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, “There is not one person on the panel that was not in tears when Alena left her interview.”
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: