Service Learning in El Salvador
“I have just returned from a week in El Salvador and it was truly an experience I will never forget. Having traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras in Central America I had high expectations for my travels in El Salvador. My experience was better than I ever expected as I was surprised at how much the country had to offer visitors and how much there was to see. El Salvador is one of the only places I have traveled to where I have felt such a deep sense of hospitality, a reinvigorated connection with nature and a rekindled sense of my place as member of the global community.
“My first taste of El Salvador was in the city of San Salvador where I was surprised at how extremely modern and clean the city was. I visited ‘La Gran Via’ Mall, which was nicer than any mall I have been to in the United States or anywhere else. The city offers great restaurants, museums and the stunning San Salvador Volcano that stands over the city as symbol the partnership of modernity and stunning natural sights the country has to offer.
“The beach I was fortunate to travel to was El Icacal in the eastern part of the country.The beach was beautiful and pristine, and most of the time I was the only person on the beach. It was truly special to be in such a beautiful place by myself without any tourists or large developments. I have never been to a beach in Central America where I was the only one around and I was moved by this experience.
“The Volcano region offered new adventures where I learned about the coffee, took in the beautiful views and climbed the Santa Ana Volcano. Climbing up the mountain exposed me to a number of different climates and it was incredible to see how the flora and fauna changed as we went up in elevation. I also traveled part of the Flower route and enjoyed the artistic flare that was a part of the towns, shops and hotels I visited. One evening I went to a weekend festival in ‘Ataco’ town to drink hot chocolate and check out the wares of local vendors. I felt like I was part of the town as I could see this festival was not put on for tourists but instead a local tradition that I was welcomed to be a part of.
“The time I spent at the Icacal and Leona schools was maybe the most moving experience of the entire trip. Spending time with local school children and learning about their daily routines made me feel connected to my brothers and sisters on the other side of the world. During my time at both schools I helped teach a computer class, played games like ‘Jacks’ and ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey’ with younger students and was lucky enough to play in a full-fledged Salvadorian Soccer game! It felt great to give students pens and pencils, which we may take advantage of here in the U.S, but are such a special tool in furthering one’s education. Both of these schools built on the beautiful beaches of El Salvador reminded me how no matter where a child lives they all just want to laugh, play and learn about the world beyond.
“For my education on the Indigo tradition we headed to Suchitoto, a small artsy town just north of San Salvador. Here I met with a local artist and boutique owner Irma, who taught me about the long standing relationship between the people who have lived in this region and the ancient Indigo plant. At one point in history Indigo was more valuable than gold! Indigo dye is extracted by soaking the plants leaves in water so that the blue pigment seeps out. For this activity we use the Indigo after it has been extracted and is now in a powder stage. Deep dark vats surrounded the patio where Irma and I stood and I soon found myself elbow deep in this potion. Irma had given me a large white cloth with which we used marbles and rubber bands too make patterns in the fabric. After a few sessions of holding the fabric underneath the deep blue liquid my newest centerpiece emerged! It felt so wonderful to know I had created the pattern and dyed the fabric just like people have been doing in this region for centuries. I could understand why this plant was so valuable, as the color makes quite a statement.
“My experience in El Salvador was something very special that I know I want to experience again! El Salvador appears pristine and untouched by the larger presence of tourism that has the potential to create experiences that may no longer be possible in other areas of Central America or the world.”