To sum up the day in one word, it would be improvising. Today was a hectic day full of schedule changes and complications, but we as a group did an amazing job at working around everything and making today an amazing day, just as we always do.

Today was poverty day and our day started off with a poverty seminar. Poverty isn’t one singular problem, it’s about the circumstances around us, the politics, the people, the place, the peace and the past. We learned what makes poverty occur and it prepared us for the upcoming events of the day.

Next on our list was supposed to be a visit to the Cecaíni school and then to the dump, but that didn’t really work out for us. In a country where the weather is beautiful and clear on a regular basis, there was a huge rainstorm and it poured down on us, but we just used this to our advantage and took a little break. We had free time and most of us went to the local supermarket to stock up on junk food like we usually do. Coming back from the store, our usual common area was occupied so we all just decided to chill in hallway and just enjoy our free time together.

Once the weather got better and we got back on track, we had ourselves an amazing lunch and we headed off to the school. We were told to prepare ourselves for tons of screaming children running up to us to get a hug and that’s exactly what happened. The minute we arrived, we were welcomed by well over a hundred kids yelling “Bienvenidos!” at the top of their lungs. Immediately we just jumped in and started playing with the kids whether it was basketball of jump rope or face painting. Danae, Carolina, Carol, Brandon and I were the first five people to volunteer for face painting. We courageously jumped in even though we were unsure how to paint faces and only two spoke Spanish. However, soon enough you could see many of the children with either masks, butterflies, hearts or stars painted onto their faces all playing games together. After we gave out a few sweets to the kids, we headed off to the local dump to see what life was like for people who make their living there and sometimes even live there.

When we arrived we got off the guagua a short walk away from the dump but even from there we saw this huge plot of land with a gaping cliff at the end and trash on fire with a huge cloud of white smoke. When we got to the dump there were a few people scavenging for either cans or bottles and sometimes food and clothing. We couldn’t walk into the dump because of safety precautions so instead the workers came to us and told us a little about their lives and what it’s like at the dump. Some people worked there because it’s what they were good at and the only thing they could do. Others work there because they can’t find a job and they need to support their families. Either way, one thing they had in common was limited opportunities. Something we discussed today is that poverty is not a status, but a circumstance relative to others. We realized that people who may be labeled “poor”, are often richer in other ways beyond money and materials.

When we were done speaking to the people at the site, we gave out a few snacks and headed back to the guagua. We came back to Dilenia’s and went straight into self-reflection and got into groups to reflect on what we learned about the people and what we thought about the day. Self-reflection led into the program seminar to get us started on writing letters to our program sponsors telling them about the amazing times we’ve had on this trip and how this experience will impact our lives forever. Whether it’s with important things like leadership or more personal things like the compassion we are able to show towards each other, I know that this trip has already changed each of us. That kind of letter can’t be written in a day so we have until tomorrow night to finish that up, but it should not be a problem because all of us have enough passion in us to write a novel.

We ended the day with a delicious dinner full of endless laughter thanks to our two class-clowns Brandon and Ramel (Manolo). Then had an equally funny nightly meeting full of roses, laughter and plain old love.

What we all learned today is to continue being thankful for all the amazing luxuries we have, the great families who support us and the opportunities in our lives. I am also reflecting on the kind of hope all of us have for the future, because each and every person on this trip has this unlimited potential. I truly believe that each one of us will really do amazing things with our lives. Poverty isn’t something that someone brought upon themselves, it’s all about our surroundings and what is influencing us. One quote we heard today was saying how you can feel pain and hunger but you can’t feel poor, because feeling poor only comes from a comparison to others. The workers at the dump may feel poor compared to you but then you may feel poor compared to Bill Gates or Oprah. We need to just appreciate what we have and learn from every opportunity that comes our way.

What I’ve personally learned as a leader is that you need to be flexible. Life never goes the way you plan, so you need to be able to face it head on, learn and grow from the unexpected. You also need lots of compassion. If things get frustrating, you need to hold each other to high expectations, and remember that you need to show compassion and forgiveness to any mistakes or challenges. And the most important thing of all is not to forget about the individual; you need to make sure everyone is feeling safe, comfortable and supported. At the end of the day you are only as good as your weakest link.

Today, like all of our days, was a wonderful day. I can’t thank everyone enough for giving me and my friends such an amazing opportunity to really be able to explore and enjoy our time in Constanza.

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