Life changing experiece with wonderful people

Volunteering abroad has always been on my to-do list so I had no qualms about it. Picked the furthest country I could and fast forward a few months later, there I was in El Salvador.

On my first day, I remember going to school feeling exhausted and slightly hungry from the long flight. As I walked in, I was greeted by friendly smiles and warms hugs from the students attending summer school. In that instance, I knew I would do alright.

But my experience was beyond alright, it was exhilarating, heartwarming and extremely rewarding. The people I had spent time with are what makes this trip worthwhile. The students in school, the other volunteers, the program coordinator and even the family at the tienda (small shop) down the street.

Tiendas are my favorite place to go because I can get practically everything there. I was nervous initially because, unlike a supermarket, I had to ask for what I want. The kind family who owned the tienda taught me how to count in Spanish and got me familiar with the coins. My subsequent visits were always pleasant and they continued to teach me how to ask for what I want.

During my stay, I met with volunteers originating from around the world. It was a pleasure to have had stayed with some of them. The volunteer house was mostly fun when we lounged in the garden, ordered takeouts for dinner or simply sat around to talk. Day trips to explore El Salvador or nights out to the nearby Paseo El Carmen were definitely fun together.

Then comes the big part of my volunteer experience where I am in school with these amazing girls. What I love most about them is their sense of compassion. I am constantly left speechless by their actions and how well they treat people.

There are times when my heart breaks a little while listening to them tell me stories about their problems. In spite of their struggles, I always see smiles, laughter and joy on these beautiful faces.

I fondly recall a time when I am walking to school with two sisters and the elder one asked me why I am smiling all the time. I told her that I was happy because I get to be in school and spend time with them. She then hugged me and said gracias (thank you).

There were also challenging days in school but I am grateful to our program coordinator, Joaquin, who help me through it all. He sat in my classes initially due to my lack of Spanish speaking skills and taught me useful classroom vocabulary. Adapting to the local culture was also quite seamless with advice from Joaquin.

10 months is a fairly long time and there was a period when I was alone in the volunteer house. Joaquin was nice to come visit me and sometimes invited me to his house for lunch. Thanks to him, I now have a family in El Salvador who I dearly care for.

I know for sure that the people there touched my heart more than I did theirs. And if you ask me to do it again, I would say "YES" in a heartbeat.