Friday, January 7, 2011

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.

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