It was the size differences that stood out the most when Jordan Whanger visited El Savador during her spring break – the differences in the sizes of the houses, the size of the food portions and even the size of the smiles.
Whanger, a senior dietetics major at Missouri State University, was one of eight students who participated in a study abroad service trip March 9-17 to the smallest and most densely-populated country in Central America.
"We worked with Convoy of Hope, which is based in Springfield," Whanger said. "That organization has sites in several countries, including El Salvador."
The study group stayed in the capital city of San Salvador, but traveled daily to different parts of the country. They visited three schools, three childrens' homes, served dinner at a home for the elderly, and visited an AIDS respite.
"At Love Links, one of the childrens' homes, we held the babies which are there because they are malnourished," she said. "We played games with the older children."
The students on the trip had to provide their own financing. They also gathered donations of money, clothing, toys, school supplies and hygienic products to deliver to those in need.
"We sorted through all of our donations and packaged them to take to the different places," she said. "We taught hand washing and teeth brushing songs to the children."
Another task of the group members was to take measurements of the children's height, weight and mid-arm circumference to compile statistics for the World Health Organization. "At a place called Pounds of Love we measured the children and did food demonstrations for the mothers," she said. "The mothers and children there were very poor, and the signs of malnutrition were very evident."
However, when adequate meals were provided, Whanger considered them to be healthier than a comparable American meal. "As a dietetics major, I was surprised by the portion size of the food there; it was much smaller and more appropriate for one meal."
While Whanger was expecting to see poverty, she wasn't prepared for the differences in quality of life. "I didn't expect to see such a large difference between the higher class people and the the really poor families," she said. "There were people living in small rusty tin huts in the middle of the city. Some of the schools had dirt floors, walls made out of recycled cardboard and animals running loose inside."
The people, however, made the biggest impression on Whanger. "Each person we encountered in El Salvador was overflowing with love, passion and joy, and showed us that happiness is not defined by material possessions, but rather by one's reliance and trust in the Lord."
She recommends similar trips to anyone able to go. "This trip opened my eyes to what life is like outside of the United States, and made me more grateful for what I have," she said. "It was a blast getting to serve and know these people and it also made me more interested in improving my Spanish."
Page 2 of 2 - One of Whanger's permanent memories will be of the overall happiness of the citizens. "Everyone in El Salvador was so friendly. They call it the 'country of smiles,' and that was very true," she said. "Some of these people didn't have beds, they weren't food secure, and they had very little, but they still wanted to pray over our trip and give back to us in whatever way they could. It was incredibly humbling."