For five weeks this summer we had the blessing of having Rina, a volunteer from the States, stay in our home and volunteer in some of our projects. She became part of the family and we really miss her! She just left last on Friday and I asked her to reflect a little on her time in El Salvador, just to give a glimpse into what it’s like to volunteer here. This is what she wrote:
On June 10th I hugged my dad goodbye in the Pittsburgh airport and tried to clear my head as I walked to my departure gate. I was excited that the day had finally come for me to leave for El Salvador but I was apprehensive about what the next five weeks would bring. When I finally arrived at Jon and Danielle’s house Jon told me that we were going to rest that day because I would need it, boy was he not kidding.
My first week in El Salvador we ventured an hour away from the city to the small and very rural town of Usulután. As we drove down the bumpy dirt road I was taken aback by the beauty of the mountains and how blue the sky was. The trees shaded sleeping animals of all sorts and herders on bikes with long sticks drove their cattle along side of Jon’s red f-150 pickup. When we arrived at the local church my first thought was, “What did I get myself into?” The shower was made up of four poles surrounded by sheet metal with no running water, however, there was a well next to the shower where buckets could be filled up in advance. The shower was a luxury compared to the conditions of the “bathroom” though, which was also home to bug or two. As I sat there pondering how to stay hydrated without having to go to the bathroom the towns people began to arrive to the church to receive food and pray with the group. The town of Usulutan was made up of humble hard working people who did not have any money or fancy luxuries to their names. Although it would seem they had nothing to loose they lost everything when hurricane Agatha wiped out their crops and their live stock. The people arrived with smiles on their faces and stopped for friendly conversation. As they left the church with their food they blessed the volunteers and hugged us in a way I had never been hugged before. Their attitudes were unbelievably refreshing; they had just lost everything and hard times were before them but they were so happy and so positive. Some of the local women even stayed with our group during the days and volunteered to cook all of our meals. The weather was hot and the work was hard but it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and that weekend alone would have been enough to change my outlook on life forever.
Although we returned to the city after our weekend in Usulutan my adventures in El Salvador were far from over. I was able to meet people from other mission groups from all over America and work along side of them on projects such as planting a vegetable and fruit garden at an orphanage, painting the nursery at the orphanage, putting on performances for the children, and even having a pizza party and movie night with some of the children. I met some amazing people that made even the hardest manual labor jobs fun, and I have made new friends that I know I will keep forever. My journey went far beyond manual labor though as I found myself being drawn in more and more every day to the children in the orphanage of CIPI. A few days a week I was able to go to the orphanage and play soccer with the children, share my lunch with them, and I was able to sit and speak with them about their journeys and what their goals were. Although the children could be overwhelming at times they were some of the sweetest, most easy going children I have even known. My days there consisted of jumping on the trampoline with Naum and Antonio followed by a coloring session with Fernando and Henry and I would eat lunch with the teen moms and their babies. After lunch we would watch movies and color some more while we sat and talked about life and occasionally had a pick up soccer game or two. These children taught me the true meaning of patience, they taught me how to go with the flow because they had no idea what a schedule was, and they taught me how to be an over all more loving and helpful person. I went to El Salvador with the intention to share my knowledge and spend time with the children, I never would have imagine that I would have learned so much from them. I never would have imagined that I would return to the United States a different person because of them.
The days were long and I worked hard while I was in El Salvador but Jon made sure I was given the option to play hard as well.
After a long couple of days of learning how to make my own cement and repairing a church at the bottom of a volcano, a mission group from Pittsburgh, the Snyders and I went to the beach for the day. The beach had black sand that stretched for miles and lots of hammocks which were perfect for an afternoon siesta. We enjoyed the sun, a nap or two, and the pool which was followed by an amazing sea food dinner and a breathtaking sunset. I was also able to climb to the top of a dormant volcano and look inside to the center, go zip- lining above all of the trees, and we even made time to take a long weekend in Guatemala.
Jon and Danielle were able to help me find a balance between working hard and taking the time to relax. They welcomed me into their home with open arms and by the time I left I felt like part of the family. It was very emotional for me to come from a nice area of the United Sates to part of a third world country where people ate out of garbage cans to survive and children could not thrive because no one looked out for their best interest; it was nice to be able to return to a house full of supportive friends. On June 10th I had no idea what I was getting myself into but 5 weeks later I left El Salvador a changed person. I always thought I knew myself and what I wanted out of life but the truth is I really did not know what was important to me until I had taken myself completely out of my comfort zone and experienced life in someone else’s shoes. I realized that the only way to help the children in El Salvador was to be there myself and to sit with them, to tell them it would be okay, and to give them love. I cannot imagine growing up in such conditions without anyone hugging me, reading me a story, or tucking me into bed. I cannot imagine not having anyone tell me they love me or even show affection towards me. I hope that I was able to make a difference in the lives of the children but I was the one who was truly blessed because I was able to spend so much time with these children. I have been home for less than a week but I am anxiously planning my next trip to El Salvador. It was a life changing experience and I would strongly recommend it to anyone.