As I made my way off the plane, I was more than a little relieved that the excruciating flight to El Salvador was at an end. We boarded a bus and headed towards El Castillo de Ray, the place we were staying before leaving on our mission. Absorbing the culture like a sponge, I looked out the window and noticed the houses were nothing more than shambles. The roofs consisted of tin and in the doorways colorful sheets hung from the ceiling. It quickly became apparent to me that this country was unlike any place I had ever traveled. Excitement and anxiety churned in the pit of my stomach like a thousand butterflies. I looked up at the blue sky, clinging to the only thing that reminded me of home, and waited to see what the days would bring. Instinctively I knew that this trip would be life changing.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
During the first two days in Castillo de Ray, the National who trained us informed us that El Salvador currently held the title for the most dangerous country in the western hemisphere. He sprouted off depressing facts; rampant alcoholism, drug addiction, gangs, violence, abuse, and poverty were just a few of the battles being fought. After two days of training we left the safety net of the Castillo to visit schools and various communities. When I first came into contact with the children, part of me expected to find an overwhelming brokenness etched on their faces. Instead I was enveloped by heartwarming hugs, children who excitedly crowded onto my lap, and teens who chatted with me in Spanish, tolerating my broken words with a smile.
When the children smiled at me, I noticed their rotting teeth. I stared at them with my mouth full of thousands of dollars of orthodontia and I felt the world fall away. As a young girl laid her head against my chest, I noticed that her hair was infested with lice. The selfish part of me wanted to cringe when I noticed the crawlers, but instead I drew her closer. She looked up at me and held out a little plastic bracelet, “Para ti,” she said, handing it to me. I was awestruck. This little girl’s teeth were rotting, her hair was infested with lice, she was extremely poor, yet she wanted to give me something. A lump rose in my throat and I clutched the priceless bracelet that suddenly felt more valuable to me than anything I have ever been given.
How ironic is it that a place so small could open my eyes to a world so big? The people of El Salvador possessed little, yet they were more generous than most people I knew. Their teeth rotted in their mouth, yet they kept on smiling. Their streets were filled with violence, yet they endured. My experiences in El Salvador showed me that it doesn’t matter where you live; people are united in their nature, their resilience, and their hope for a better future.
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