Returning to their roots

Cecile and Raul Villarreal with their sons, Alex (far left) and Lou (center), and their sponsored friends, Hector (second from left) and Magdalena (far right).

Last summer, Cecile Villarreal traveled with her husband, Raul, and two sons, Alex and Lou, to Guatemala on an Unbound awareness trip. Alex and Lou, who were adopted by Cecile and Raul, were born in Guatemala, and this was their first time visiting their birth country. In this interview, Cecile shares with contributing writer Maureen Lunn about taking an Unbound adventure with her family.

Maureen: How long have you been involved with Unbound, and what led you to initially become a sponsor?

Cecile: We started sponsoring our first child, Magdalena, in 2005. We had adopted my oldest son, Alex, from Guatemala in 2000 and had become part of an association of parents who had done the same. In one of the association meetings, an adoptive parent introduced Unbound to us, and we picked Magdalena that very same day. A few years later, we started sponsoring Manuelito. We felt that was a great way to be useful and to keep contact with our sons’ heritage.

Maureen: Tell me about your adoption story.

Cecile: Raul and I decided to have children a little late in our lives and felt adoption was the way to go. Alex was adopted in 2000 and Lou in 2004. Both were babies when they came home, and in both cases, the adoption process was nerve-wrecking (being at the mercy of the whims of foreign government officials is not for the faint of heart!). Alex and Lou are not biologically related, but their bond has been strong since they met. In every way that counts, they are true brothers: they support and encourage each other, pick on each other and gang up against their parents like the best of them.

Maureen: Tell me about your sponsored children.

Cecile: Magdalena just turned 18 and will graduate from high school in 2018. She studies accounting and would like to go to college. She has a twin and a whole bunch of siblings (only one brother in the lot). She is, like a lot of young people in Guatemala, a mixture of tradition and modernity; she likes to wear blouses her mother embroiders by hand but loves to dance the Reggaeton with her sisters. Manuelito is going to turn 16 and also studies accounting. His true love is music. He comes from a musical family; when we visited, one of the first things we did together is sing and play music. Manuelito can already play the guitar and the harmonica, and he has a nice singing voice.

Maureen: What led you to go on the awareness trip?

Cecile: This is the first time we’ve traveled with Unbound. We felt it was time for us to meet Magdalena and Manuelito, as they are both getting older, and as our sons were old enough to notice and appreciate what Guatemala has to offer.

Maureen: What was a highlight from the trip?

Cecile: For me, the highlight of the trip was the people. Visiting with our sponsored children was very moving. After so many years of writing letters and sending pictures, we finally met in person. We also encountered children, adults and senior citizens, everyone eager to communicate and curious about our lives. Since Raul and I both speak Spanish, we talked a lot and laughed together. It is amazing how the sponsored families remain cheerful and hopeful in spite of all their hardships. We have a lot to learn from them in that respect.

Maureen: What did your family have to say about their favorite parts?

Cecile: Raul said one of the highlights of the trip was the beautiful floor mosaics and decorations made by the Unbound staff and sponsored families. The floor mosaics were made with colorful organic materials like seeds and flower petals; the decorations often included exotic flowers/plants arrangements that we had not seen anywhere else.

For Alex, who’s 17, it was playing soccer with the Guatemala children and visiting families in their homes.

Lou, 13, said the highlight of the trip was hanging out with the [sponsored children and their families] on the bus and after the day’s activities. There were approximately 10 children from different parts of the U.S. [on the trip] and they got on famously.

Maureen: Was the experience of bringing your sons to Guatemala meaningful for you and your family? How do you think it will impact you in the future?

Cecile: This experience made a big impact on all of us for two reasons: It reminded us how privileged we are in the U.S. (I haven’t heard my sons complain since we returned!) And, it stressed that education is the key to success in Guatemala and everywhere.

The Guatemala awareness trip made us realize we need to keep sponsoring our Unbound children through college; we also plan to sponsor other families after Magdalena and Manuelito are done with their studies.

Maureen: Do you plan to travel again with Unbound?

Cecile: I’m sure we will travel with Unbound again in the future!

Check out the awareness trip schedule and go on an adventure!