|Hermana Mirna (r) and Hermana Guadalupe (l)|
|Small group presents on a current social, economic, or political issue|
My past birthdays have been marked with family dinners, cookouts, presents, and a cake accompanied by a heartfelt “Happy Birthday” song from friends and family. I expected my twentieth birthday here in El Salvador to be a little more underwhelming and (dare I say it?)-boring. As with everything else our GROW team has encountered over these past couple of weeks, it was a day unlike anything I expected.
The day began with a wake-up “Happy Birthday!” from the rest of the team and our host, Rigo, over breakfast. We then set out for El Centro of Cojutapeque where Hermana Mirna and Rigo were directing a Social Doctrine workshop for about thirty El Salvadoreans affiliated with the Catholic Church. Hermana Mirna works for Pastoral de la Salud, our partner organization, in the region surrounding Cojutapeque, and Rigo works for the archdiocese’s social work branch, Pastoral Social. Together, they led the group on a walk up the mountainside to a restaurant called Buena Vista, or “good view,” where the workshop was held. Although the workshop did not pertain to our specific interest of public health, it was incredible to see the dedication everyone put into drawing connections between pressing issues present in this country and their belief system’s explanations for addressing them. The passion with which small groups presented their specific issues, ranging from the importance of the nuclear family to the economy, was a reminder that Pastoral is an organization that inspires such passion in everyone it touches, and how lucky we are to have a partnership with them.
After eating a delicious lunch of puposas and hot chocolate with breathtaking mountain views, the workshop drew to a close. Hermana Mirna and Hermana Guadalupe, who also works for Pastoral de la Salud, came over to me and asked quietly if they could sing a song for me on my birthday. We walked to the same area where we had eaten lunch, overlooking the mountains, and the two women proceeded to sing a beautiful melody, wishing me a long life of happiness with love. The serenading continued later that night when Rigo arranged for a few of his friends to sing several traditional birthday songs and share a delicious ice-cream cake with us. Rigo surprised all of us with the party, and we spent the rest of the evening singing along to one of Rigo’s friends, Marvin, on the guitar. It was such a special way to celebrate the day.
These two events are examples of many gifts our GROW team has received throughout our stay here from everyone we have encountered in El Salvador. The kindness and generosity everyone has treated us with is incredible. When we were planning our stay here, we were very aware of the violence and instability El Salvador is infamous for, and as a result felt wary about the interactions we would have with the people here. In complete contrast to our suppositions, we have only been met with smiling faces and hospitality. Forming relationships and experiences with Pastoral and the people in the community here has allowed us to see El Salvador for what it is; a country with a people whose heart is matched only by their dedication to educating themselves and each other to improve the lives of its citizens.