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Miss Ventura County: My Spring Break

After eight long months of fundraising and waiting, like many other college students I was finally boarding the plane to spend my spring break in Mexico. However, unlike most of those college students, I wasn’t on my way to a crazy seven-day beach party. I was traveling with 19 other students and missionaries to Mexico City, where we would be serving and living with the poorest of the poor. With my most reliable duffel bag and a cozy neck pillow, I was ready for whatever this trip had to throw at me. But I never truly could have prepared for what awaited me in Mexico City.

The focus of our trip was to work with women who had been abandoned by their families on the streets of Mexico City. Most of these women were elderly, in their seventies to nineties, and life on the street would have been too much to bear. The government of Mexico set up a place for them to live, where they would receive meals and shelter. But after spending our first day at the Villa de Mujeres, it became evident that what these women really needed was love. That became our mission: to bring love and peace to the women who felt alone and abandoned.

The second day at Villa de Mujeres, I came armed with that mission. With hot pink nail polish in hand, I set out to build personal relationships with the women, while also providing them with fabulous manicures. With the help of four years of high school Spanish classes, I was able to learn about their lives. Some of the women had had professional jobs, some had traveled the world, and some spoke to me about their adventures in ‘Los Estados Unidos.’ All of the women had families, and they spoke about their children with pride. I struggled to comprehend how these women could have so much love for the people who had abandoned them. As the day went on, it became increasingly more evident that these women were teaching me about love and peace more than I ever could have expected.

normaDuring our final day at Villa de Mujeres, I knew that it was time to say goodbye to the women. It truly did not seem fair that we would be returning to our own worlds, complete with loving families, fantastic college communities, and abounding opportunities, while they would be here for the rest of their lives. It was hard to not be sad as we hugged them farewell. However, on our way out of the compound, I saw one of the women who I had come in contact with many times through the week. Her name is Norma, and her most prized possession is a portable radio that she wears around her neck at all times. Norma was listening to her music on full blast, and dancing like a child on Christmas morning. I was struck by how light and free she looked, and I couldn’t help catching her contagious smile. I stopped to dance with her for a few moments before wrapping her in a hug. Despite her circumstances, Norma demonstrated incredible happiness and hope. She radiated with the knowledge that she is loved, even when her surroundings seemed so bleak. How many times in our lives do we feel frustrated, or upset? When classes get rough or we feel defeated, it can be so easy to walk away and give up. But I know that Norma’s enthusiasm is enough to keep me going. Her smile is something that I will never forget.

As I boarded the plane for California (after 24 hours of delays, but that’s another story), Norma’s face was imprinted on my mind. I had come to Mexico to serve, to teach, and to love. But in reality, I was the one who gained so much. The women that I met served me, they taught me, and they loved me. I left Mexico as a different person, full of a deeper understanding of what love truly is. Now that spring quarter is underway, I can’t help but think back to Norma and the effortless joy she possesses. I strive every day to spread that happiness and love that the women showed me at Villa de Mujeres, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced something so profoundly impactful. I hope to return to Mexico City soon to visit with the women again, but until then, I will keep my picture of Norma and me on my wall as a constant reminder to celebrate and seize the day.

Thanks for reading!

Jane Kennedy

Miss Ventura County 2015