For the past two weeks, I’ve found myself staring at an empty Word document, wondering how to put into words how fortunate I am to be living the life of my dreams. Traveling. Interning with a non-profit whose mission I strongly support. Working with people who care about what I have to say. Being surrounded and living with strong, talented, and empowering women. Meeting genuine human beings who make a foreign country feel like home. Yes, I know. I am blessed beyond belief.
Every morning at 10 a.m., I am welcomed at the office with a smile and a kiss from Facundo, one of my supervisors. In Argentina, it is customary to give people a beso, or kiss, on the right cheek when you say hello AND goodbye. Therefore, as soon as I step into the office, I am bombarded with kisses from all of my coworkers and I love it.
At work, we always start off the day with a sip of ‘mate,’ the traditional infused drink in Argentina. While the mate is being passed around the office (yes, mate is shared from the same cup, using the same straw, person to person), conversations are always happening. At 10 a.m. most of us sit in the common area, sip on mate, eat medialunas (croissants) and talk for at least an hour before we start working. I am fascinated by how inclusive the environment is. At work, everyone contributes to the conversations and the one-mic rule never has to be mentioned because when one person speaks, the rest just listens.
Last Tuesday, the Wifi went down so my supervisor and I spent the entire day talking. I shared my story with him. I talked to him about my upbringing and he then understood why working with them (Red Comunidades Rurales) was so important to me. He understood that improving the living conditions of rural people in situations of risk or social exclusion is just as important to me as it is to them.
Though I was born in New York, I was raised in a poor rural community in Mexico. I lived in a small brick house with no door or windows for eight years. The empty holes on the walls were covered with plastic bags and the door was replaced by a floral curtain. Our house floor had no tiles so for years, I walked upon the earthy soil. The same soil I stepped on while working in the corn plantations. The same soil I stepped on when walking to school because my mother couldn’t afford a pair of shoes. The same soil I stepped on when feeding the cows, donkeys, goats, chickens, and pigs that helped us to make a living. The very same soil I hope to step on one day in the future so that I can give back to the pueblito that molded me into the woman I am today.
It has been ten long years since I left Mexico but I have not forgotten where I come from. The memories live inside of me. I still remember all of the trips I made to the well on my donkey. I still remember making fresh cheese with my mom from the milk of the cows and goats we owned. I still remember chasing the chickens in the backyard. I still remember… and I will never forget.
When I told Facundo that I brushed my teeth with sand and that my sisters and I washed our clothes in the river, he was amazed. He mentioned that many of the communities he works with still scrub their clothes on top of rocks at the edge of the river. We talked for hours. It was a great conversation. It allowed me to reflect on my upbringing and realize how fortunate I am to now have the resources I once lacked as a child. However, it was also a reminder to remain humble, remember where I come from, and always give back…
The following week after sharing my story with Facundo, he invited me to speak at St. Luke’s College. He was going to be giving a presentation about the living conditions of rural communities but realized there was no better way to present that information than through a personal story… The thought of speaking in front of a crowd was nerve wracking to me. To those that know me, I don’t like to get personal because I cry in between every sentence. I cry. I cry a lot. I don’t cry because I am sad but because I am so thankful to my parents, teachers, friends, and the Lord up above who have helped me get to where I am today. Studying what I love at Smith College, one of the best liberal arts colleges in America, with a full-tuition scholarship through the Posse Foundation. Interning abroad in one of my dream destinations fully funded by Cultural Vistas, a nonprofit exchange organization that promotes global understanding and allows students to experience life in another culture. I am who I am because of all the beautiful souls who have seen potential in me, trusted me, and provided me with their support…
June 13th was the big day. I shared my story in front of approximately 100 students. The experience was nothing but short of wonderful. The students gave me their full attention. They were inspired. They could not believe that the girl that once walked to school barefoot carrying her books in a plastic bag was now a college student in the United States achieving the American Dream that her parents passed on to her. It was then that I understood the power of storytelling. I learned that my story matters. It matters because it is who I am…
After wrapping up my presentation and Q&A, Adriana, one of the students, came up to me and told me that her dream was to live and teach in New York. I smiled at her and replied, “Well, I’ll see you soon then.” She smiled, nodded, and we hugged. She understood the message. She was at the right place and with the right mindset. It all starts with a dream. Also, I did not kiss her goodbye because I am hopeful that we will meet again. Maybe then, it will be her turn to share her story.
Did I mention I am blessed?
— Jennifer Moran