Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back in the USA

Today was a complete mix of emotions. I really am very excited to see my family and friends and anxious for all the summer plans I have back in Provo and Oregon, but it was so hard to leave my life in El Salvador. I have become so attached to all the people I’ve met there; not just the incredible group of volunteers in our house but all the locals I’ve met through various projects and circumstances. I didn’t think I would cry as much as I did, but I was tearing up for most of the taxi ride to the airport.

One of the hardest things about leaving is knowing that life in that little house in San Salvador doesn’t stop when I leave. There will be fun memories, inside jokes, amazing project successes and learning experiences that everyone else will be there for and I’ll miss out on. But I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t do any good to worry or dwell on what things I might miss out on, because I can’t do everything.

I plan on filling the rest of my summer with work hours, late nights in the adlab (creative track bonding moments), spontaneous runs to Smith’s for munchies and redbox movies with my roommates, at least one road trip to California, new friends, and no regrets.

It’s hard to sum up my experience in El Salvador in a few words, because honestly, it was life changing. I am a better (I hope) different person than I was 6 weeks ago, and I hope that the ways I’ve grown will allow me to better help others for the rest of my life. We had our last meeting last night before we left and the country directors, Dalyn and Adán, had the four of us who were leaving go around and talk a little bit about our experience. For me, the biggest thing I’ll take away from this trip is that, though I hope and believe that the experiences and interactions with people I had in El Salvador impacted them in a positive way, but more importantly, that the person I became and the things I learned through those experiences can have an even greater impact wherever I am. And, going along with that, getting to know someone and learning to love them is the most important first step before trying to help fill a need they have or find a solution to a problem.

Although I didn’t create and implement some radical new project and change the world in 6 weeks, I think I learned a lot about the people I met, the culture of El Salvador, and the many ways to go about doing development work. And that sometimes the best thing you can give someone is love.

Again, thank you to everyone who supported me in any way for this trip! It has been such a blessing to be able to do it and I am so grateful for all I've been able to experience and learn.


PS: I really will add more pictures or post them on Facebook when I'm at a place with faster internet, so check back soon!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A little over a week

It's crazy to think that in a little over a week, I'll be leaving beautiful El Salvador.

I've become pretty attached to this place and to the wonderful people I've met here.

Today, we went out to Getsemani again to help with Lauren's crocheting class. (She's just begun teaching women in this community how to crochet in hopes that they can make little purses and baby booties and things to sell). We have a couple of other projects going on in this area and it's been interesting to learn about the dynamics (and drama) of the community leaders and residents.
There weren't as many women at the class today as there were last week, but hopefully we'll have more next time. Those who came seemed to have made strong progress since last week and Lauren was still able to teach them some new things today, so overall it was a success.

Tomorrow I will either be going with FUDEM to do vision screenings or I'll be going back to Getsemani to work with one of the employees of Habitat for Humanity doing census records in that community. It would be really interesting to do the second project because I've never done anything like that before and I'd definitely get to use my Spanish some more.

I still have a bunch more pictures to post, but it's kind of tricky to get them off my camera and up on this blog, so bear with me. They'll be worth the wait, hopefully!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dalyn, one of our country directors, asked me the other day if I feel like I've accomplished something when I leave, or if I feel like this experience has been worth the time and money.

Of course it has.

Maybe it's selfish to think of how my skill set has expanded, or how I've learned so much, but that is definitely one of the biggest things I'll take home with me (in a little under 2 weeks, mind you). In a few short weeks, I've:
  • Learned how to plan and teach an intermediate English class.
  • Experienced microfinance firsthand and met with several experts on microfinance in El Salvador.
  • Conducted preliminary vision screenings for elementary school children.
  • Discussed life goals and aspirations with young women who have been abused, former drug addicts and my team members. *Seriously, the girls at CIPI and CREA are so fun to talk to. I think I'll miss them the most out of all the Salvadoreñas I've met here.
  • Gotten to know the bus system of San Salvador (believe me, that is an accomplishment of its own).
  • Experienced Latin American culture firsthand and fell in love with it (naturally).
  • Improved my Spanish and gained confidence in my ability to communicate effectively with native speakers.
  • Learned to live with 19 different personalities in a non-air conditioned house with 3 showers, and one small fridge.
I feel like so much of this trip has been me listening, speaking, experiencing and soaking up all the knowledge I can about so many different aspects of development. One of the greatest takeaways I have now is the desire to continue to be involved in development wherever I am. I really want to volunteer with the Hispanic community in Provo, not only to continue to use my Spanish, but just because I think it would be fun.

Apart from the personal gains I have experienced, I really do think I've been able to help in some small way the people of El Salvador. Even if it's just helping build a walkway around one house in Ahuachapan, teaching some eager students how to use the past tense in English, or reminding the girls at CIPI that they are loved, I hope that my time here has helped someone, somehow.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Day in the Life

For fear of posting too much about my mushy feelings of how I'm loving El Salvador, or our fun weekend trips (only on the weekends, mind you), I will attempt to describe a typical day here by recapping what I did on Friday.*

6:30--Get out of bed, get ready, eat breakfast, etc. (depending on the day, but every day we wake up to bright sunshine, a rooster, and the dogs next door who NEVER stop barking.)**

7:15--Catch 3 buses to get to ASEI, a microfinance organization in San Salvador, where we would be accompanying them to a village about an hour away to meet with a group of women who had requested a group loan.

10ish--After an hour-long ride in the back of the ASEI pickup, we arrived, and got to hear about the women in the group's various microbusinesses (selling tortillas, clothes, etc) and listen to their thoughts and experiences with microfinance and community banks. It was incredible to see how the goals of microfinance and the benefits of community loans are actually working in this community.

I know that microfinance can't solve every problem, but it was really cool to see how it really is benefitting these women. I've learned about microfinance and Muhammad Yunus in classes, but it was totally different to see it in person. That is the power of an idea.

1:00-After we got back to San Salvador, we grabbed lunch and went to Hogar CREA, a rehab center for female drug addicts (a voluntary 2 year program, with a strict schedule and religious emphasis). After the director gave us a tour, we met with the girls and talked to them about their goals for the future and the things they like to do. I feel really strongly that, with organizations like CREA and CIPI, building a relationship with the girls and being a positive role model is the most important thing I can do while I'm here and is crucial before planning any activities or solid project ideas. It was amazing to listen to the responses of these 8 women (ages 14-50) and see that we aren't that different in the things we want for the future. We're hoping to go back next Tuesday.

4:15--After leaving CREA, a few of us went to teach our Friday night English class. At first, I wasn't very interested in this project, but it is turning out to be one of my favorites. I think that is partially because I feel like I can make a real difference before I leave (in 2.5 weeks), because the class is 3 times a week and I'm really getting to know the students. It has been so fun to come up with lesson plans and teach them, and see their progress.

I'm constantly amazed by how much English they know; seeing the looks on their faces when something clicks is priceless. I never realized quite how much of an asset English is. As these students have told me, there are a lot of employment opportunities that are only available to you if you speak English, so that is even more motivation for me, as one of the teachers, to do my best to help them be successful. (As a side note, I really feel like my Spanish has improved significantly in the past couple of weeks. After getting over my fear of speaking incorrectly or sounding stupid, I really feel like I'm able to communicate better and more articulately than before this trip).

6:30--Every night our cook, Estela, makes the most amazing food. After long days like this one, I am so grateful for her and for the food she cooks. It's also really fun to meet up with the rest of the team and discuss the day's events. Now that things have really started to pick up, it's really fun to hear about everyone's adventures, challenges and successes.

After dinner, a few of us went to the Cinepolis to see Pirates of the Caribbean 4. It was actually pretty good, and it was fun to relax a little bit, and enjoy the air conditioning.

Anyway, I'll post about the rest of the week another day. Hope all is well back in the U.S. of A!

*Every day is different, because we are working on so many different projects, but here's just a sampling of what I've been up to.
**Friday was especially interesting because our water was shut off, so none of us got to shower before heading out for the day. Luckily, it was back on by Saturday morning, but I didn't know that until I had already taken a bucket shower. An experience, for sure, but it was just fine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Almost halfway done...weird.

(Above) This is a picture from Getsemani, one of the communities we visited last week and talked to about the Adobe Stoves project. Beautiful and green (sooo many places here remind me of Oregon), just like home.

Pictures of us on our way to San Lucas, before we reviewed the square foot gardens the HELP team implemented last year.

(Father's warning! This is us riding in the back of a pickup, on our way to San fun!)
New friends (Left to right): Britta, Kristen, me, Harie (like Harry Potter), Hilary, and Logan (and Ben was taking the picture). Travis (aka Travieso) was riding in the cab of the truck. We all had that model look of windblown hair and dewy (err..humid) skin afterward. But it was a blast.

Here are just a couple pictures from our beach trip (my photography skills aren't adequate to capture how fantastic this day was, but believe me, it was perfect).

Today we are spending most of the day at a restaurant called China Wok, stuffing our faces on yummy french toast and chocolate cake and using their WIFI. Later tonight, Lauren and I are going to teach an English class for Kristen (pictured above) because she's not going to be back from Getsemani in time.

In other news, I come back to Provo (and then Roseburg, and then Provo again) in a little over 3 weeks. I have such mixed feelings about it. In some ways, I'm really excited to see all my friends and family again and to get to do stuff in the adlab, and to have a washing machine again, and all that good stuff.

But then I think about all the people I've met here (both Salvadorans and the other people in our group) and how much I'm going to miss everything about San Salvador: having food be super cheap, the food itself and how yummy everything is, the nightly movie watching parties (huddled around a laptop in the front room), the discotecas, the spanish music I hear on the buses, and just having life be simple and focused.

Gotta make the most of the next 3 weeks!

Friday, May 20, 2011


These are a fruit called mamones, that sort of tastes like a peeled grape on the inside with a big pit. Interesting.

Just a few pictures of gorgeous El Sal. Hot, humid, and almost always sunny.
Handwashing station....that thing that looks like a rollerskate wheel is the soap.
Yes I shoveled dirt and helped lay concrete for this house. Go Habitat for Humanity!

And then we did a little painting on this house.

I apologize for the limited pictures on this blog, it takes about 5 years per picture to upload them to the computer, but I'll try and add some more again soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La Playa y San Lucas

Saturday we went to the beach and it was so relaxing and fun. It was hot, the water was warm, the sand was black and I didn't even get sunburned.

On Sunday, we went to church and it was wonderful. My understanding of Spanish is pretty good and my conversation skills are definitely improving. I love getting to know the people and listening to the lessons in Spanish.

On Monday, we took a 2.5 hour bus ride(er...1.5 hour bus ride and then 45 minutes or so of piling into the back of a pickup truck, bumping down a dirt road) to a community called San Lucas where we walked around and reviewed these square foot gardens that the Help International team from last year helped the community create. It was really fun to talk to people and practice my Spanish.

On Tuesday, we visited an organization called CIPI which is a temporary house/school for girls who have rough home lives. We were hoping to be able to interact with the girls and get to know them a little better, but instead they just had us paint the walls of one of the rooms to cover up the marker/pencil marks.

Tuesday night, a few girls and I went to a church activity for women, where we learned how to make Chinese wontons (yummy fried goodness), and that was really fun. The women in the ward here are so great and got so excited about teaching us how to make pupusas (typical Salvadoran fare) next week!

Yesterday, we went to a community called Getsemani, where we are hoping to do a variety of projects. The group I went with walked around the community and talked to people about their stoves. One of the problems with communities like Getsemani is that because of the high price of gas, many people cook over wood stoves, and inhale a lot of smoke in the process, causing some serious health problems. We're hoping to build a few adobe stoves in the community, because from my understanding, they retain heat better and channel the smoke in better ways. It was an adventure looking for an area called Las Prisas(a community where better stoves had been implemented), but after squishing 4 of us into a little 3 wheel taxi, we made it. We met Dora, one of the community leaders, who seemed to know everyone, and she showed us around and let us look at some kitchens in the community.

The people here are so friendly. Anytime we ask for directions, people are so willing to help (even if that means taking a little detour).

Today, we went back to CIPI and chatted with the girls while they were doing their "talleres," which are the hours when they learn how to sew and embroider and things like that. It was really fun to talk to them and hear about what they like to do. It's amazing how positive they are, even when they've experienced such difficulties in their lives.

Lessons from the week:
-It's much easier for me to talk to children in Spanish, because I feel less intimidated.
-I feel pretty comfortable asking for directions and talking to people, even if my Spanish grammar isn't perfect.
-People are fascinating and I will never cease to be amazed at what we/they are capable of.

In other news:
-I've eaten fish twice and liked it....both times it was breaded and fried. Both times delicious.
-Lord of the Rings has beautiful cinematography.
-My Tevas may have been the best purchase I made for this trip.

More pictures, soon!