Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Changing Their Lives Changed Mine: Compassion El Salvador, Part 1

Did you totally say that with an accent? Because I'm pretty sure I nailed the translation. Based on Google translate. 
Welcome to El Salvador!
There. -Just in case you can't roll your r's. 

As many of you know, Jason just celebrated his 5th year of working for Compassion International
Let me provide a summary of what Compassion is. I just ended that sentence with a preposition and it's bothering me, but I'll suppress my anxiety and go forth!
Compassion is a sponsorship based organization that focuses on child development working with children in poverty-stricken areas in 26 countries around the world. Your sponsorship provides: medical checkups, nutritious food, education and special assistance for children in need of surgery or disaster relief. Best of all, Compassion provides spiritual development as well. More details are provided on Compassion's website.

On significant (5, 10, and 15 year) anniversary's, Compassion pays for the employee and one guest (yay me!) to go on a sponsorship tour. You can learn more about sponsorship tours by clicking on the link I just provided, but briefly... Compassion provides opportunities for sponsors to meet their sponsor child. Jason chose the tour that was going to El Salvador because it was a country he had never been too. I asked him to choose to visit the children that are suffering in Hawaii, but he said no. That is a joke. People in Hawaii sponsor children. Actually, I now have a new friend from there! Her name is Joni (pronounced Joanee) and she was visiting her sponsor child (who is now a teen). I cried when she met him because it was so moving. More on that later.
Please take a minute to consider sponsoring a child. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. If I don't know the answer, I will get it for you within 24 hours. Because I'm pretty great like that. If you need persuaded, let me just say that I was blessed with stories of children who keep every single letter from their sponsor and read them over and over. That persuasion was free of charge. The next one will cost you the price of sponsoring a child. Which is just $38 a month. Gosh, I'm good.

And now, for the trip. 
At the airport. The destination seems more real when it's displayed on the flight schedule screen.
We had a long time to wait, so I sent a text to my friend Kelly showing her that I did lunges. I did 2 because everyone stared and didn't join in. People milling around the airport are so stinking lazy! I bet they watch Biggest Loser while eating cake. They also have a terribly annoying habit of abruptly stopping to check their cell phone right.in.front.of.you. I have no problem lunging right over the top of those people to go on my merry way.
Selfie-On the plane!
All sponsor tours are planned to the last detail. You visit projects (the child development centers where the children recieve school assistance, meals and get to participate in alot of amazing acitivities), homes, and even the souvenir shopping days were mostly planned. Bathroom stops are not mostly planned. If you have the Big D, they will stop for you, don't worry. You just need to mention that you would like to stop and smell the flowers.  After which you are asked "one flower or two?"  All the places we stayed as well as our meals were also planned. In addition, you are provided with translators who are with you for the entire trip. Our translators were AWESOME!!! They are all fun and caring and I have a soft spot for the word "childrens" because of them.
Juan (the tall one in the blue shirt who appears to be thinking) was our host and coordinated our entire week. From left to right we have: Gabi, Fernando, Imelda, Jorge, Juan and Susie.
They have some rico suave dance moves. They also come with paparrazzi.
  Our first night we stayed at the Real Intercontinental Sal Salvador. ALTO means STOP. I know because I'm current on my shapes. I would also like to say that I was delighted to hear "Hotel California" pumping through the speakers of the hotel during breakfast our first morning.
On the first day, we traveled to the city of Sonsonate, to attend a worship service at the church where we were going to visit one of the projects. Compassion partners with local churches who run and staff the programs. The local church also identifies the children who qualify (based on their level of poverty and need) for the Compassion program.
I took pictures from the bus along the way. There are 23 active volcanoes in El Salvador. I know because I just googled it.
This is Iglesia Josue Assembly of God. This is the church that partners with one of the Compassion projects in Sonsonate, and also where we attended church on Sunday.
We had a time of worship, and then they had a baby dedication which included many of the mom's who are involved in the child survival program.
This little cutie butt sang for us:
When church was over, we spent the rest of the day in the city of Ataco souvenir shopping. 
We enjoyed lunch at Sibaritas which came with dessert.  I got to have chocolate cake after changing my mind from my initial request for a brownie. (Hey, we live in Colorado, you never know what's in the brownies).
I must say that once I nailed the spanish for bartering, I still didn't buy anything during our shopping trip. I just stared longingly at their version of snow cones, because we weren't supposed to drink the water or have ice.
 The following day was our first project experience back in Sonsonate. I personally was unprepared for the greeting we received. These people are so warm and welcoming! When our bus pulled up to the project, I was overcome with emotion. 
Look at our welcoming committee! Each child was holding a sheet of paper with one of our name's on it. Surely you're not overlooking the American flag.
These lovely senoritas performed a dance and then each of them came and grabbed one of us from the audience to dance with them. I was grabbed, and I twirled my partner because I didn't want to embarrass her by breaking out my impressive salsa skillz.  Jason even managed to dance as well!
We went inside the church to hear testimonies of the lives that have been changed through this project, and to learn more about the Child Survival Program. 
I spy with my little eye, the boy who was holding my sign. On the first row to the left of the pink balloon. Apparently I bored him.
This is the way they keep records of those in the programs. In this case, this is a mom in the Child Survival Program. Included in the book, are medical records and pictures of special events such as birthdays. It was particularly interesting that we were handed this book, because we got to do a "Day in the Life" home visit at Wendy's home on this same day!
Before leaving, we heard the testimony of this mom, who was raped. She kept her baby who is one or two months old and was born with a severe cleft palate. We prayed for her and her baby. She cried, the baby cried, we all cried. It was a very touching moment. If she is involved in the Compassion program, her son will get the medical attention he needs for his cleft palate surgeries.
Immediately following the prayer time, we broke up into groups to visit some homes. Compassion offers a "Day in the Life" opportunity for the sponsor tours, so that they can experience the conditions in which the children of the program live.
This is the home of Wendy, her boyfriend (soon to be husband) William and their son Jose. They share this home with Wendy's mom and dad.  Compared to the home we visited later in the trip, this one was extremely nice!
Compassion purchased items to bring with us to the home visits such as food, a laundry basket and many of us on the home visit brought a gift as well.
It's very rare for a father to be involved in the lives of many of these families. We spent time encouraging William in that respect.
We took turns holding Jose. He especially liked me because I took him to look at the chickens in the back yard.
This picture of their yard reminds me that Jason wanted to put up a clothesline in our backyard. But I told him the moment my underwear blow into the neighbor's back yard, I'm suing for emotional and punitive damages.
Before leaving, we prayed and took a group photo. The tall gentleman on the left was our tour leader, Bobby. In front of him is a project staff member and to her right is Joni, a sponsor on our tour (she's the one I mentioned earlier from Hawaii). If you can take a moment to scan your eyes away from my sweaty pits, I'd appreciate it. My glistening demeanor is appreciated in their culture. I just made that up. It is sweaty hot in El Salvador.
After the home visit, we concluded our day by touring the project and the workshops they have there for the mom's and their children. This was a jewelry making workshop. I made a ring. I use the term "made" loosely. I'm pretty sure I snipped off a long piece of wire at the end. So. Yes. I can make a ring. She let me keep it!  The mothers in the program are taught different skills and trades like this that will help them generate income.
I talked these lovely staff members into taking a pouty lips picture with me. Yes, I'm the blue eyed skinny-lipped Gringa on the right. 
The following day, we headed back to the city of Ataco to visit the project there. This project had more interaction with the children. It's important to note where we stayed for the majority of this portion of our trip, because it was like a resort on steroids minus the beach and including a rooster. A lovely place called the Santa Leticia Hotel
This was our room:
Yes. My hair can endure humidity between the hours of 5:00 a.m. - 5:01 a.m., rooster standard time.
The restaurant there is located in front of it's coffee plantation. I had several cups of cafe con leche throughout the week, but I'd like it noted that several other people in our group also liked creamer with their coffee and I had to fight for the right to own the creamer carafe.
A view of the restaurant in the evening. Isn't is welcoming? They leave the light on for you. Until they go to bed. Then you're on your own.
 The coffee beans grown here are harvested in October, November and December. Then they are shipped to Starbucks. No joke.
A real life coffee bean tree!
I asked someone to take our picture because we matched.
 And I'll leave you with the view of our bus experience. 
To be Continued...
(Compassion El Salvador Part 2: Meeting the sponsored children. -coming tomorrow in theaters near you).


Anonymous said...

Wow I'm so glad you got to experience that Joy... It looks really beautiful there

CDJ said...

My husband and I met Jason at the Compassion event last night. Blogging came up in our discussions, and when he described you as funny and witty, I bugged him for your address. Blogger pals we should be;) He was right! I enjoyed reading several posts. I love how transparently your super cute personality comes through your writing. You are a day-brightener. Thanks for sharing:)