Jesuit New Orleans students in Los Ramirez, El Salvador

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“We hope you will come back and visit us and play with the students on the finished court.” The president of the community association said tearfully as she said her final thank you and goodbyes to the group of 13 students from Jesuit High School in New Orleans. “You are all now family, like children to me, and I will miss each and every one of you so much.”

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The building of the court in Los Rameriez was a life changing experience for both the community and the visiting students. Los Rameriez is a small community of less then 100 people set up in the mountains of El Salvador. The community was deeply affected by the Civil War in El Salvador and many families lost loved ones due to the violence. The community had dreamed of a court for a long time. A court that would provide a safe place for their youth to play and practice sports and they were excited to work with the visiting students to make this a reality. The building of this court represented a moving on from the traumatic past and a step into a brighter future.

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The road to Los Rameriez was long and windy and the students were filled with questions about the community, anxious about how they would be received. Upon arrival, the students were greeted by Miriam, a community leader and showed to the center that they would call home for the next 9 days. They then went up to a families home to eat their first traditional Salvadorian meal, pupusas. The students were excited for the work that lay ahead, but also nervous about how they would communicate with the locals.

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The students spent the first few days helping the local masons and community members prepare the court to be poured. The students moved rocks and boulders, hand mixed concrete for a retaining wall that was needed to ensure the safety of the court and broke up old cement. The work was difficult, but the students pushed through and found ways to make the tasks a little easier. They would race to fill up buckets with sand and gravel for the concrete, award one another “daily beast” awards to those who worked hard and inspired others, and would practice Spanish with the local youth and community members during breaks. While the students were working hard on supporting the building of the wall and the preparing of the court site, community members were busy jackhammering away at a giant boulder that needed to be removed. It was a team effort and everyone was working as hard as they could

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In their free time, the students had the opportunity to go to Mass at the local church, visit the local school and go on hikes through the mountains to visit other local communities and the river. The students enjoyed exploring the community of Los Rameriez but what they enjoyed the most, was finding a group of youth to play soccer with. Even after a long day of hand mixing cement, the students were ready to go find some peers to play soccer with.

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While most of the meals consisted of beans, tortillas and eggs, the students had the opportunity to make pizzas with the local woman. The students and community members laughed as they tried to communicate about how to make the dough, how much sauce to use and what toppings to put on the pizza. Even though communication was difficult, the pizzas turned out amazing and no one went to bed hungry that night.

IMG_3010As the work on the court progressed, challenges arouse. Materials were not arriving on time and other items promised by the local governmental office were nowhere to be found. This caused delays in the work but the students took it in stride and were dedicated to do as much as they could on the court. On the last day the students and the community laid a fourth of the concrete for the court and celebrated all that they had accomplished together. Even though the court was not fully completed while the group was there, the community had the desire to continue with the project. During the goodbyes on the last night, the community president told the group that the support and work they provided to the project was invaluable, and they would never be forgotten.

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“My favorite memories from my trip to El Salvador almost entirely consist of some form of interaction with the locals. In particular, playing a soccer game with a group of locals really brought the entire community together in a special way.” – Reid Detillier

“I learned that this community is based on relationships with others rather than income. This community treated us like family while we were here, and that is something I believe would be harder to come across in America.” – Ben Bares

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“The hardest part of going home will be leaving behind the people that I have made friends with in El Salvador. While on this trip I have made a few friends who I have consistently talked to for the last few days. When I return to the United States, I will have to adjust to not having them with me.” – RJ

“I learned from the community that you can live simply and still be happy. They don’t have a lot of possessions but they are happy just sitting in a room with each other.” Jacob Niehaus

“I learned from the community that even though our work may not have been the greatest, they were grateful for our help and were patient with our mistakes. They welcomed us wholly an made sure we were treated nice.” – Jonahtan Neihaus

 

“I learned that the community is more than a community, it is a family. They take care of each other and work hard for the benefit of the whole community.” Michael Pou

 

“My favorite memory from the trip was creating a bond with each and every one of my classmates. I liked the experience but the social aspect of sharing a small sleeping quarter with 12 other people honestly scared me at first. Through time and lots of bug spray I conquered my fear and made some really great friends along the way.” – Blaine Corvers

 

“This trip has changed the way I look at life and to never take things for granted and to always cherish the little moments, no matter how small they might be. Never be scared to make a new friend.” – Thomas Cassagne