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Final Reflection: Luke Janik

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 21, 2013 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Spending one week in a country like El Salvador is more than an outstanding and eye-opening journey; it is a life changing experience. On this amazing trip, I was most amazed about the similarities between our two countries. On whole different levels, communities in El Salvador and the United States have analogous problems.

 

To begin, the YLA crew has been working hard all year to make a difference in our own communities; through book drives, talent shows, and other remarkable events. In my own involvement, I created a tutoring in local middle school. Likewise, the youth of El Salvador have been fighting to make a change in their societies. One day during the Youth Encounter, my split group of YLA kids and the youth of La Anemona visited San Martin, a very poor community not far from San Salvador. There, we learned that violence was overruling in the public. Carlos, one youth, told of a story where he was beaten and put in jail for three days by the police for sitting in a public area. To keep kids from becoming violent, Carlos and his friends have taught others breakdancing, art, and piñata making. In another community, the youth collected used books to create local libraries.

 

I was stunned by the work and positive outlooks the youth had on their communities. With their help, they can make a difference and change their communities and their lives for the better. After this experience, I am not afraid to step up and make a bigger difference in my community and the world.

 

-Luke Janik

 

 

 

Final Reflection: Zachary Zimiroski

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I had a very enlightening time this week. Throughout the week I got to realize the difficulties and struggles that these kids faced every day of their lives. One moment that really stuck out to me is when we went to La Anemona. La Anemona is a community that is found off the side of a highway. Unfortunate events happened to them. All of their houses and the rest of their community were destroyed in Hurricane Ida. They had to rebuild everything. They moved to a piece of land that is a five minute walk away from the original piece of land. Their houses were made of cement and bricks but after the disaster they could only make houses out of tin and wood. It amazes me how even at a time like that they all got together and started to build immediately. I wouldn’t have done that. I would have simply gone to stay with someone else. Also, Americans tend to have a thought that they have to do everything themselves but these people really have showed me that you don’t have to do things alone. I feel like in the past week I got to know the Salvadorans more than some of the kids I go to school with. All I can hope for is that we all bring back these stories and change the thoughts of the many people that think Salvadorans are bad people and that El Salvador is a terrible place.

 

- Zachary Zimiroski

Final Reflection: Adrienne Wood

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

If you were to read my journal from this trip, you would find there are two words that came up very often. At least everyday. The two words are "unreal" and "perfect."-- It seemed like everywhere I went it felt like it wasn’t real life. Parts of the trip felt like a dream and others were what seemed like nightmares. When our small group went into one of the communities we met with some youth who were part of a dance group that danced to promote peace and human rights. As we were sitting there, discussing the realities that these kids deal with, one of the young dancers (who later told me he was only 20) got a phone call and took it in the other room. Of course me being me I kinda thought well that’s a little rude--can’t it wait? He came back and told us it was his girlfriend who was calling because her pregnant sister was getting abused by the police. For a while before this we were just hearing stories of this kind of thing happening. Now sitting there in that moment we knew it was happening at that moment. The feeling that went through my body was again “unreal” to know that I take my life for granted so much and that as I sat there, there was a young woman being abused. The guy pointed out that he brought this up to make the point that this isn’t just something that happens every week or so but that it happens everyday.

 

On our last day we were at a very nice resort place and I was sitting watching the sunset and watching the waves crash on the beach and I noticed something about them. I noticed the waves came in so quickly and just so speedy. Then they would crash on the sand. And after that they weren’t just gone but the water slowly went back to the ocean. I got teary eyes as I realized that that was God telling me to slow down. I realized that I was just like the waves. I have been rushing through life trying to get to where it is I want to be (not that I even know where that is) and I haven’t taken the time to appreciate all the blessings I have in my life. So I sit here on the plane on my way home I know that I’m going to slow down in my life. I realize now how blessed I am and how I have so much more than I think I do. My wave (life) crashed during this trip and now it’s time after this trip to slowly head back out to sea.

 

- Adrienne Wood

 

Final Reflection: Michelle St. Francis

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This past week has been life changing. I feel like I have a new understanding of the world that we live in. Throughout this trip, I have figured out one main thing; that all humans are the same, once you get past all the materialistic things. Yes, we Americans do have a lot more and we live very different lives. However, we all have the same God, we all smile and we all laugh. For me, I think there was one moment during the trip where I especially saw this to be true. During the Youth Retreat, Meg and I were walking back to our room in the pouring rain, when she started to slip and she almost fell. Then we came up to a few of the Salvadoran youth and I tried to tell them that it was slippery, but they didn’t understand what I was saying. So I did my best impression of someone slipping and they understood what I was trying to say, and we all laughed. I think this during this trip I figured out that however different we seem on the outside, we are all pretty similar on the inside. I am so grateful that I got to be a part of this experience. The friends I have made, and the things I have learned will always be with me.

 

- Michelle St. Francis

Final Reflection: Joshua Pang

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

48 hours before going on my voyage to El Salvador a muscle in my arm ripped a bone in my elbow out of place as I was warming up for a baseball game. I was making a throw home from the outfield and as my arm extended a sudden rip vibrated through my body. It turns out that I had fractured my medial epicondyle in my left elbow. (the bone that juts out on the inside part of your elbow) After I had received my diagnosis, I was told that I had the high possibility to have surgery within the next three days. However, the next day when I went in to schedule and prepare for my surgery they told me that since the trip was only a week long, I would be able to go on the trip and still be able to get surgery after. I was really scared that I would not be able to live the trip to the fullest but I was pleasantly wrong.

 

While we were at El Salvador we played a game of soccer with the people from the community La Anemona. At first I was very hesitant to play out of the concern for my arm. But the joy of the people playing was too convincing and I decided to play. I ran in but I was very conscious of people near my arm. However, I noticed that people, both Salvadoran and YLA, all cared for me and made sure that no harm ever came. Because of this, I began to play more freely. Someone from the Anemona community named Juan Carlos helped me be safe and he also passed the ball and was very nice even though I could not play to the best of my ability. I have come to understand that even though I may have had a disability I was still able to have a great time. I would like to thank the great people of El Salvador and my YLA peers for the wonderful time that I had and this great learning experience about the rest of the world.

 

- Joshua Pang

Meg Merlino

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the things I was most nervous about coming into this week was my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. Having studied four years of French and two years of Latin, I felt completely unprepared to communicate with the Salvadorans. I was worried that because of my inability, I would not be able to have as fulfilling of an experience as other YLAers. However, I found that everyone around me who did know Spanish were fully willing to help me when I needed a translation. My knowledge of other languages also helped me to pick up bits and pieces, enough that I was usually able to understand what was going on around me.

 

This past week was one that I will truly never forget. When our youth encounter began on Tuesday I began to understand how important our trip was to the communities. The youth we were meeting lived in such extreme poverty, completely different from our homes in the U.S. They were all so willing to open up to us and really embraced the experience, which made it easy for us to do the same. I became close with one of the boys in the group, Alvin. He told me that he wanted to go to college to major in psychology and improve his English, but many people were unsupportive of this dream. It made me realize how much easier it is to get an education in the United States than in other less developed countries, and it made me even more thankful for each and every opportunity I have been given. I can’t wait to share my experiences with others and use what I learned to better my own life and others’.

 

- Meg Merlino

 

Final Reflection: Mia McCue

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

This past week in El Salvador has been life changing. I have learned so much about the Salvadoran communities throughout this week. I have made friendships with YLAers as well as the Salvadorans that I will cherish forever. A major part of the week was spent learning about a struggle the community is currently dealing with. On Thursday, my small group along with the youth from La Anemona traveled to San Martin. I was very struck when we walked down to a poor community of Perez Romero and Justification and I learned shared a similar struggle. This past year Meg and I ran a book drive to provide books to the Early Childhood Development foundation in our town. We had issues with collecting books, finding a date to hand the books out, and spreading the word. The community we visited is also trying to collect books to start a library, and is struggling as well. It shocked me that two extremely different communities were both struggling with the same project. This taught me that Americans and Salvadorans share similar problems and struggles, despite the difference in lifestyle. I am so thankful to have experienced this humbling trip, and I will take this positive energy I am feeling right now home and use it to change my community in the future.

 

- Mia McCue

Final Reflection: Danny Leavey

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)

During my trip to El Salvador I learned a lot about the culture and history of the country. The most informative session was when my group met with a survivor of the 1932 Naozesalco. This petite 88 year old woman was a wealth of knowledge and she really did a good job of helping us learn about the countries violent history as well as explaining the importance of culture of the Salvadorans. The thing that struck me most about Nana was her unwavering hospitality and generosity as well as welcoming us with open arms almost as if we were family. This trait is common to all the Salvadorans we came in contact with. Especially when we went into several communities to share a meal and listen to the stories that needed to be told. We were welcomed into a tin house and sat on white plastic chairs but I felt so at home. The resident family was all smiles and always made sure you had enough to eat and always made sure you were comfortable. As soon as I was finished with my meal someone approached and asked if I wanted more. These people were always so happy with the little they had; it makes me wonder why some people including me need material things to be happy. This experience has opened my eyes to the differences outside the States and it was a trip I will never forget.

 

- Danny Leavey

Final Reflection: Sara Kimble

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (1)

During the weeks leading up to our journey to El Salvador, I was overwhelmed with excitement for the trip and was eager to begin this new chapter in my life. However, my one slight hesitation that could hold me back from fully appreciating this experience was being nervous about meeting the youth and not being able to communicate with them. I was a little worried that the language barrier would hold me back – what if I said something wrong in Spanish and made a fool of myself? What if I could not clearly express myself in this foreign language or understand what the Salvadorans had to say?

 

Even though these thoughts were in the back of my mind nagging me, the very first day when we met the youth from Amontepec, all my worries dissolved almost instantaneously as I made eye contact with one girl. In this moment, she gave me something that freed me from my worried confines – she gave me a smile. While this may seem like an insignificant, simple gesture to some, it gave me the confidence that I needed to reassure myself and take the risk to use my broken Spanish to approach more Salvadorans. This allowed me to make meaningful relationships, which I know will live on even though we live thousands of miles apart. Despite the fact that many of my Spanish conversations with the youths consisted mainly of me nodding and saying, “Ah, si,” and I was not sure what the Salvadorans were saying half the time, there was always one important aspect to the discussions: a smile. I would smile so much throughout the day from the pure joy of being in El Salvador and having the opportunity to talk with the Salvadorans that my cheeks would ache at the end of the day.

 

The most important thing that I learned on this trip is that a smile is a universal language that can, and should, be shared with everyone. Coming into this amazing trip, I never would have thought that something as simple as a smile would be my saving grace, the key that freed me from my cage of worries.

 

- Sara Kimble

 

Final Reflection: Derek Kauffmann

Posted by H. Mark Smith on August 19, 2013 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I am the first to admit I was not at all prepared for El Salvador. While I have traveled to many different countries and have stayed in some less than luxurious places many of the experiences on this trip were more intense. For example I was not ready to be attacked by an amoeba on this trip, nor was I prepared to be without anyone in my family. But what I was the least prepared for was my struggle to communicate with the Salvadorians. For the past 3 years I have been taking French so if this was France I could be able to communicate but because I don’t know the difference between "Donde esta" and "Como esta," I always felt out of the loop. To add to this none of the people we interacted with knew a bit of English so I was out of my element.

 

Yet what I found out was you can create friendships even without speaking the same language. The moment I learned this came Sunday when we visited Amontepec a community on the outskirts of San Salvador. After we had a beautiful church service some of the youth and I went outside where I tried (and failed) to talk to the youth. Later some of my YLA friends came and we started to roughhouse with the kids. Now this was real friendly and playful roughhousing but to see the smiles on the faces of these kids as I pretended to be hurt was an image I will never forget. While I may not have been prepared for El Salvador I gave those kids joy and happiness, to me that is all YLA is about and I am glad to have experienced it all if not just for that moment.

 

- Derek Kauffmann