Last week, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to San Salvador, El Salvador to help in the community. El Salvador is known for its crime, but this made me even more motivated to help the people there who need it. I knew this trip would be amazing, but little did I know it would change my life forever.
Our primary focus on the trip was to plant coffee plants at a local farm which is also the location of 2 children's homes. Planting these coffee plants will eventually provide a source of revenue for the farm, allowing them to build more children's homes and teach the kids the value of work through helping to harvest coffee beans.
Monday, Tuesday, and Friday were primarily dominated by this manual labor. When we first arrived at the farm, it was not at all what I expected. It was in the jungle! The hill that we would be planting on was more the size of a mini-mountain and covered in old coffee trees along with weeds and other brush. On Monday, we worked to carry leaves, sticks, and trees, which we cut down ourselves, and organize them into piles for later use. By Tuesday, we had cleared out a huge portion of the hill but still had a long ways to go. For me, Tuesday was 8 hours of raking the entire hill. I neatly raked piles and piles of leaves, which the farm workers would pick up in wheel barrows. It was grueling work, but more than worth it for the incredible transformation.
On Wednesday, we took a break from the manual labor and did some sightseeing. We went to a massive volcano along with some Mayan Ruins. The Mayan ruins were really intriguing to see, because of what was still hidden. We learned that hundreds of pyramids and other structures were still buried underground, awaiting excavation. The volcano was also a shock to me. I had seen a volcano before in Hawaii, filled with lava and black igneous rock. This volcano was very different. It was lush and green, with a crater jam-packed full of trees and other flora. It was definitely not what I expected, but it was an awesome new experience! We sat down for lunch in a small cafe on top of the volcano, overlooking San Salvador. It was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
On Thursday, we continued planting but eventually took a break to delivery food around the community. We visited children, widows, the blind, and every other type of person you could think of, all living in small shacks in the jungle behind the farm. Each bag of supplies that we delivered was worth about $13, the equivalent of 2 days pay for the typical Salvadoran worker. So, you can imagine how grateful these locals were to be receiving such a gift. But, in reality, they were doing even more for us than we were doing for them. We were learning the value of love, of hope, of being grateful. Our perspectives were shifting from materialism to the need for true human connections above all possessions.
Friday was our final work day and also a chance for us to spend more time with the kids at the children's home. We had met them on Sunday and begun connecting, but this time allowed even more bonding. We played, we laughed, we sang, we danced. I found myself translating for many of my friends on the trip, trying not to laugh at their broken and forgotten Spanish. I connected most with 3 boys aged 8, who loved Spiderman just like me, and had a knack for playing superheroes. They loved to chase me around and fake fight me over and over and over. Also on Friday, we played soccer against the farm workers. You can imagine how this went...some gringos with bare minimum experience in soccer against guys who have played their whole lives? Ya, not good. But it was hilarious to watch and really awesome to see how 2 completely different groups of people could interact without words.
On Saturday, it was time to go. We said our goodbyes and shed our tears, only barely aware of the impact the 7 days had on us, and not yet realizing the magnitude of the culture shock we had witnessed. We hit a bump in our travels home when our pilot notified us we didn't have functioning radios and we'd need to change planes, but it didn't damper our spirits.
Once we arrived back home, customs was a complete mess. It was disorganized, chaotic, and filled with angry travelers. But, eventually, we made it through and returned to our families.
It's really hard to explain how a trip like this affects you. I find myself lonely now, wanting to play with the kids and spend all day with my group. I never thought I'd say I wish I was doing manual labor, but boy what I would do to go back and plant some coffee trees.
Going into this trip, I was not sure what to expect. But my heart was open to new adventures, people, and experiences. Before leaving, I felt emotionally prepared, a huge reason being the BANGS ambassador program. Through my terms as an ambassador, I have seen the impact you can have on people you've never even met. I've seen how you can make someone's day with a compliment or even a comment on an Instagram photo. I've learned that you can find adventure anywhere. Whether it's abroad or in your own hometown, being open to adventure will allow you to find it in the most unlikely places.
It's such a relief for me to know that, while I'm no longer in El Salvador, I am still making a difference globally, just by being a part of the BANGS family.