Ciara Johnston

Ciara was born and raised on the beautiful Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. She graduated from the University of Victoria in spring 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and looks forward to pursuing a career in science. Ciara loves reading, painting, walking her dogs, and has been a long time volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Victoria. She previously spent a year studying abroad in Colombia and would love to see more of South and Central America. After visiting the welcoming community of Cofradia in 2013 she was inspired to later return as a volunteer, and is very excited be a part of the incoming BECA team.

Posted on Thursday, November 30, 2017, 8:42 pm EST

For as long as I can remember, thanksgiving has always been a small, casual affair: me, my parents, my brothers, our dogs, a small turkey or maybe a roast chicken – once we even just ordered Chinese food. I think it’s safe to say that as the only Canadian in a group celebrating American thanksgiving in Honduras, I knew this would be a unique experience for me in many ways. For one, Canadian thanksgiving is long since over – celebrated on the second Monday of October, in fact. As well, in my family at least, thanksgiving has always been very, very low key. I spent one memorable thanksgiving with a family in the United States some years ago and all I remember is a whirlwind of people and turkeys and pies and pop and a food coma to last a lifetime; the only things missing were a plate of Nanaimo Bars and a late night trip to Timmies in our toques and runners, of course.

The idea of cooking a thanksgiving dish for dozens of people seemed really intimidating, and truthfully it was as messy and chaotic as I expected. But it was also hilarious and heartwarming and I would do it again in an instant. If there were one true Canadian food, I’m pretty sure coconut rice would be far from it; but that’s what I made, so be it. Maple syrup is tough to find here, after all. I don’t think our little kitchen had ever had such an assortment of food and music and people all at once; potatoes, coconut rice, and fried rice bubbled away on each element while pumpkin cookies baked in the oven and brownies mixed on the counter. Speakers blasted Mariah Carey and Gun’s and Roses while we bickered lightheartedly over whether eggs belong in fried rice or not (North America says yes, Honduras says no – the jury is still out on that one).

Then came the real adventure; all of us piling into the busito dressed to the nines, clutching our assorted food for dear life as we bounced all the way up to the school. Once there we laid our food out in a tidy row amongst streamers and paper turkeys; food that was North American, Honduran, and everything around and in between. It was obvious that everyone had put a significant piece of their precious time, money, energy, and love into each meal that we would share together. There were smiles and hugs and kisses as greetings amongst friends, amazing people from all over the Americas who share a common love for education. When we finally sat down it was not as two separate groups but as one whole family.

Looking around the banquet table at all the smiling faces, eager to eat, I was struck once again by the powerful way BECA has linked all of us volunteers with the kind and welcoming people of Cofradía. Despite the thoughts of home that I’m sure weighed heavily on people’s minds, I saw the powerful way volunteers opened their hearts to receive the love and kindness this community has to offer, their gift of a home away from home that is just as warm and just as loving as the one I’ve always known.

Through our ups and downs, our triumphs and challenges, the support these families selflessly share and their unwavering belief in our work is the strength that keeps us going. Their love that softens the pain of being so far away from home for so long, their energetic smiles no matter if it is first thing in the morning or late into the night, the hugs I didn’t even realize I needed until they’re already happening - for all of this and more, I’m truly grateful to the BECA team, to the community of Cofradía, and to my students and their families for showing me how wonderfully large and full of light this world is.

Happy Holidays, everyone!