February 11, 2011                                           Chiang Mai, Thailand

I am in a small town in northern Thailand and opened my email today to find some devastating news. My dear friend and fellow Bonderman recipient, Alena Suazo, passed away, one day before her 31st birthday, while traveling through Guatemala. I am still shocked by this news and cannot grasp how something like this can happen. Yesterday, I was obsessing over which route to take and where to go next and now all I can think about is how fragile life truly is.

Alena was someone I connected with immediately from the day of our Bonderman orientation. We talked about how excited we were about this opportunity, how we would see the world as woman of color and how our lives would be so different once we returned.

At our Bonderman Anniversary celebration, I witnessed how many people truly admired and respected her tenacity and motivation for life. Each faculty member told me, ‚ÄúThere is not one person on the panel that was not in tears when Alena left her interview.‚ÄĚ

I knew she was special. She was an advocate who rose out of very difficult times to complete law school and be a voice for the most vulnerable people. She was not afraid to speak her mind and question people’s intentions. She made me have faith that one day the world would be a better place.

Before we left on our trip, we talked about our anxiety, how scared we were but most importantly, how excited we were to see the world. I know Alena touched so many people’s lives in the last few months of her life and that she felt a freedom and purpose as she traveled, embracing each moment and opportunity that came her way.

4¬†months ago, I left this reference on Alena’s Couchsurfing page:

“Alena is so great. She is smart, motivated and has such an incredible life experience that she brings with her to every situation she comes across. Most importantly she is curious about people and the world and eager to learn and experience new things. You will be lucky to cross paths with her during her 8 months of travel!!!”

Today is her birthday, a soul gone way too soon, leaving the world the same day she entered it 31 years ago. A devastating loss for everyone who knew her. Though the news of her death initially made me want to give up and come home to safety and security, I know she would not want that. She would want me to go ahead with courage and strength and not let fear take over me. So for the remaining 5 months of my journey, I will carry a piece of her spirit with me and live life to the fullest for Alena, for everything she was not able to do and to keep her memory alive. 

To read more about Alena’s life and accomplishments follow the links:


8 Responses

  1. Roxy Joon,
    I am so sorry to hear this bad news; my heart goes to her family. It is very difficult to deal with such a bad news while you are alone and away from family and friend. I know you are a strong person and you will continue your journey.

  2. I second that dad! This blog is a great way to commemorate her. She sounds like a truly inspirational person. Be sure to keep that with you as you grieve her loss and keep pushin! I love you.

  3. Rox, I woke up this morning and thought of Alena and everyone that is dealing with this loss. My heart breaks for her family and friends. I am thinking of you as and sending you love as you continue your journey and exploration.

    Much love,


  4. Roxy,I am very sorry for your loss.know that my thoughts are with you.

  5. Hi Roxana,
    Thank you for such a beautiful tribute. It’s nice to hear that she touched you so deeply for not knowing her very long. She would want you to continue, and I have faith that her spirit will help keep you safe. Be well and enjoy the rest of your trip.

  6. Roxam, I am so so sorry. Hope her memories give strength to her family and her friends. I wish I was with you now. Take care azizam.

  7. Thank you for such beautiful words. Her dad and I are just now able to read what everyone is posting. It makes us cry but in a wonderful loving way. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers. We hope you had a wonderful and meaningful trip. Alena was already changing because of this opportunity. Heaven now has a new soldier!!!!

  8. Roxan,

    Thank you for your kind words. I am Alena’s cousin from her biological father’s side. She did things only people dream of. I’m so happy she was part of my life. I love her and miss her very much. Thank you again for taking the time to write about your friendship. <3 Angie