I’m Going To El Salvador!
It’s true, it’s true! I am. For a week. With a humanitarian organization I deeply and wholeheartedly admire called Unbound. And I just wrote out a lovely introductory post to tell you all about it, and the country, and their national food (papusas!), and the things we’re going to be doing, and the incredible ways that Unbound is partnering with people all over the world to challenge poverties in new and innovative ways…
…and then I deleted it.
Because if I’m totally honest with you, this trip is already stirring up a lot of things in my heart.
You see, if you would have asked me a decade ago what I thought I would be doing in my thirties, it wouldn’t be food blogging. It’s this. It’s what Unbound is doing. It’s working alongside people living in poverty. (And for me personally, I wanted to be working with Spanish-speakers living in poverty.) It’s living and breathing and building relationships and raising a family and just doing life within those communities. It’s studying humanitarian trends and best practices and learning how sustainable growth might actually happen. And then it’s partnering with people in those communities — the opposite of being an expert swooping in to “help” — to actually make things happen.
Oh man, friends, this is the sort of stuff that makes my heart beat fast.
And it was the direction I was headed out of college, but then some really awesome other opportunities arose and life took a different direction. And then this crazy awesome blog happened, and I find myself in many ways getting to live the dream pursuing this other passion of food and photography and writing and building community, and the goodness of it all has knocked my socks off. But to be honest, probably multiple times a week, I still wonder if I should just lay this blog down and pack up and go. Not necessarily go to a foreign country — although I still fully expect and hope to spend a significant chunk of my life living abroad — but find a job working with people on the ground level and go do that.
I think about it a lot.
And I kind of want to point out that I think about it very realistically. I’m not some starry-eyed 21 year old who wants to go save the world. I have spent considerable time working in developing countries, I have volunteered in the past 15 years with many local non-profs, I have friends who do humanitarian work both here and abroad, and I know that kind of work can often feel painfully slow, frustrating, depressing, unsatisfying, or discouraging. And I also know that at the same time it can be incredible.
But if I have learned anything in my wise old age of 31, it’s that life often brings us opportunities to choose an “and” rather than an “or”. I figured my “and” in this season of life would probably mean volunteering with non-profits locally and trying to do whatever I can to study and support efforts to improve poverty worldwide while living here in KC and doing my blog. Which is still a really cool “and”, instead of having to choose one or the other.
But this spring I was approached by another local non-prof about collaborating on a project together. And then a week later I was approached by Unbound about being a part of their first-ever bloggers trip. And the light began to click on that maybe this sort of work — sharing about organizations and people I believe in on the blog that I also believe in — could be an even cooler way to combine these two passions that I thought were more mutually exclusive. Who knows where my full-time job future is headed. But at least for this summer, I’m excited to share with you a little more while I’m blogging about this side of my heart and some really cool things I see happening in the world that you can also get involved with.
That said, if you’re here visiting the blog today just for the food, no pressure to follow along. There are 800+ pretty stellar recipes on the site that I happen to highly recommend. ;) But if any of you are interested in following my journey through winding roads and into the homes of good people in El Salvador with Unbound, I’d be completely honored to have you along for the ride. Because there are some pretty cool ways even all of us — like you and me — could partner together with these people too. And I’m excited to tell you more about that.
Alright, here are a few details about what’s ahead…
Ok first, a few facts about El Salvador.
I have to ask — do any of you know where El Salvador is actually located?!?
I’ll be honest, I had to look at a map myself. (Slightly embarrassing considering I lived for awhile in Costa Rica and volunteered in Guatemala, which is right freaking next door.) El Salvador is that little speck of red, bordered by Honduras to the northeast and Guatemala to the northwest. It is the smallest country in Central America, about the size of Massachusetts. But it is populated by over 6 million people.
Capitol? San Salvador.
Currency? The American dollar (convenient).
Average annual income? $3380.
Percentage of population living below the poverty line? 30%.
Rainy season? Right now (poncho = packed).
People? I can’t wait to meet them.
Now a few quick facts about Unbound, with plenty more stories to come this week.
In a nutshell, Unbound (formerly called the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, or CFCA) is mostly known for their sponsorship programs, where they provide direct financial support and encouragement to children and families living on the margins of society. They are working in 21 countries, where they serve over 300,000 children, youth and elderly people thanks to the support of more than 270,000 sponsors. But to go along with those sponsorship programs, Unbound also has teams on the ground working with locals to run community-based support groups, microlending programs, and more.
Without a doubt, there are lots of non-profits out there offering amazing sponsorship programs with children around the world. But I have to point out that one of the things that drew me to Unbound years ago was the fact that they also offer sponsorships for children, youth, and “aging friends”. Basically, elderly people, whom I adore. :)
So, I know that one of the items that I shared on my list of 31 things this year was to sponsor a child in a foreign country (after the last child I sponsored in Africa graduated out of her program). I was all set to make that happen. But then I remembered about Unbound and decided to sign up instead to sponsor an “aging friend” through their program ($30 month for anyone interested)…
…and then this trip came about.
Call it serendipity or what, but I had been talking for awhile with my friend Sara who works at Unbound about how I really really wanted to travel with her on a work trip sometime to see what she does. And then lo and behold, she tells me a few weeks later that Unbound was considering bringing along some bloggers for their first ever “blogger trip”. And of course, the rest is history, and we leave in less than 48 hours.
I’m stoked. We have a great itinerary planned, and I’m especially looking forward to getting to spend some time cooking and eating together with a few local families. (I’m crossing my fingers that they teach me how to make papusas, so that I can then teach you!) But I’m extra excited because I will get to meet my “aging friend” — Josefa.
I was talking with some friends about this the other night, and shared that it seems backwards in a good way. Usually when my friends sponsor a child, they will communicate for years via letters and such, and then mayyyybe get to meet each other at some point down the road. But with Josefa, I get to meet her within my first month of sponsoring her. So cool. And hopefully the start of a friendship for years to come.
Anyway, as I said, I leave on Sunday. (At 3:45am — oof.) It sounds like we will have some wireless access in the place where we will be staying, so I am hoping to be able to upload some photos to my Instagram (follow the hashtag #BlogUnbound) and hopefully a blog post or two within that time (which will be on the Life page of the blog).
Whew! Ok, long post. Thanks for following along. And if you have any questions about Unbound or the trip along the way, or any thoughts or words of wisdom to share about the things that make your heart beat, I’d love to hear them. :)
Hasta luego, amigos!
Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I will be writing these posts as part of a sponsored blogger trip by Unbound. I am not being paid to write, and all opinions are 100% my own as always, but Unbound is covering my traveling costs. I am really thankful for this, and for the opportunity to travel as part of this group.