It was great to read about UW Hillel?s Alternative Spring Break in El Salvador (April 28). Having had a long-standing relationship with El Salvador through my parents, I can completely identify with the feelings and observations of the ASB participants.
I especially related to the desires of wanting to let other people know about El Salvador as well as maintain a strong connection to a forgotten country. El Salvador doesn?t have the exotic lures of Costa Rica or Belize. Their biggest export is people. Their eco-tourism is sporadic and weak, at best. Yet I still feel, like I?m sure many of the Hillel and JConnect folks do, that there is something subtler, more meaningful that has made a stronger impression on me.
I spent time with NESES (Ninos Estudiando El Salvador) in November. NESES strives to enrich the lives of orphaned and disadvantaged youth so that they can go on to lead educated, productive and fulfilling lives as Salvadoran citizens.
Through my work with NESES, I was able to see that making a difference didn?t have to be a theoretical concept that I discussed at dinner parties. I could connect with Salvadoran youth without the distance or the economic obstacles. I talked with Oscar, a 15-year-old student at Ciudad de los Ninos, an orphanage in Santa Ana, about electronica music and our shared dislike of commercials during our favorite songs. Another young man, Montano, spoke to my fianc頡bout the decision to go to the orphanage so he wouldn?t get sucked into gang life.
We kept calling ourselves gringos to ease the tension of our differences, but I didn?t feel much tension. We wanted to come not just to offer our charity; we wanted to offer our mentorship and friendship. And it wasn?t only us who offered. These 15-19 year old students offered entertainment, playfulness, depth, understanding, and most of all, hope.
We came back from El Salvador with a strong sense of ownership. We knew there were ways to make a difference. Working with NESES was one of them.
Just like the participants on the ASB program, our lives had changed and we have become committed to making the connections stronger, more sustainable, and more meaningful.