Service-learning trips to El Salvador
To promote social awareness we have arranged for summer trips to El Salvador to teach American youth as well as young at heart adults about our work and life in a developing country. We have brought 6 delegations to El Salvador since 2006 brining groups of teens and adults in the summers of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015 (in coordination with Powell house) and 2017. We had planned a delegation for July of 2013 but were forced to cancel due to lack of interested participants; we generally need a minimum of ten paying participants to make our delegations to El Salvador work financially. We try plan trips every other year generally during the months of late July and early August. Our next trip would most likely be in the summer of 2018. Please let us know if you or someone you know is interested in joining us on future service-learning trips to El Salvador. Our trips generally include 20-30 hours of service work which has included teaching English in public schools, painting of communal buildings, piñata making, construction and working on farms. We combine this with 18-20 hours of Spanish language learning more recently taught informally by some of the youth in our communities. We also try to include some cultural and historical outings and plenty of time getting to know the local community youth and leaders. Trips generally are based in the quaint town of Suchitoto where we use the hostel facilities of the Art Center for Peace (http://capsuchitoto.org/en/) or the facilities at The Global Platform (http://www.globalplatforms.org/el-salvador/about-us) We always include at least 3 days of home stay with host families in the community of El Bario where we have been working since 1989.
We have found that a trip for any youth or active adult to a developing country like El Salvador is a life changing experience as one learns how the majority of the world’s people really live. Intercultural exchange between Salvadoran youths and community leaders and our group participants has been very inspiring, easily overcoming common language barriers and simple differences between cultures. On future trips to El Salvador we will be spending more time in just one community in an effort to build long term relationships between trip participants and members of the community of El Bario, located just 4 miles from the town of Suchitoto.
Each year we ask trip participants to write about their experiences in 2017 we asked participants to help us with a trip blog here is the link if you want to see how each day went but through the perspective of someone different each day: http://elsalvadorservicelearningtrips.blogspot.com/
Below are two short paragraphs from participants of our 2012 trip:
For the last 20 years, I have been receiving the “El Salvador Project” newsletter and contributing money when I can, although I am not myself a Quaker nor do I live in the Bay Area. This is because I became connected to and committed to these projects when I traveled to El Salvador in 1991 as part of a group of women (through Earthstewards) who wanted to hear the stories of women there who were involved with health care, education, women’s rights, etc. and bring donations to their programs. We stayed at the house of Carmen Broz; it was the very end of the war. I fell in love with the Salvadoran people and their spirit of resilience, generosity, and friendliness. I promised myself that I would learn Spanish and return. I didn’t then realize that it would take me 20 years to do so…
This past summer my dream was finally realized and even better, I was able to bring my 15-year-old son with me so I could share the experience with him. I could watch him discover how wonderful the people are, watch him delight in the tropical landscape, watch him develop a new perspective on life when he saw what living in a developing country is like. Julian and I joined the El Salvador Projects Service Learning trip, capably led by Barbara Babin and Robert Broz.
We had a wonderful time. We taught English to all grades of children in a school in El Bario, a rural farming village. We learned Spanish from young adults in that community in our outdoor classroom, sitting on concrete benches under a big tree. We painted the walls of a clinic and a day care center. We rode standing up in the back of a truck past fields of corn and sugar cane. We stayed with families in El Bario and learned what life is like for them. We also stayed in a hostel in Suchitoto and enjoyed exploring the stores and food suppliers along the cobblestone streets. We ate pupusas and other delicious Salvadoran food. We played games and danced and laughed together--both among our group members and with our new Salvadoran amigos.
It was interesting to see what was different from my previous wartime trip. There were no soldiers with machine guns held ready on the streets (just a few policemen). The raw, vigilant determination I had seen in the faces of adults I met before was gone; it was not needed any more. Children were more animated and less quiet (maybe because now they have enough to eat). This time I only saw a few shack houses, in crowded areas of San Salvador, that were made out of cardboard and corrugated metal scraps. People relaxed. It was all good to see. Our group experienced some reminders of the war—a trip to Oscar Romero’s home, church and grave; a hike up Guazapa hill to learn about how the guerillas operated in that area; and hearing the hard wartime experiences of the residents of El Bario and neighboring village Celina Ramos. I still draw strength from these amazing people by hearing how they survived and at what cost--but it makes my heart so happy to see people better off and enjoying their peacetime lives.
If you are curious about El Salvador and its people, I would urge you to consider joining the El Salvador Projects Service Learning Trip some upcoming summer. Julian and I agreed afterward that it was one of the most amazing experiences we had had in our lives.
--Gwen Hardage-Vergeer, Dec. 2012
And from one of the teens on the 2012 trip these amazing words:
“Mi amor, yo quiero puedo recibir una sonrisa, ¿por favor?”I say dramatically, kneeling down in front of Anna and stroking her hair. I’m not entirely sure what I’m saying. It’s some rough translation of “Honey, I love you, will you please give me a smile?” I know ‘mi amor’ and ‘sonrisa’ but at the moment, I can’t really tell what the bit in the middle is, so I slur some of the syllables together, hoping that it still sounds like words.
Everyone laughs, which is exactly what I wanted.
We’re crowded onto the patio, standing in a tight circle so that we all fit in the space between the wall of the house and the edge of the roof. Even though it’s a fairly warm evening, rain is pouring down outside, with an occasional flourish of lightning. I’ve finally gotten used to the weather here.
Right now we’re playing all sorts of games, making each other laugh and laugh and laugh. Sometimes the games make sense, and other times we don’t understand the words, but we play along anyway, and it’s still fun. Sometimes even more fun than when we understand what’s going on. It’s a really amazing experience to not quite understand what’s being said, but learning to glean the pieces I can figure out and just accept the rest of what happens.
It was like that when we did our service project at the school in El Barío. We would spend the morning teaching our English classes, and when we were done, the little kids would rush up to us and hug us and give us friendship bracelets. The talked to us a lot and I felt bad that most of the time I couldn’t understand what they were saying and all I could do was respond, “No enitendo, ¡lo cineto!” But I had to get used to that, and the times when I could carry on a long conversation with someone made me remarkably happy.
The first night of our home stay in El Barío, I had a wonderful conversation with my host family, telling them about the geography and agriculture in California. The home stays were my favorite part of the trip, really getting to know the people in this community and getting to be a part of their lives for a little while. Everyone we met in El Barío was radiantly welcoming and so wonderful. When I first got back to the United States I smiled at everyone on the street and enthusiastically said, “¡Hola!” or “¡Buenas!” and couldn’t understand their puzzled expressions. I was so used to being somewhere where it was normal to greet everyone and to smile at each other. I can’t think of anywhere else where you get that much warmth on that large of a scale outside of Yearly Meeting.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to just live at Yearly Meeting all the time? Going to El Salvador wasn’t really like that, but about as close to it as I’ve come. I got to spend two weeks somewhere really beautiful hanging out with Quaker teens, doing service projects, except that that was only a little bit of the experience, and there was much more to the trip than that.
We learned a lot about the history of El Salvador through hearing people’s personal stories of their experiences during the war.
Some of our host families taught us how to make tortillas and pupusas, which I’ve been trying semi-successfully to recreate at home.
But what I think was really one of the most important parts was the connections we made. We really got to know the families in El Barío through sharing meals and dancing with them, staying in their homes, painting buildings together and occasionally playing games together on the patio in the middle of a thunderstorm and making each other laugh and laugh and laugh.
--Hannah M.-- Sept 2012
General information about our trips
We maintain the number of paying participants to a maximum of 18 with 2-3 adult chaperons; the delegation is completed by our field director in El Salvador, Robert Broz as well as a local youth coordinator. We spend at least three nights sleeping in rural communities with local families selected by our field director and local youth coordinator. The remaining nights are spent at simple but comfortable accomodations in Suchitoto. For future trips we will be offering a ten day to two week trip with dates set in late June through August. We will base in Suchitoto but most of our service work will be at the nearby village of El Bario where our projects started back in 1989. We will be spending 2-3 nights each week in the community, staying with families in El Bario.