St John\’s Students in Las Minas, El Salvador

20150626_152943Day 1

The day was June 24, everyone woke up at about 2:00 a.m. to get ready to go to the airport.  I was a little nervous right when we left because we would be gone for a long time and I hadn’t been on a plane for years. Everything went well until we landed in San Salvador and we found out Mario was not going to be allowed in the country. Fortunately things worked out, with some help from Paul’s uncle, and Mario was able to join us the second day after all.

When we left the airport everyone was immediately shocked by the heat, and we took a two and a half hour bus ride to Las Minas. We had dinner at the end of the day and went to bed excited to get to work the next day.   – Kendall King

Photo Jun 26, 4 21 18 PM
DAY 2

It was about 6:30 when I woke as I heard the chickens making very strange and loud noises. I was very excited but nervous at the same time. Excited because I was going to build a beautiful basketball court with my brothers, and nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect of the people. At first I thought all the kids and the adults would be like what are you doing here, but they all turned to be extremely nice and caring. The young kids were helping gather heavy rocks with us and I thought that was awfully kind of them. So really day 2 turned out to be a great day meeting new friends when we all played basketball and making new friends while we were working.

I felt extremely happy with how everything went with the hardwork we accomplished that day and how all the locals made us feel at home. I was very impressed and really felt like these guys were my friends since day 1. Now looking back on this day I’m not sure why I was nervous after all. I am very blessed to be apart of this group of kids and even more blessed to be able to to complete this court with my brothers. – Omar Khan

20150630_102436DAY 3

The work definitely got more difficult on the second day of construction, with heavier rocks and new jobs like clearing out the ditch.  Still, we made it through ok and were eager to have our soccer rematch with the locals.  Later we also visited a nearby town and saw a cool carnival that was going on, and some guys rode a really dangerous looking ride called the Love Machine and survived.

The new difficulty of the work was definitely the first lesson of the day.  We all surprised ourselves by facing jobs that just seemed impossible, and finishing them better than we could have hoped.  Later on, we also had a cool moment with a local boy named Juan Carlos when he sat with us in the daycare and talked to Paul (the only one of us who spoke decent Spanish) for over a half hour.  Paul translated a lot for us and we all learned a lot from JC, and it was cool to finally have more interaction with a local than asking the names of the kids or calling for the ball in a soccer game.  He was older than most of the boys, 13, and had a lot to tell.  – Grant Barnett

Photo Jun 26, 4 24 21 PM
DAY 4

Today we woke up to the children yelling “Pinky! Pinky! Pinky!” from outside of our window. Around 7:30, we left for breakfast so we could be ready to continue the project at 8:30. The difficulty of the work seemed to increase even more, but everybody was up to the challenge. We moved lots of heavy rocks, hand mixed concrete, and carved away at a wall with shovels and pickaxes. We were able to still have a lot of fun while working, and after work we swam in the river to cool off before going to a local party.

One of the most uplifting things of the day was when the whole group worked together to push a massive rock that probably weighed about 300 pounds. It was very motivating as it proved that we could overcome our adversity. My personal favorite part of the day was at the party when we played with Christopher. He walked around to each of us and gave us high fives and fist bumps.  Today we also realized that our original plan to complete the court was not going to happen. The court’s foundation is built into a hill, so it needs a retaining wall to hold back dirt that could possibly fall onto the court. We are not upset that we will not be able to complete the court, as we don’t want to risk a rock or a lot of dirt falling on one of the locals. – Paul Smith

20150701_150149DAY 5

This day was definitely a turning point in the trip for all of us. I think most of us are realizing that we do not have much time left to make a mark on this project. I think we have come to terms with the fact that we will not complete the court, but you can tell that people are very excited to get as much of the wall done as possible. We are getting more efficient, but as the trip goes on fatigue and sickness are definitely taking their toll. Kendall had to sit out due to a spider bite and some sort of illness, Mr. Cabrera was dehydrated, and Michael wasn’t looking great, but the high point of the day was definitely our ability to work through our lower numbers to accomplish substantially more than our previous work days. I am really proud of what we have done so far, and I cannot wait to start the work tomorrow. – Luke Tracz

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DAY 6

The fifth day of work was the first full day of working that we did on the trip. We were split up into two groups. One group was to work on the basketball court and help the masons with the wall. The other group was taken to the local school in las Minas and got a break.  I worked with Chabela, the local mason. We would have to decipher his signs to get the certain rocks he wanted. Some times it would be a struggle to find the exact rock he wanted. Sooner or later we started to get the hang of it and really got into a groove. It was a good feeling just picking the right rocks every time. While the other group was mixing the cement and bringing it to the masons.

This day was a great day because it was the first day we really put a lot of work into the court.  This day really made me realize that even with the language barrier we could get a lot of things done. The fact that we got that much done means that we can accomplish anything if everyone just has a common goal. Probably my favorite part of the day was when Chabela told me that I was strong. When he said that it meant a lot to me because I felt like I was working extremely hard and he recognized that. In my opinion it was the best day because we accomplished so much more then I thought we ever could in that matter of time.  – Spencer Rogers

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DAY 7

Today the wall collapsed in the middle of the night and again in the morning while we were eating breakfast. It was decided that today would be a day off because they didn’t feel safe for us to work in. Omar, pinky, Fuad, spencer and Paul played basketball pick up games with some of the locals. At dinner we had a great reflection about a gift we got out of this trip.

It kind of stunk that we didn’t get to work today because I wanted to get as much done as possible but it was too dangerous to work. I guess it was nice to have a day off and rest we all have been working really hard and it’s good to take some time off and spend time with the locals and get to talk to them and play. – Austin Buck

Photo Jun 27, 3 53 09 PM
DAY 8

Our final day in Las Minas was full of reflection and contemplation. This gave the day a very retreat-like air, and a lot of very genuine, heartfelt words were spoken. After this, we did the sports clinic at the school, in which we did drills and activities involving basketball and volleyball with the children at the school in Las Minas. This was yet another way in which we connected with the community and got to know the villagers there, which was very enjoyable.

After taking a quick dip in the river following the sports clinic, everyone ate dinner and prepared for the fiesta. The village decided to throw a fiesta for us to thank us for coming and working now the court. The villagers expressed much gratitude for our work, and it felt very good to be appreciated. The fiesta was a very fun dance party, and was quite enjoyable. I personally saw Juan Weinandy bust the most legendary dance moves. After this, it was time to say goodbyes, and prepare to go home. – Fuad Abbas

Photo Jun 27, 2 37 32 PM
DAY 9

As our trip has finally come to a close, this last day was spent in the complex of travel and transport. Leaving Las Minas was a mellow and sad time as we said our final farewells to those locals who we had grown so close with over the week; but at the same time that it was a conclusion, it was also a beginning— that is, a new beginning of our collective appreciation of our blessings. Arriving at the airport, it was humorous to see how we all marveled at air conditioning and flushing toilets, simple commodities that for us held a new weight. With Detroit set as our destination, our plane arose into the twilight sky and the 2015 St. John’s Jesuit El Salvador trip came to a sincere close. – Steve O’Neill