During school breaks, a majority of teenagers enjoy going on vacation with family and friends to relax, and especially to get away from the unpredictable Buffalo weather.
However, a group of students at Sacred Heart Academy decided to step out of their comfort zones and give back to those less fortunate on a mission trip to Central America.
Three Sacred Heart seniors, Martha Saltarelli, Grace Windschitl and Sarah Cilano, decided for different reasons to spend one of their final winter breaks of high school in El Salvador. The three girls spent a week in February in Montecristo, El Salvador, with the Young Life, a Christian ministry organization. According to the group’s website, the mission’s trips give participants a new perspective on money, poverty, friendship, family, faith, thankfulness, and on life in general.
Both Grace and Sarah had always wanted to go on a mission trip, and when they heard about the wonderful people with so much need living in El Salvador, they knew it was a perfect opportunity.
Martha, who had been on this missions trip six times, said that each time the trip “completely changed my life over again in new and unexpected ways.” She said she has made bonds and connections with Salvadoran families and was excited to be able to see them again.
In addition to giving up their time during winter break, the girls had to give up time before the trip preparing to go.
Along with doing lots of fundraising, they attended monthly meetings during which they watched videos about mission work and discussed how they could accomplish their goals of helping the community. The meetings helped the girls to “mentally and spiritually” prepare themselves for the trip, they said.
Despite all their preparation, the girls still embarked on their journey with an array of mixed feelings. Martha was nothing but excited before the trip. She could not wait to see all the families again, especially one of her close friends who lives there and is her translator.
Grace was a little more nervous to go on the trip. “I did not know how I would react, and thought it would be hard to not have my phone,” she said.
Sarah shared these feeling of apprehension. Both girls were filled with angst, not quite sure how everything would go.
However, all three girls said they gained so much from their experience and they highly recommend students take advantage of opportunities like this.
Sarah said that what she learned most from the trip was that “the people who were living with next to nothing were happier than Americans living with so much.”
Grace also came to realize this, and learned to appreciate the meaning of life and “how not to take everyday things for granted.”
Martha explained that she has learned something new every time she has been to El Salvador, but this year she learned how much time she spends on her phone. She said that not having her phone “was so freeing,” and allowed her to live in the moment.
All three girls agreed that their best memories are of the first few nights they were there.
Martha remembered the immediate warm welcome from the children, who ran up to her and gave her hugs as soon as she set her backpack down and they saw her.
All the girls commented on the hospitality of the people and said they will never forget how welcoming they were and how happy they were that people have come to help them.
The girls continued to mention how much they were thanked and blessed by the people of El Salvador. This made them realize how much of an impact they were making.
Along with all the great memories, the girls also encountered some struggles.
Sarah said one of the hardest things was the language barrier, but what helped was that the people were extremely patient with them.
Martha said that the hardest part for her was knowing the entire week she was going to have to go back home. Leaving these people and not knowing exactly when she was going to be able to return was hard for her.
Grace mentioned that despite the struggles, the trip was life changing. She loved getting close with everyone on the trip and the fact that they all got to share in this experience being outside of their comfort zones together.
Every time she thinks of El Salvador, Grace said she becomes happier remembering how the trip changed her life. Sarah agreed with Grace, saying that she now looks at everything from a different perspective, remembering everything she experienced in El Salvador.
The girls highly encourage anyone thinking about going on a mission trip to just do it.
“I guarantee it will allow you to have an experience like no other and change your life for the better to an extent that you cannot even imagine,” Martha said.
They all agreed that your nerves about the trip go away once you get there and that the conditions of El Salvador that they worried about became unimportant because they focused so much on everything else that the conditions they temporarily lived in were irrelevant.
There is no doubt this trip greatly changed these girls’ lives and the lives of the people in El Salvador.
So next spring break, step out of your comfort zone, take a leap of faith, give your time to change your life and others.
Hollie Gfroerer is a senior at Sacred Heart Academy.