University of Georgia sister Diana “Demure” Bui began 2011 with an immersion trip to El Salvador with a group of fellow Greeks as part of the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values.

The AFLV provides challenging experiences for members of the Greek community to promote leadership and values. It is also meant to stimulate the growth and development of fraternity and sorority council and chapter leaders.

Bui graciously provided her personal account of her experiences while in El Salvador to “The Jade Times.”

By Diana “Demure” Bui, Contributing Writer

For six days and seven nights, I was in San Salvador, El Salvador. Despite my back pain from shoveling and the pain of missing home and my family, I know I arrived there on January 1 for one reason. That one reason is to make a difference; however, that one reason multiplied. I, as well as eighteen other Greeks from across the nation, came to this realization after just a day. We had embarked on a journey that changed our view on the world and on Greek life forever. That journey was the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values 2011 El Salvador Immersion Trip.

Upon leaving the airport to our volunteer house, I saw many things I was not used to. Kids were riding on the back of a pick-up truck while their parents sped down the highway. On the side of the road, I noticed rows and rows of homes made up of garbage bags and metal scraps. It was then I saw my first dead body lying in the middle of road from a car accident. Instead of an ambulance, I saw a minivan labeled “Funeral.” A chill went through my body as my cab slowly passed the traffic surrounding the accident. The cab driver explained to us that this was normal.

We went to a Catholic church the next morning and later spent the rest of the day at an orphanage. There, I became attached to this one little boy whom I still can’t get off my mind. He is about one and he has the most precious smile I have ever seen. The whole time there, I felt like I was at a day care center. It didn’t hit me until we were leaving. When that little boy ran to me and held me tight, I realized that these children were not going to go home. If I could, I would take him with me and take care of him forever.

The rest of the week, I learned so much more about this country’s history and the way of life for many El Salvadorans. Why is it this is the first time I have heard about a civil war that happened there 20 years ago? People like Don Miguel told me horrific stories about infants that were thrown in the air and stabbed to death and other tortures the poor endured from the soldiers. It’s unbelievable that no one did anything about it and the war lasted for decades.

Due to the history of political issues, half of the population is living in poverty. While there, our two main projects were to: 1.) Build a home for the Santiago family and 2. Build a day care center for the Las Delicias community. The Santiago family needs this home. This family of seven is living under a shelter made up of a tin roof and plastic bags with no running water. Their only source of water is carrying buckets of it from the bottom of the hill to the top. This is something the children and women have to do three times a day. This was very eye opening to me as I struggled up and down that hill with them. At both sites, we dug trenches to set the foundation. Through the heat, illnesses and pain, all of us worked together and accomplished our goal.

During my time there, I fell in love with the people. Seeing the people we helped smile was so rewarding. I saw the true meaning of family, hope and community through them. Family and hope: the women and children helping their father build their new home. Community: neighbors helping when they can. Kids stopping by on their bikes, asking what we were doing, leaving their bikes and picking up a shovel. I can’t explain this feeling in words. It just felt really good to see what was happening as I shoveled dirt out of the trenches.

Photo credit: Diana “Demure” Bui

This experience allowed me to see many things under a different light. For example, action versus donations. The kids here need food and clothes, but they need your care and attention too. Families need materials to build a home, but they want you to be part of it too. You won’t understand unless you’re there with them. They will tell you their stories from start to end. Another example is unity versus an organization by itself. This was Greek Unity at its finest. I am so proud of all the Greeks who shared this experience with me. We are bonded by service. We used this bond and impacted many lives. We all went home with the hope of inspiring you, our fellow members, to do the same. The AFLV 2012 El Salvador Immersion Trip application will be out this summer. I encourage you to apply and continue this Greek Unity, as well as give the people of El Salvador hope.

To read more about the 2011 AFLV Immersion Trip, please visit: http://www.aflv.blogspot.com/