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Salvadoran Scholarship Students Experiences

Roxy Menjívar

roxy_2¡Saludos! My name is Roxana Carolina Menjivar Pineda and I’m a scholarship student (becaria) of the Romero Program. I’m 22 years old and grew up in a community called Huizúcar, Nueva Trinidad, Chalatenango. Currently, I’m studying Accounting at the University of El Salvador.

I live with my parents and siblings. I’m the oldest and maybe that’s why it was so hard for me to leave my family and come to the city. We never were apart and at the beginning it was rough but I knew I had to do it if wanted to study. I visit my family every weekend and really enjoy my time with them and the whole community.

When I graduated from high school, one professor told me that I could apply for a scholarship at the parish or any other organization but I didn’t know anyone there. So, I spent one year at home. My family couldn’t afford the college fees, so I started to work. There is a handcraft workshop in a neighbor community called Carasque and I got a job there.

By the end of that year, one my cousins told my mom about the application deadline for University of El Salvador. However, I didn’t pay attention to this because I knew my parents couldn’t pay it. One day, I found the courage and asked the priest at my parish if there was any possibility of getting some financial aid for me. He promised to talk with the financial committee.

After a process, I was accepted and they later gave a recommendation for the Romero Program, part of Casa de la Solidaridad. I waited patiently and one day they called me. “We are glad to let you know that you have been accepted. You’re welcome to come tomorrow”, they said. That was music for my ears, I was so full of happiness. A great opportunity was arriving to my life and a bunch of unforgettable experiences would come with this chance.

When I arrived at the program I was afraid of meeting new people but after a while I was learning more about all the ‘becarios’ and started to think that I had a new family. We all are very different but every single person in this program has now a space in my heart. Sharing with the Casa students has been also a great experience. When you are living in community between two cultures, you realize that American students have dreams and stories to share with us too. This interchange helped me to learn about the American culture, the students’ thoughts and their environment. When they leave, I know our friendship will remain despite the distance.

Yanira Orellana

yaniHi! My name is Elsy Yanira Mejía Orellana, I’m 20 years old and live with my parents and my brother. I grew up in a community called Las Américas in Suchitoto, although my parents are from Chalatenango a place in the North-West of El Salvador, which was very impacted during the war in the 80’s. I know about the war because my parents have shared with me their experiences.

Since I was a little girl I always had the desire to study at college. My parents always encouraged me to do it, but in El Salvador most of the young people don’t have the economic resources to pursuit this kind of dreams. That was my case.

I’m from the rural area of El Salvador and it’s hard to travel every day to study in San Salvador given the distance. Thank God, the Romero Program helps people like me, who really want to pursuit a career but live outside the city. This program has been key for me and I’m grateful for my experience. I’m studying international relationships at the University of El Salvador. My dream is becoming reality and I can see the possibility to help my family in the future.

My academic formation and my experience at the Romero Program have impacted my life. I have grown as a person and have no doubts that this will help me in each stage of my life. I have learned about the Salvadoran history, what happened during the war, about the UCA martyrs, all the massacres, etc. Mons. Romero has became a model of life for me. All these years, I have learned about him, about his life and his fight for social justice. I’m a young Salvadoran, that as many other people, want a better country. Mons. Romero’s testimony encourages me to work for it.

I have lived three years with other scholarship students (becarios) of the Romero Program. Now, they are my other family. Last year, I lived with the Casa de la Solidaridad students and this experience has impacted my life. My new friends and I have shared our lives, our stories and have learned together.

In every moment, I could realize how the students wanted to learn about the world and change the hard reality with the little things. I think that is contagious because I have understood that it doesn’t matter the culture, the skin or the language that we speak, we are very similar. We have learned a great deal together. Becarios and Casa students have a lot of fun together and we have created many unforgettable moments.

After these 4 years at the program, my life has changed. I have learned about solidarity, about the importance of the historic memory, about the spirituality and how to know better god -father and mother. I have learned about the true love for other, living in community and taking care of them.

Saúl Vásquez

saulHi! My name is Saúl Alfredo Vásquez Reyes. I’m 22 years old and from San Pedro Nonualco, La Paz. Currently, I am studying agribusiness engineering at the Universidad El Salvador.

I live with my grandma, who is a widow and is 86 years old and my mom, who is 52 years old and is single. My 50-year old disabled aunt also lives with us.

San Pedro Nonualco wasn’t impacted by the war like other Salvadoran regions and, therefore, my family didn’t witness any persecution or disappearances but there was a clash between the army and the guerrilla in 1989, when the final offensive occurred around the country. My grandma always remembers how the soldiers stopped by the houses asking for food on their way to other places.

In February 2010, I started with the Romero Program; I came with tons of illusions, dreams and fears. I was a somewhat familiar with being far away from home because during high school I studied out of my community. I left every morning at 4:30 am and came back home at 7:00pm but at college I was far away from home the whole week, and that was hard for me at the beginning.

The experience of living in community has impacted my life. I grew up an only child but here I have felt what life is like with brothers and sisters, because my community is like family for me. Being in the program, I have learned about myself, and it has been great to feel that each one of us have a special place in the community.

I have felt a lot of growth in sharing with the Casa students. At the beginning I had a lot of fears, but I guess that’s normal. Now, I just see this experience as a great opportunity for sharing my life, my family and my culture. This sisterhood feeling is beyond the borders, it doesn’t matter where the Casa alums are in the world, friendship is still there.

As a senior, I really appreciate this stage of interchange with the American students. I appreciate the opportunity to share, to gain a new perspective, to keep the faith in my values and confidence, to work for solidarity and enjoy our friendship. This experience has marked my life and I’m paying more attention to everything around me.

Lilian Rivera

lily-insideMy name is Ana Lilian Rivera and I am 21 years old. I come from Arcatao, Chalatenango, a historic place very affected during the war. I live with my mom and my little brother. Sadly, my dad was killed during the armed conflict.

I studied primary school and high school in Arcatao, when I finished my desire was to continue studying at college but given the economics limitations of my family I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Nevertheless, I got a chance to apply for a scholarship sponsored by the parish in my community. Once I got it, they gave me a recommendation for the Romero Program. Now, I’m a senior at Universidad de El Salvador, I’m studying International Marketing.

When I started college and came to San Salvador it was a huge change in my life. It was a tough experience at the beginning. I had lived in the rural area with my mom and brother my entire life and I felt alone in the city. However, the accompaniment of the Romero Program has helped me to struggle with it. Now, I visit my family in Chalatenango as much as I can during my free weekends.

To be part of the Romero Program is a great experience full of learning, love and solidarity. This experience definitively makes me grow not just academically but personally. We have spiritual formation and we live in community. The experience is so unique and I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I have had.

Currently, I am in the interchange stage, in which Salvadoran scholarship students (becarios) live with the Casa de la Solidaridad students. This is another experience that has marked my life; I’m learning and sharing with American young students who want to know more about our country, our people. I can see their commitment and love for the communities.

I am almost finished with this experience and I have built honest friendships with the students. In some way, it seems we help change the students’ lives a little ’s through our accompaniment and love. I have learned of them about that desire to help and live in solidarity.

Víctor Rivera

victor-studentsHi, my name is José Víctor Rivera Guardado, I’m 21 years old and I’m from Guarjila a rural community in Chalatenango. I’m studying in Law school of Universidad El Salvador, thanks to a scholarship from my community support and the Romero Program. Currently, I’m having a great experience as a scholarship student (‘becario’) living in community with students from the U.S.

When I was a kid I dreamt of going to the university but I knew my family couldn’t afford it. So, for me to think about this idea was only a dream. My family was really impacted by the war; they had to leave to Honduras as refugees and lived there for three years.

My parents barely could learn to read and write, they basically only can draw their names. My older siblings went beyond that and graduated from High School. I’m the first of the family studying at college.

To get a chance and go to college it wasn’t easy. I got good grades during high school but we didn’t have money to accomplish my dream. However, I never gave up. I always prayed to God for finding a way to do it. I looked for opportunities everywhere and finally someone told me about the Romero Program. I applied and after a couple months of process I was accepted. I was completely happy with the news and family was really excited about this chance. In that moment, I knew I had to do my best to get my goal. I’m a senior now, so my dream is coming true.

My experience sharing with other ‘becarios’ and the Casa students has marked my life. Every semester brings a new experience. It’s a constant learning about the Salvadoran culture, as well the American. Friendship ties become stronger as time goes by.

This year, I have lived with the Casa de la Solidaridad students. I think both -Salvadorans and Americans- have learned of each other. For example, they have learned Spanish, and we both have learned about our lives, culture and other situations. I will always remember each of the students in a special way because they have marked my life.

Through this opportunity at college and the program, I feel I can help my community. This makes me feel excited, it’s like I can return to my community some of what they taught me. There are no words to explain this feeling. People come to me and express their gratefulness for my professional help or advisory but the reality is that since I was little I enjoyed of my community and its activities.

Neydi Martinez

neydiMy name is Neydi Martínez. I’m from Bajo Lempa, Usulután, where I grew up with my mom and my brothers. Right now, I’m a senior at Universidad Tecnológica de El Salvador where I’m studying Marketing.

Currently, I’m a scholarship student (“becaria”) of the Romero Program. I started at the program in 2009 when I started college. I heard about the program thanks to the support and references of religious leaders from my parish in Bajo Lempa. It was there where I had my first experience of community. I was part of the Youth Ministry, helping with workshops and giving talks on violence prevention. The idea was to show another perspective of life and future, promoting positive dreams to avoid young members of the community joining to the local gangs.

Given my work at the parish, I got the opportunity of studying at college in San Salvador. My family couldn’t afford it, my mom is a teacher at the community’s school but her salary wasn’t enough to pay my college studies. My mom is the main pillar of the family; she has been a single mother for the last 22 years and this hasn’t been an easy process. Fortunately, we have had the support of my community and parish. But when I got the scholarship to study in San Salvador, I faced a new economic problem because my scholarship didn’t cover payments for room and board. Thank God I had an opportunity with the Romero Program, which supports young students from rural communities like me. My experience with the Romero Program has been a blessing. I have had the chance to live in community with a large group of becarios, all of them with an incredible background and life experience.

I also have had the opportunity of sharing with students from the U.S. and it was a great experience! During that time, I realized that even when we grew up in a different country, culture, and reality, we are brothers and sisters in solidarity. We all are young people with common dreams of a better world. It’s really nice to feel American students’ support and disposition to help. One of the bigger gifts has been the honest friendship that I could find despite cultural differences. Now, I share with my American friends a desire of change and hope not only for my country but also for the world. The Romero Program and Casa de la Solidaridad have impacted my life, I know I have all the support to get my academic goals and then help other people in need. I’m really thankful with these programs, I can see God’s grace in my experience and I know God is present for those who need him.

Jaime Rivera

jaimeHello. My name is Jaime Joel Rivera Miranda. I am 22 years old and from Arcatao, a rural community in northern El Salvador in the department of Chalatenango (close to the border of Honduras). During the Salvadoran Civil War (late 70’s to early 90’s) many attacks and bombings occurred in this area so most of the people in Arcatao were refugees during the war. I grew up there and was blessed to be able to attend high school in Arcatao. Once I was finished with high school, my family couldn’t afford my college studies but I had the opportunity to get a scholarship and now I’m still in the process of getting my degree.

I’m part of the Mons. Romero Program, which is a sister program to Casa de la Solidaridad. The Romero Program supports young students from rural areas living in poverty in their desire to continue studying. When I started it was hard to live in the city, as it was so different from my old life in Arcatao. Fortunately I have been able to achieve good grades at college so this sacrifice has been worth it. The program has 4 stages of formation during the 5 years we have in college. During all those years, we are supported with room and board, spiritual accompaniment and workshops about Salvadoran reality.

When I was in my fourth year of college I was ready for the fourth stage: Interchange. I lived with American students that come to El Salvador to study at the UCA and learn more about the country. Casa de la Solidaridad financially supports the Romero Program so, in that way, Casa supports students like me get higher education. At the same time, we support the students from the U.S. in their desire to learn about our reality. So the relationship is mutual. Students who I lived with in community had the opportunity to visit my house, which is a 5-hour bus ride from San Salvador. We shared about my family and parents experiences during the war. Living in community with them, it was very comfortable to share about our lives, our worldview, as well our dreams and struggles. It was a great experience to share about Salvadoran culture and talk with them about the experiences in their praxis sites.

So, after 2 semesters having that experience, I am now in my fifth year of college. I'm almost ready to finish a BA in Sociology. For me, the idea is to graduate and then share my knowledge and skills with those who seek for a new world in peace. For now, I am part of the team of Mons. Romero Program, I work as community facilitator, I am accompanying a large group of young becarios that live in community in a house.