What Have I Learned?

I recently just got back into the United States from a service trip in El Salvador. I went into this journey with no expectations and really no idea of what I was to be doing. However, now that I am back, people ask me what I did and what has changed me. No matter how many times I tell the stories of the people I met and the things we did, the same themes always appear, but ultimately I end up asking myself: what have I learned?

In the United States, when you ask someone how they are doing the typical answer is “I’m good!” or “I’m doing well,” and that is alwaysood to hear. When I asked people in El Salvador that same question, they answered alike with, “Estoy bien.” This made me wonder how we could have the same answers, but be living totally different lifestyles. I wake up each day knowing that I will have food to eat, a home to live in, a car to drive, and money to spend, but many of the El Salvadorians didn’t know all that. They woke up each day wondering if they would get one meal that day, yet they were still so happy.

I was shocked to see what makes these people so happy- the little things. Playing a game of soccer with the children lit up their faces for the rest of the day, even though some of them were going home to a shack and sharing a room with all 7 of their siblings. I complain so often about such silly things such as the clothes I have, but they only have a few things to wear all year, and you never hear them complain. When I think about what I have learned from being with the El Salvadorians, I know they have taught me pure happiness in a way that I am still trying infuse into my life.

One of my favorite El Salvadorian people that I met was a girl named Hiromi. Everything she did reminded me of the love that God has for us. During lunch time one day, I sat near Hiromi and noticed she wasn’t eating her lunch. I asked why not and she told me that she didn’t want to eat in front of her friends because they don’t have food. I knew we had a long day of construction ahead of us and told her she needed to eat or else she could pass out. An hour and a half goes by and while at the construction site I tell Hiromi to eat her food now; her friends were gone and in my mind it was a perfect time to eat. She responded “no” again, because the family we were building this wall for was watching and they were her friends too. I did not understand this at all because she must have had to been very hungry. Six or so hours must have already gone by since breakfast, and she was still not eating because of her friends. Another hour and a half passes by, and I am sitting on the bus next to Hiromi. She had told me earlier that she would eat on the bus, so once again I ask her if she is finally going to eat. She must have been sick of me because I asked so many times, but I did not want anything to happen. Of course, as I ask, we pull up to a stop light and there is a homeless guy asking for money. Hiromi pulls out her lunch and hands it to the man. My heart dropped. I knew Hiromi was very hungry and that she was getting ready to eat her lunch, but she knew that we were going to go home to a nice dinner and this man had nothing. She figured waiting a few more hours would be fine, and so that is what she did. The next night at dinner we had a traditional El Salvadorian dinner called pupusas, which were basically tortillas stuffed with beans and cheese. I and the other four people at my table were not a big fan of them so we left them on our plate to put in the scrap pile later, however, Hiromi asked if she could have them. She sat and ate as many of them as she could because she didn’t want to be wasteful. She told us, “I have food, and my friends don’t. I will eat for them.” She looked as if she was going to throw up when she finally joined us in our room, and the next morning she said she had been sick all night.

Although these things are such minor acts that could easily be unnoticed, they hit me hard. Hiromi taught me many things all week, but mostly to be humble and appreciative. She never once complained; she woke up 2 hours earlier than everyone else to help the cooks, stayed up late helping her sister, and constantly asked us if we needed anything. At the end of the week I found out that Hiromi was actually on vacation and didn’t need to be cleaning or cooking or even working at the sites with us, but she wanted to because helping others made her truly happy. From Hiromi, I learned humility and what it means to have Christ at the center of your life.

Asking myself the question “What have I learned?” after this experience put so many other thoughts into my head. We were encouraged to think about this question every night even when we got back into the United States and into our daily routine. Asking yourself this question every single night can help you use what you learned today in tomorrow, which ultimately in the end can impact so many people. Our desire to grow and learn every day can inspire others to do the same.

So what have you learned today?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Maggie Herrmann

Maggie Herrmann is a junior at Cor Jesu Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri, where she is involved with many extracurricular activities, but one of her favorites is being a member of the Lacrosse team! In addition to her scholastic involvement, she’s also an active parishioner at St. Clement of Rome where she is involved with their Life Teens Program. Maggie has been involved with Teens to Teens for two years, and during that time, she’s served on the Teen Board, served as a retreat leader, and addressed a group of donors at our Mike Matheny Winter Gala!