By Henry Flores, communications liaisons director
My family and I moved to Colombia, South America, from El Salvador about one year ago. We wanted to give our children a new international education experience and Unbound had an open position for a communications liaison in the country. It was a great opportunity for Unbound, my family and me.
I decided to come in advance of my family to make a path, find a place to live, get life organized, etc. While moving within one’s own country isn’t easy, it still allows for the same social, economic and cultural structure. Moving to another country is a completely different scenario.
When I moved to California, U.S.A., back in 1989, I arrived in a Salvadoran community. I had my relatives, Salvadoran restaurants, food, markets and traditions that were familiar to me. I felt part of my own culture and idiosyncrasy; I had a network. Here in Colombia, I’ve only met one Salvadoran in my new city of Medellin.
I arrived to a bedroom that I rented, for one week, through a phone app. My entire life was in my suitcase. Pictures of my family, my camera, a small flag of my country and my tiny Bluetooth speaker were the most valuable belongings I had. My wife, children, parents, brother, nieces and nephews, friends, house and 18-year-old chow-chow dog, Lucas, all stayed behind.
During the first week, I worked during the day and tried to find an apartment to rent during my free time. When the week ended, I did not have an apartment yet and I couldn’t have the room for another week because it was already booked by someone else. A hotel was too expensive. The homeowner was kind enough to let me sleep on his couch for one night, but the next day I would be kind of homeless! I was scared. I felt vulnerable.
That night was long. I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” I could feel the cold of loneliness in my bones, I had nothing and nobody. I cried.
I couldn’t get an Internet connection at home because no company would get me connected, so I couldn’t pass the time with videos or even call my family. I was a foreigner with no credit record, so the country deemed me untrustworthy to set up utilities. Suddenly I felt powerless, isolated, frustrated.
I started to hate 5 p.m. and weekends because it meant it was time to go “home” to an empty apartment with no connectivity, no close friends, no family, and at that moment, no reason to be there.
The experiences of these moments have changed me in a profound way. The feeling of loneliness, vulnerability and fragility led me to more deeply understand the phrase we embrace in Unbound toward our sponsored members and families, “You are not alone. We are walking with you.”
Unbound isn’t just about the material benefits, it’s about being accompanied, to suffer with, learn with and be with people who, very soon, become a second family.
It took me a few days to understand that I was not alone, I was part of Unbound. I had colleagues who guided me in figuring out the system in Medellin, gave me words of encouragement and were with me when I was sad. They opened my eyes to new opportunities and the potential I had to reach them. They helped me find what bus to take, how to get to places. They literally took me by the hand and guided me. I had sponsored families welcoming me with a smile into their homes, offering their country to me and thanking me for choosing Colombia to live in. I thought, “Oh my Lord, they are saying ‘thanks’ to me?”
I realized that this is what happens when someone sponsors a child, youth or elder. They are not only sponsoring the individual but their family, their hopes, dreams, goals, burdens and suffering.
Sponsorship gives them the opportunity to be part of a community, which will take them by the hand to guide and protect them, like I experienced. Sponsorship is an opportunity for those feeling fragile, vulnerable and alone, to realize that they have opportunities and how to access them, and to feel accompanied by thousands of other sponsored families and staff members. They will feel warm and not cold, protected and not vulnerable, strong and not fragile.
Unbound isn’t just about the material benefits, it’s about being accompanied, to suffer with, learn with and be with people who, very soon, become a second family. Sponsorship is an opportunity to share in the life struggles of people we didn’t know existed before, who live across the world.
I no longer hate 5 p.m. and weekends, not only because my own family is now here in Colombia with me, not only because I finally got internet connected and bought a coffee maker to brew the amazing Colombian coffee, but because I know that the next day my Unbound family will be here, walking with and caring for me. The sponsored families will be here, offering their sincere love and friendship. And my colleagues will be here, inspiring me to be the best I can be.