gives families a goat. Criteria ranges but a goat is given to a family if they have a child under the age of five or and elder over 65. The family signs a contract with the expectation that they give the goat a sheltered area and a place for food and water. The goats were pregnant; the first female goat will be given back to the committee and the family could keep the male (fun fact: goats give birth to twins; one boy and one female). Together with Alex and our small group we visited about five families to make sure that their goats were being taken care of. It was very eye-opening to see the way that these families lived. I’ve seen pictures of “shacks” but walking into one that was the size of my living room and that was the sleeping area for seven people was shocking. The parents of one of the families was away at work in the coffee fields (an experience that hit close to home), the oldest daughter who was only 12 took care of her two 8 year old brothers, 5 year old sister, and 1 year old brother. The expectation for the children while the parents were away was to clean, cook, and care for the animals. The children in this community have to grow up fairly fast to help the survival of their families.

After visiting the families we returned to the clinic where we began to bag medicine. In the states we have bottles that offer medication like antihistamines, multivitamins, etc. But here in El Salvador we placed 120 ml into small baggies. The work was easy, but hard to keep clean. The small clinic does its very best to make sure it is clean inside, but with a breezy day and being surrounded by nothing but dirt, it was difficult to stay that way. We were bagging these medicines to give to those families in the community who came in. The clinic is free for the community; which means they don’t have to pay any co-pays or pay for medication. However, the medication supply there is very low. The room that holds their supplies has only 8 shelves that were barely full. I began to feel a small headache come on (not enough water intake on my part) and asked for a couple Tylenol. I never felt so guilty for taking some medicine. Seeing how little they had and that I would be taking some of it made me feel really bad. The clinic is in need of many supplies, they had a board in the room with items that very easy to get in the states, but harder to find her. Overall the day was good. The clinic does their best to inform the community of healthy practices. The community is very friendly and has their arms open to those who come in wanting to help.

As we walked through Las Delicias we visited the Day Care center, which we are also currently rebuilding. It was very small and looked like a mini prison. But before you enter the building it has a very simple sign that listed tarea- homework. I want to close by remembering this homework every day:

1.Dar Amor- give love

2.Tratar los con respect.- treat each other with respect

3. Comprender les- Understand each other

Danielle Sosias is a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver and a member of Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Take 20 leaders + 1 foreign country = and get an amazing team! WOW

What a trip so far! We have just completed our first day and it was amazing! As our team grows and gets to know each other, the what was once awkward silence is now filled with chatter about sorority philanthropies and exchange themes…typical conversations from greek leaders all over the country. Makes me smile knowing wherever you’re at, you’ll always have something in common with other Greeks.

Today, we headed bright and early to mass. What an experience – an all Spanish mass – quite beautiful! As well, we got the opportunity to visit the market where we challenged our Spanish skills with a little bit of hackling while buying gifts! The highlight of the day came from our visit to the orphanage. My heart melted as we saw the kids run up to us jumping for attention and lots of hugs. It was extraordinary to play with all the kids and be a part of their world, even if only for a few hours.

As tomorrow comes, quicker than I’m expecting (6:30am), I’m called to think about something my home radio station asks listeners to do on Monday - “GO MAD” Which means “go make a difference” on Monday. You don’t have to do anything huge, but just do something that makes a difference to others. I’m excited to know our work tomorrow will make a difference in the lives of the family we are building a home for. I challenge readers and leaders from all over the world to GO MAD this Monday!

Ready, Set, Lets GO MAD into our work day tomorrow!

Cassidy Nicholls is a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

Here We Go!

Today was a great day aka arrival day. I left early this morning from my warm bed in Chicago at 5:30am. Flights were great, pretty empty, nothing to complicated. I arrived to my destination: El Salvador with 4 other sorority girls I met on the flight, thank goodness we all walked through customs together because traveling always makes me a little nervous. After the passport checks my small group led to way outside the airport doors. I turned around to sneak a peek at my new homes airport for the week. It shocked me to see that the airport resembled none other than a one story white house. I was welcomed with a muggy breeze, sweat slowly dewing on my forehead and Spanish gibberish heard from all around. The park trees across from the “aeropuerto” hit me like sinshine, bright yellow, reminding me how much I love autumns in Chicago. We then hopped a bus with Tricia our leader. Surprisingly, I felt bliss, calm and tranquil, this wasn’t my first time out of the country so I had no worries. Much anticipation for the upcoming week, but no worries. Now we were hitting 60mph on the highway flying through the greenery, it reminds me of Jurassic Park, sloping mountains, fog on the horizon and excitement fresh in the air as the open windows mangle my hair from the wind. BAM! Stuck in New Year traffic now. We stopped off the hike a monstrous mountain where locals set up on the top and tried to sell tourists hand ice shaved snow cones. Step after step, my group made it to the top El Puerto del Diablo. CLICK! Photo opportunity. Crazy Latin American traffic and 2 hours later we were at the volunteer house, meeting and greeting, it felt like formal Greek recruitment all over again. Safe, sound and loving my surroundings, I have made it to my destination ready to get to work and make a change!
Kelsey Creamer is a student at Arizona State University and a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome to El Salvador

Greetings from San Salvador, El Salvador, the site of our first service immersion experience. Students from all over the country will be arriving in San Salvador this afternoon for a week of service and cultural immersion. We arrived late last night to lay the foundation for the week, and I wanted to share a bit of information about our upcoming work with you! For the rest of the week, the student participants will be blogging about their experiences, so be sure to follow along all week!

Tomorrow (Sunday) we will be doing some immersion in San Salvador visiting the tomb of Romero, Mass at the National Cathedral, and shopping in the Mercado Quartel. Tomorrow afternoon we head out to an orphanage in Santa Ana. We'll spend the afternoon playing and doing activities with the childern in the orphange.

Monday through Friday we will be working in two communities here in El Salvador. The first is Las Delicias, where Project FIAT has been doing work since their arrival in El Salvador. We'll be helping with the construction of a day care center in Las Delicias, as well as working with the children in the before and after school program and doing home visits with the district nurse. To learn more about Las Delicias (en espanol), click here.

The other community where we will be working is Ilobasco, which is a new community for Project FIAT. We will be assisting with the construction of a house for a family in need in the community. This family lives just down the hill from Don Luis, one of the vigilantes at the Volunteer House, and he pushed for the project when volunteers asked what they could do for him and his family. Read more about Ilobasco here.

Look for student blogs the rest of the week! Thansk for your virtual participation in our experience!