Danny Alvarado visited St. Peter’s in March, and several months later he was on a plane to Guatemala with a group from the church, traveling to the Canterbury School. The experience changed his life. This is Danny’s story in his own words…
A year ago on the First Sunday in Lent, I began my journey with St. Peters Church. My name is Eliud Alvarado, better known here as Danny, since my middle name is much easier to remember and to pronounce. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, a Latin American island that is different from other Latin American countries because it is under the support and protection of the United States. We are blessed to have the benefits and privileges that any U.S. citizen has; and without the struggles that many of my fellow Latinos go through in their countries and sometimes in the United States. In addition, we are able to keep our native language and sense of identity under the Commonwealth arrangement.
I’m sharing this because, in order to understand the impact that the Guatemala trip had in my life, one needs to know my background. I have been living in Philadelphia for over seven years; the last three years have been full of many changes and adjustments. One of those changes happened on March 9 when I visited Saint Peter’s for the very first time. That day, I listened to the service, the sermon given by our Reverend Claire, the angelic voices of this incredible choir and I felt the welcome expressions from the faces of the community and finally felt that I was home.
At the end of the service I was reading the church bulletin and noticed in bold letters “Trip to Guatemala.” It contained the information about the planning phase for the summer partnership trip to the Canterbury School. I immediately felt chills, like there was a reason bigger than myself that made me come to church that day; then, I understood that God had a plan that I wasn’t aware of. I decided that same morning to join the group and be part of the trip. At that point I didn’t know anyone, and the group met a few times before the trip but, in reality, it wasn’t until we were in Guatemala that I really got to know my fellow travelers.
I found them to be a wonderful mixed group of youth and adults who were able to care and engage in a meaningful and beautiful experience with the school’s students, staff and teachers that are committed to providing a safe and friendly learning environment. All of this in a country that has gone through so much violence and poverty, but that keeps an amazing positive attitude and humbleness that only can be sustained by faith.
My experience during the trip was incredible. I obviously have the advantage of knowing the language because my first language is Spanish – if you didn’t notice by my accent – and I was able to contribute not only by working on our assignment at the school but also by helping with the necessary translation between the administration of the school and our group.
This was my first trip to Central America. I had a preconceived notion about what I might encounter in a country in which the media focuses on the bad and ugly of the country and not the good things. By being there, I was able to experience the warmth of the people, the richness of the culture and the beauty of the country. During our week there, we were active participants and witnessed the amazing job that the people at Canterbury School had done with the children. I was able to see the children’s gratitude in their shy faces and by listening to their words of thanks for our financial and limited but important visit to the school. Additionally, by visiting the San Lucas Mission in Atitlan I was touched by the labor of love that a community can manifest to their people by providing an environment that keeps them healthy, productive, creative and, overall, hopeful for a better life. Every time that we support these initiatives, in one way or another – by buying the delicious coffee or the handcrafts – we are giving hope and new opportunities to people that need it and deserve it. We live in a wonderful country that gives us so many opportunities and sometimes we take for granted how blessed we are. Being in Guatemala showed me how people that have so much less, in terms of comfort and basic needs, can live so proud and thankful for what they have. This is one of the biggest lessons that I got from this journey, that with faith in God everything is possible.
I encourage you to be part of a journey, of a learning experience and embrace the beauty and love that is out there. No pressure! I can keep talking and tell you more, but I think it will be better if you live an experience like this on your own. If you have the opportunity and interest to do something meaningful this summer, please, consider going with Saint Peter’s group to Guatemala. I guarantee that your life will be changed forever, because mine was.
God Bless you!