Ok, now I officially feel for all of the dear friends I ask to boil their entire lives down into ten things they have learned. I just returned my trip with Unbound to El Salvador, and I could barely narrow a week down to ten! Ha, seriously though, I have so many things that I want to share with you. And so many things that are still swirling around in my head and my heart that will probably take time to process, as tends to happen with these kind of trips.
But for those just tuning in, the short of the story is that I was invited to go to El Salvador with an organization called Unbound. I’m going to explain more about them in another post that I have begun writing. But in short, they are a non-profit that works primarily to help match sponsors with children and elderly people in 22 countries around the world who are living in poverty. And I’m a big fan of the thoughtful, sustainable, and progressive ways they go about doing that.
I have mentioned on here before that I’m also a big fan of Central America (and Spanish!). I actually grew up in a high school where the majority of students spoke Spanish, spent some extended time living and studying in Costa Rica, took a handful of volunteer trips to Mexico and Guatemala, and basically was planning for a career working with non-profs and Spanish-speakers either here in the States or abroad. Life obviously took some different turns, which have been great. But I still really think a lot about transitioning into more of this kind of work, so I was really excited about the idea of a collaboration between this sort of organization and the blogging that I also love.
That said, I have to admit that I was more than a little iffy about doing a short-term trip, as I have some fairly strong opinions (and a lot of experience) with short-term trips and “voluntourism”. Don’t worry, I won’t totally hop on my soap box here, but I do think it’s an issue that’s worth discussion. Because while intentions on the travelers’ end are usually pure and good and awesome, the effects of their trips on the people and local economies they visit not always so. Things that they assume might be a “help” can actually be a hindrance. And while I love to travel and meet new people and see organizations’ work on the ground, I also am very aware that these trips require a lot of time and money, and I think a lot about whether that time and money could be better invested to help organizations in more effective ways.
BUT…this trip was awesome. We didn’t build houses. We didn’t give out food. We sure as heck didn’t try to convert people. We were simply invited into the homes of many everyday people, and we shared stories. And then we came home and talked each evening and morning with the Unbound staff about what they see happening with the overall story of the country and social justice. It was simple, and it was good.
A huge part of that was due to the people. I loved my fellow bloggers who attended. I completely fell in love with the beautiful people of El Salvador. And I basically had my socks knocked off by Unbound as a whole, and the compassionate and smart approaches they are taking to help empower and equip the people of El Salvador. Guys, they are the real deal. And for someone who is very cautious about throwing my endorsement behind an organization that works with such vulnerable people, I can confidently say that they now have my complete respect and support. I learned a ton from them.
But to spare you a ton, how about we start with just ten… :)
As this post is being published today, I’m flying down to El Salvador with Unbound. And much of that is because of this lovely friend right here.
Everyone, meet Sara.
I met Sara years ago at my church through a sushi cooking class that I happened to be teaching. Another friend had told me beforehand that I really, really needed to make a point to introduce myself to his friend Sara who was attending because she was “super cool” and he thought that we totally needed to become friends. Many years, many conversations, many laughs, many book clubs, many dance classes, many happy hours, and many heart-to-hearts later…I have to agree that he was right. We totally needed to become friends. :)
Part of what I love about Sara is that she is one of those friends who’s just a sheer delight to be around. I mean it. Whenever I hear that Sara’s going to be at a happy hour or a friend’s house, I’m stoked because she has a way of bringing this contagious energy and joy and laughter (her laugh is the best!) to a gathering. But she also brings a lot of honesty and intelligence and humility and curiosity and depth.
She would be the first to tell you that much of that, and much of what has shaped her in general this last decade, has been her job at Unbound. There, she works as part of a team in the international programs department that helps monitor their program offices in India and Kenya, both of which places she travels frequently. (Yeah, she’s totally that friend who — when someone asks, “Where’s Sara tonight?” — no one bats an eye when the response is, “Oh, she flew to Africa last night.”) The work she does with Unbound there is important and courageous and hard, and she has been at it now for a long time. But man, she loves it. And she deeply believes in it. And she positively lights up when she gets to talk about the people she knows, literally all around the world, who are a part of it.
But even beyond her work, Sara’s just one of those people who is always learning, always dreaming, always challenging, always serving, and always celebrating the heck out of life. Which makes me pretty darn lucky to be her friend. And which is one of the reasons why I was extra excited to see what she would have to say with this series.
So without further ado, here is Sara sharing 10 things she has learned.
The monster movie genre is such an important part of our cinematic storytelling culture, that I really, really want to convince you to give it a second chance. Read on for four common complaints about monster movies, and the flicks that will help you move past ‘em.
31, we’re a few days in and I have to say — you’re lookin’ good.
I have no idea what this year will bring, but I do know that I love making lists. So I came up with 31 things that I would love to make happen this year. Nothing major. Just a random collection of ideas that seem quite perfect for a 31st year of life. So for anyone interested, I thought I’d share them with you today. Feel free to follow along this year on Instagram at @gimmesomeoven, and with the hashtag #gimme31. And hey, if you decide to create a list for your birthday, be sure to let me know too. I love reading other people’s lists!!