The greatest piece of advice that I’ve ever been given that relates to learning about myself and making a palpable difference in the world was basically to “go to hell.” I was told to go to the meanest, most godforsaken place I could think of where the people suffer from the torments of poverty and human evil daily and simply be with the people. I was told to come under no pretenses of what I would do or how I would help them and I was told to come with no pretense that my education, my country of origin, or any other part of my upbringing makes me any better than the people I come in contact with. I was instructed to learn their names, their stories, their history, their culture and when their stories of victory and loss, heartache and jubilation moves me like the stories were my own, than I would have permission to help them. I was told that when you can create a bond with a people forged from understanding their problem and sympathizing with them, my intention in helping them will be a pure act of kindness and love rather than a show of charity.
My own sojourn to hell has lead me to have some of the most amazing and impactful experiences as I spent two weeks in the beautiful country of El Salvador. After an entire year of social service classes, seven hours in the air, a good night’s rest and another half-day on the bumpy Salvadoran mountain roads, my journey really began as my week with the two communities of peasant farmers — named La Hacienda and El Junquio — started with a celebration as my classmates and me became the legacy of a fourteen year tradition of a sisterhood between these communities and my high school.
Over the course of the next week, my eyes continued to be opened by the reality in El Salvador and how its past still affects her today. I learned of the terrible crimes against humanity the government took in order to discourage disobedience and the heart-wrenching first-hand accounts of the horror that took place during the military’s reign of power. This terror then brought about the civil war as an attempt to give dignity back to the poor and voiceless of el Salvador which still affects the community to this day in the reincarnation of gang violence.
After my week in the mountains, I then spent another week within the capital city. There, I sat in on lectures from historians about what caused the civil war and meet with social activists to learn how the situation is changing. The work the Salvadorans are doing to rebound from such a devastating national tragedy continues to give me hope that the situation in El Salvador will get better. I also paid my respects to Monsignor Oscar Romero in the beautiful national cathedral who was the voice for the voiceless for so long and spoke out against the evil government policies that trammeled on the dignity of the citizens of El Salvador.
Within the two week time frame I spent in El Salvador, I began to fall in love with the people there. I fell in love with the resilience and fortitude these communities continue to demonstrate and their persistently positive drive to continue to help the community before they help themselves. Yet, now that I’m back home, what can I do to make that palpable impact? Well it all begins with dialogue. Since I’ve been back, I’ve written a series of exposes and papers on the situation in El Salvador and plan to help raise money through the foundation Family to Family so that I can help educate the next generations of Salvadorans to help them help themselves make their country great.
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