My Journey of Gratitude

By Cinthia Jaramillo

I was raised by a single mother who despite having very little, taught me the importance of being a generous, hardworking and grateful human being every day. Due to difficult circumstances, my mother was forced to send me to Colombia as a baby so my grandmother could take care of me while she worked longer hours to help me and her siblings. I came back to the states when I was five years old and I returned to my grandmother’s house in Medellin almost every summer since then. I looked forward to it every June and cherished the opportunity to experience a different world where everyone I knew lived with less but somehow enjoyed life ten times more. My childhood moments in Colombia gave me a broader perspective on life and they planted a special seed in me of wanting to help others.

A few months into my freshman year of high school, I begged my mother to let me venture off to school in Colombia. She argued it was a crazy idea to go from spending my summers to actually living there again, but she knew I loved trying new things and that this would not be an exception. Eventually, my mom gave in and agreed to let me give it a shot. It was the most daring decision I had made in my life thus far but I took the challenge and didn’t look back. In retrospect, what I thought had been the biggest mistake of my young life, turned into one of my most rewarding and transforming years.

Of course, as with every new change, the beginning got off to a bumpy start. Adjusting to a new school, trying to make new friends and pretty much relearning all subjects in Spanish was difficult and sometimes exhausting. Many times  I felt so overwhelmed that I would call my mother and try to convince her to bring me back home but she insisted that I be patient and kept going. I eventually filled my days with homework, sports and volunteering activities. After school, I volunteered at a home for hearing impaired children where I interacted and played games with them. It warmed my heart to see them smile and it made the challenges I was experiencing completely worthwhile. On the weekends, I spent a lot of time at my church where I was given the opportunity to help in numerous ways from donating clothes and school supplies to traveling to other cities in Colombia and helping prepare meals for those in need. My focus on giving back had brought a refreshing new light into my life and things slowly started coming together.

I was determined to make my time in Colombia meaningful and impactful so I was always thinking of the next big move. This time, I took it a step further and convinced my mom to support my newfound idea of opening an ice-cream shop with my aunt’s help. She laughed and questioned my bizarre idea. I explained that it wasn’t so much because I loved ice cream, but more because I knew my aunt needed a job to support her two children. There was so much I wanted to do to help my family but I wasn’t exactly sure how. Next thing I knew, at the age of 16, I was buying supplies, selecting ice cream flavors, decorating the store and putting together some kind of marketing campaign. I spent a lot of time working after school and especially on weekends. “Helados Cinthia” was a short lived success and more things went wrong than right. Looking back, I learned many life lessons but what I valued the most about that experience was being able to give my aunt a sense of purpose and joy.

Travel and exposure to different cultures have very much shaped me into who I am today. It has sparked in me the passion to continue giving from the heart and it’s led me to meet people from all walks of life who constantly ingrained in me the virtues of compassion and simplicity. It has opened my mind and heart to things I never thought I would ever see or do and over time, I’ve learned to identify what truly matters in life. I’ve stopped worrying about the little things and I have made it a point to appreciate what I have and those around me every day.

Today, I’m lucky to be able to say that my new job is working at the Foundation and constantly finding ways to give back to the community. To me, it’s more of a calling than a job and I know life put me here with the purpose of being a better person everyday through acts of kindness and spreading that kindness to as many people as possible. If life is indeed a journey, I know for sure this is just the beginning.