Opening My Eyes

by Irene Cermeno |

Irene Cermeno is a Spanish and business major. She has both participated in and coordinated Arrupe Center immersion trips.

It wasn’t until I got my first bloody nose in a small El Salvador village that I realized what it meant to see the world with new eyes. One person in particular, a ten-year-old girl named Katalina, was responsible for that change. I was staying with Kata, whose mother had left her and her brother in the care of a very loving grandmother, and her family. Kata was a beautiful girl, always smiling, always wanting to make me feel welcome. As she took care of me when I got that bloody nose, I realized that the people I had come to help were the ones who were helping me. After my nose stopped bleeding, we sat down and talked, about her life, about her impressions of the world. I discovered that this little girl knew more about life than I or any other 21-year-old college student I know. She told me that things happen for a reason, and that she knew I was there because God had led me there. Kata knew that she did not have a mother, but she believed that she was blessed nonetheless to have a loving grandmother. She taught me that instead of asking God for what I don’t have, I should thank God for all that God has given me.

See the world with your eyes wide open. I had heard this advice all my life and honestly thought I was living up to the challenge. But it wasn’t until I spent those ten days with Kata in El Salvador that I began to understand what those words might mean.

See the world with your eyes wide open. I had heard this advice all my life and honestly thought I was living up to the challenge. But it wasn’t until I spent those ten days with Kata in El Salvador that I began to understand what those words might mean. I have been privileged to travel to many places—from the beautiful waters of Hawaii to the over-populated cities of China—and have had the opportunity to explore much of the world and its virtues. However, no matter where I went I saw many of the same things: the luxuries surrounding us, the two cars we don’t need, the ten pairs of shoes we don’t wear, the excess food we can’t finish, and all the ways we find to complain about our lives.

During the fall quarter of 2002, with the hope of seeing something different, I decided to participate in a spring break immersion. I wanted to see the world in a new way and believed an immersion trip would allow me to go somewhere to help, to truly make a difference. I hoped to visit El Salvador. It was there, I felt, where I was truly needed. I thought that the country’s poverty meant unhappiness, and unhappiness led to destruction. My desire to go there was so intense that the only way to calm it was to apply. I was selected to go.

And it turned out that I was the one who was helped. It was in El Salvador that I had the strength to open my eyes, which, until then, had seemed to be half closed.

El Salvador made me realize how easily and how often I take things for granted. I was sure my family would always be together. I was sure I would always have food on my table. I was sure I was never going to need anything, and that happiness would forever define my life. Most importantly, I took life itself for granted. But it was in that small, “poor” village, staying with Kata, that I discovered an incredible richness of family, of community, and of life. My eyes delighted in the beauty of a country that had been devastated by war but touched and remade by the hands of God. My eyes saw what they had never witnessed before: a life of color and beauty, a common humanity. I felt that I had been led to El Salvador for a reason and had been given the gift of sight. As I focused on the realities of life in El Salvador, I began to re-evaluate the way I see the world, to consider the injustices committed by me and the people who lived like me in this world full of materialism.

After my time in El Salvador I recognized a desire to become an instrument of peace and love, a desire to change the world by helping others attain a critical consciousness of the world’s most pressing needs. The following year, I led an immersion trip to Nogales, Mexico. While my hope was to help others open their eyes in much the same way that I had, leading the Nogales trip broadened my own vision of the realities that shape the entire human community. As I came to appreciate the lives of people who live on or try to cross the border, I began to understand the interconnectedness of us all. I finally could see that I am a part of this complex and interrelated world. With eyes wide open, I realized that this is the model for the person I want to become.

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