Delegates meet friends in Grand Junction’s sister city
The drive from San Salvador to the small community of El Espino takes only an hour or so, but for seven American travelers, the short journey on Friday was an experience in and of itself, eventually leading them to the colorful place they’ll call home for the next five days.
In a narrow, 10-passenger van, the delegation — traveling with the Grand Junction-based Foundation for Cultural Exchange — swerved through the crowded streets of San Salvador, a city of nearly 2 million people. Female vendors roamed the sidewalks balancing plastic tubs on their heads filled with pastries, fried plantains, fish and tortillas. Standing vigilant outside of nearly every other storefront were private security guards, donning bulletproof vests and carrying rifles.
Eventually, the city gave way to vegetation-choked hills and cornfields before the delegation arrived in Grand Junction’s sister city of El Espino. After passing through a gate guarded by soldiers, the seven delegates were greeted in the tcommunity center by all but two of the FCE’s 23 scholarship students, as well as a kindergarten class and several community leaders.
“I was excited to meet new people in a different part of the world, but also very nervous because it’s hard to convey how much you care about somebody when you’ve never even met them,” Jessica Geddes, an employee of Mesa County Libraries, said upon arriving.
Geddes, an FCE board member, has sponsored Wilmán Ivan, a Salvadoran university student for the past two years. She became involved with the organization after sending her daughter Jenna to El Salvador with the FCE when Jenna graduated high school two years ago.
“When Jenna came home (from El Salvador), I thought the experience would change her life,” Geddes said. “It ended up changing my life instead.”
Having finally met her scholarship student, Geddes will also deliver books donated by Mesa County Libraries to the local school and inaugurate an official Sister Library relationship between the two.
Michael Santo, an attorney and partner at Bechtel & Santo, LLP, in Grand Junction, also had the opportunity Friday to meet the Salvadoran student whose scholarship he has provided for the last three years.
“When I was your age, I had someone who really helped me out with my education, so I want to do the same for you,” Santo said to the crowd of Salvadoran high school and college scholarship students.
Selena Marisol, a high school scholarship student who lost her best friend last year to gang violence, addressed the crowd as well, thanking the delegates and FCE President Anna Stout.
“I know that a lot of doors close in life, but a lot of windows open too,” she said. “This scholarship program is one of those windows for me.”