Thursday, August 22, 2013

Just around the corner...

First, an enormous thank you is in order.

Because... WE DID IT! WE RAISED $10,000!

I sometimes like to think I can do everything myself. Fundraising for this journey has been an incredible wake-up call and reinforced two little lessons. 1. I don't have to do everything by myself (no, we don't get brownie points at the end if we don't ask for help) and 2. People want to help. Even after donations were sent in, people have continued to follow up, lend their support and empathy as I prepare in earnest for that flight on September 6th. And your words are just as (if not more) valuable than the dollars.

So now it's official. I'm going. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Over the past few months, during fundraising and visiting friends and family, I've been answering the same few questions (Why? When? What are you doing there?) The trouble is, when you tell a story over and over again, it can become mechanical. More than anything else, it becomes impersonal, the way you recount a NY Times article or the latest celebrity gossip. So when I touched down at Logan Airport yesterday in Boston after visiting family in Minnesota (scroll down for pics), I had a nice big, bug-eyed, reality-check-slap-you-upside-the-head-moment in roughly this order:

It's August 18th.
I leave September 6th.
That's... wait... 30 days past September, April, June, and November... in 19 days!!
The next time I'm on a plane, it won't be to visit family or go back to Seattle. It will be to move. Because I'm moving to San Salvador.

Not San Salvador like I've been saying it over and over again for the past few months. But San Salvador as home. San Salvador as a real, physical place, with an apartment building somewhere that will be my apartment building, and a language that will no longer be a neat thing to be fluent in, but suddenly as pervasive as the air I breathe, and the pupusas I eat, and suddenly I'm going to be dunked headfirst into a world I don't even know how to adequately anticipate. Oh boy.

So stay tuned... it's about to get real.


The boys (bros and cousin) revisiting LEGO memories
All the cousins together again!
My cousin Kakia, Mommy, and me

Thursday, August 1, 2013

HP gives her first sermon... in Spanish

Can you believe it's AUGUST?! Already a few YASCers have left to start their service year abroad, and have posted pictures of their first cigar in Cuba, their morning breakfast in South Africa, or their pre-departure jitters before getting on the flight to Tanzania.

Though I haven't left yet, a LOT has happened here near the little town o' Weston, MA. Two events in particular have left me, if possible, more excited and more certain that El Salvador, and specifically Cristosal, is exactly where I want to be.

Last Sunday I had the (slightly nerve-wracking) honor of giving two sermons (same text - one in English, one in Spanish) at Christ Church in Tarrytown, NY with the Rev. Susan Copley. We visited Susan and Christ Church during our 2-week training session at Stony Point. The space is gorgeous, the people there welcomed us with open arms (and incredible food, including homemade drool-inducing empanadas), and Susan's words were always kind, authentic, and eye-opening. When she first emailed me about the opportunity to come back and speak, I was nervous, but very excited to be able to return.

Meeting the Rev. Susan Copley for the first time during our YASC training.
Some words I never thought I'd say: I gave a sermon. I've copied the text (English version) below for those who are interested, and of course, a few photos. I wish I had photos of the Spanish service to share with you - imagine a Spanish guitar in place of the organ, maracas in place of bulky prayer books, and kids running everywhere. I loved it. I loved speaking Spanish (and realizing that I could!), I loved kissing people on the cheek, I loved the warmth and the openness I felt there even though I was new, speaking in a secondary language in a completely new environment. It just felt like home.

Giving the sermon at Christ Church in Tarrytown, NY. Yes, that is a cast on my left hand (removed yesterday!) No, I was not teaching the chicken dance.
Last but not least, I met Noah (Exec. Dir. of Cristosal) yesterday in person for the first time! He's visiting Boston to see family, and we snuck in a quick hello and coffee downtown. We talked about what I will be doing when I arrive in September, where I will live, what Cristosal is up to now... and like my experience at Christ Church, I just new this is exactly where I want to be. I believe working with Noah and Cristosal is the experience and the training I have been looking for, but never believed existed, let alone qualify for once I'd found it. Yet here we are! One month until my flight, and loving every minute of it.


7/28/2013 Sermon at Christ Church, Tarrytown

My name is Hannah Perls, I grew up outside of Boston and I will be spending my next year working for Foundation Cristosal in El Salvador.

I have never given a sermon before, and when the Reverend Susan gave me the readings for today, I have to admit I was a bit lost. But when I got to the final reading, it suddenly clicked. So I want to share with you today a bit of my story, a bit about how and why I am going to El Salvador, with the hope that you hear something for yourselves.

Seek and you shall find.  This is the core of my journey over the past year and a half, and something I definitely want to take with me when I go to El Salvador. But I’ve found that this phrase has taken on new meaning, and here’s why.

Like I said, I grew up in a suburb outside Boston, a very wealthy, relatively isolated, homogenous suburb. I did really well in High School, and then I went to Columbia University where I studied environmental science and sustainable development. And I loved it – I loved the beauty and the simplicity of science, especially chemistry. When the time came to look for a job, I knew I wanted to combine this passion for science with a career that would allow me to make a real difference for others. And I found it – an extraordinary consulting firm called Anchor QEA, and they offered me a spot in New Jersey.

Well no offense to New Jersey, but I really did not want to live there. And so when they offered me a job, against the recommendations of my parents and mentors, I turned it down. And then I went back and asked if they would place me in Seattle instead. And to make a long story short, after a lot of asking, and a lot of bugging, and then really bugging, I got an internship. Then I got my job, my dream career as a scientist fresh out of college doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do.

Ask and you shall receive.

There was only one problem. I think we’ve all had the experience where you sign up for something, thinking it will be the answer, and it’s not. I was unhappy, and I didn’t really know why. I had done everything I was supposed to do. I was sitting at my desk, and I knew that there had to be something more. But I didn’t know what it was. And I couldn’t really talk about it, because I felt like I should be happy.  How can I ask for more, when I don’t even know what it is that’s missing? How can I receive when I don’t know what my question is?

So I sat at my desk for a while, for a year. Some days were great, some days I slugged through. I asked for different jobs, I asked about the opportunities within the company, but none of the answers I found were what I was looking for.

The thing is, I understood what it meant to ask for what you want… that’s how I go the job in the first place. Except this time I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t have a concrete quest or even a good alternative. I just felt something was missing, and as a scientist, it’s really uncomfortable to base anything on feeling.

When I was home in Boston this past Christmas, I met with a dear friend and old employer over coffee. He is an organizer to help inner city youth who aren’t doing so great in school drive their own education – to find their own passions, create their own reasons for going to math or science or music class. I taught environmental science to these kids, we talked about methane gas, global warming and cow farts, how to save polar bears from extinction. 

When I met this ex-boss over Christmas he asked, Hannah how’s work? And probably for the first time I was really honest and I told the truth not only to my friend but to myself. I told him the good, and the not so good, the stuff that wasn’t really going the way I wanted it to. And he said, “well Hannah, what do you really want?” And even though I didn’t have an answer, I gave him a laundry list of moments when I feel the most fulfilled. I said, I want to speak Spanish, I want to travel again! I want to work with kids, I want to teach, I want to be outside, I want to eat really good food… and I just really want to know that what I do makes a difference, I want to have conversations with folks about what really matters to them. And rather than throw up his hands and say, well good luck!, he said, I know a guy. His name’s Noah Bullock, he runs this organization called Cristosal in El Salvador.

Many of you know Noah Bullock, he came and spoke here before, but I wanted to quickly recap what Cristosal does. Cristosal is an independent, faith-based non-profit organization that accompanies, and partners with the people of El Salvador in their struggle for peace and justice and reconciliation. El Salvador is a very conflicted place – their 12-year Civil War ended when I was 3 in 1992, and much of civilian life is defined by gang violence and memories of war. Resources for public education are extraordinarily limited. But when I listened to Noah speak, he didn’t say any of this. He didn’t talk about the overwhelming problems El Salvador faced. He just talked about the folks he worked with, their incredible fortitude, hope, and creativity. I realized that this is an organization that listens.

After speaking with Noah twice, I quit my job, and I left Seattle. I am now a member of the Young Adult Service Corps with the Rev. David Copley, and will move to San Salvador to work with Cristosal on September 6th! And so in the most circuitous way possible, I received. I got my answer. And I realize, not only from this experience but even now, as I’m preparing to leave and am navigating very unfamiliar waters. As I scientist, I learned to ask very well prepared, well-researched, reasonable questions. That’s really comfortable for me. But it was the unreasonable, the scary, the daring to ask what if I don’t go with what I know questions that ironically hold the greatest reward, and reflect who I really am and what I really want. For me, that’s when faith started showing up in my life. I think these are the kind of requests Jesus was talking about.

I share this story with you so I can ask you this – I would like you to join me. There are many ways to do this, through prayer, through communal projects, and through donations. I will be here after the service – please come find me, I would love to hear more about the work you have done with Cristosal so far, and invite you to continue to be a part of next year’s work.

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