Immersed in El Salvador, A Reflection

    Limone and Sochi, a girl she met in the village in the Salvadoran compo, El Papaturro.
    June 20, 2018
    By: Taylor Limone '20

    In the beginning of June, I went on an international service trip to El Salvador. Prior to leaving, my mind was full of expectations. I desperately wanted to be a part of the groups that return from their trips and claim that they have been changed for life. However, I was placed on an immersion trip. This meant I would not be providing the Salvadorans with anything tangible. I would not build a house or feed a village; rather, I would have to allow myself to be served. I remember asking myself, what is going to change me if I am not the one serving? What could I possibly learn from being served?

    CRISPAZ, Christians for Peace in El Salvador, stresses service through accompaniment. Dean Brackley speaks on the idea of “downward mobility” or lowering your social status to live in solidarity “with”. Sometimes service takes on a lens in which the higher class serves the lower, but there is maybe something more valuable in practicing Dean Brackley’s downward mobility. It takes work, and it is something that my group and I developed all week, but I believe that we succeeded.

    During our nightly reflections, Francisco, the executive director of CRISPAZ, recited this quote from Dean Brackley: “Have the courage to let your heart be broken. Have the courage to feel with these folks. Have the courage to fall in love. Have the courage to get ruined for life.” I can honestly say that no words better embody my experiences in El Salvador than these words.

    The Breaking Heart

    I found developing courage very difficult. I kept measuring everything by these expectations that I had created. These expectations kept me from experiencing anything for a little while. Only when one experience did not fit my preconceptions was I able to finally able exercise my courage. 

    One morning our group headed into the heart of San Salvador for a school visit to the Santa Luisa School, which Scranton has a close connection to. Our alumni assist in paying students’ tuition at $50 a year. Father Lally raised funds to put a roof over the recess/courtyard area so the students can still have recess during the 5-month-long rainy season. As we were entering the school, Fr. Ron told us that these students would see our group as rock stars. I thought that there would maybe be 50 kids waiting to greet us inside the walls, but I was wrong. When we walked into the courtyard, nearly 300 students erupted in applause. I had tears in my eyes, but all I could do was hold a smile, which was the only thing that had kept me from crying. Personally, I had not done anything for these students, but they connected me with the good that Scranton had done for them.

    The students performed elaborate dances and songs. One of my favorites was a rendition of “Stand by Me.” A group of six students began singing along with Ben E. King’s track. As the song progressed all of us and the 300 students were singing too. We made a sung promise to stand by each other and love one another. As I think about this moment today all I can do is smile, but still in an effort not to cry.

    The day at the Santa Luisa School warmed my heart and created great anguish. I learned that some students travel more than hours by bus, car, and sometimes foot to get to school in the morning. One young boy in 4th grade said that he wakes up at 2:30 a.m. every day in order to arrive to school on time. This particular school ends at 9th grade, then the students go to college, but only those who can afford it. For the majority of the students in the Santa Luisa School education stops at 9th grade. My heart broke knowing that I had access to an education that sometimes I took for granted. At that moment I was fully aware and accompanying these children with compassion that only came from having the courage to let my heart be broken.

    The Loving Heart

    Experiencing love started with an overnight visit to a village in the Salvadoran compo, El Papaturro. We took a bumpy bus ride down a stone-paved road into the center of town. We divided into groups of two and stayed with a host family for the night. I saw such poverty, but the extreme happiness of the people in the village overshadowed it. We assisted in constructing a park for the children in Papaturro. They collected many tires, which would become just about everything in the park. When the availability of tools hindered our assistance, we played with the children. Now is a good time to mention that I do not speak any Spanish. I thought that I would have great difficulty communicating during this trip, but a smile and lots of laughter are universal forms of communication.

    A little girl named Sochi stayed by my side most of the day. First, she brought me a fresh mango that her friend had thrown to her from a tree. My group, Sochi, and her friends played lots of games with the spare tires. I did not realize how versatile tires were until the children taught us. The tires were trampolines, a tunnel, seats, a train, rolled to play catch with, an obstacle course, and a game of hopscotch. By American standards, this may seem very minimal, a park of tires. I am 20 years old, and I loved Papaturro’s tire park. I had not had that much technology-free fun in years.

    Before we left the next day, I asked Sochi if she would take a picture with me. I lifted her up off of the ground and she giggled with a bright smile on her face. Sochi knew that I didn’t speak Spanish, as I had informed her of that fact in my terrible Spanish, but she did her absolute best to communicate with me through gestures. I did not realize until now how valuable our games of communication charades were. It is not always needed to use words. Love has a way of communicating all its own. Those two days I fell in love. I loved that in Papaturro every single person used all that they have and all that they are to love one another.


    "At the end of our trip, we visited the church where Monsignor Romero was murdered; I prayed. I vowed to never remain silent to injustice."- Taylor Limone '20

    The Aching Heart

    Here I am now, ruined for life. 

    My first day back in America I sat and told my parents my stories, those of the Salvadorans. I thought of every smiling and crying face that I had encountered. I thought of the heartbreaks and the love just the same, but I was no longer immersed in the environment in which I found it. During the car ride home from Newark Airport, I sat with a tear-stained face as I told my dad how for the first time since my grandmother’s death, I was able to find God. I had to leave my comfort zone. I had to drop all expectations. I had to be vulnerable. Most importantly, I had to live “with.” I still carry this vulnerability with me. While I sit at work I think about El Salvador. I think about how some Americans generalize and categorize El Salvador as a crime-ridden and gang-run country when that is not the reality. A Salvadoran woman told us that even though many Americans tend to think these horrible things about her country, her home, she still loves us. The fact that someone could love a person despite hatred ruined me even more.

    At the end of our trip, we visited the church where Monsignor Romero was murdered; I prayed. I cannot write it as eloquently as I had prayed it, but I vowed to never remain silent to injustice. It is truly an injustice to believe these lies about El Salvador. The Salvadorans are wonderful, warm, loving people. El Salvador is a beautiful country with a rich history. If you’re curious, I urge you to look into it or ask me about it. I know that I left a piece of heart in El Salvador and although I could not claim this on my customs form, I brought a piece of El Salvador home with me in my mind and soul. It took courage, but I must thank the Salvadorans who served me, broke my heart, and showed me love, you have done more for me than I could ever repay you for in my lifetime.

    Taylor Limone '20 is a biochemistry and philosophy major with a pre-medicine concentration.
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