Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hello All!

Upon returning to the United States, I jumped back into a very busy schedule and did not post about my last two days of the trip and my transition back these past few weeks!

Day 14: Friday, May 9th

After eating our last meal of breakfast at the Oasis, we said goodbye and headed for the beach.  It was very sad leaving and I immensely enjoyed my stay there.  The staff was wonderful and I am ever grateful to everyone at the Oasis.  If I ever return to El Salvador, I will definitely stay there again!

We spent the entire day at a resort on the ocean and it was very lovely!  There was even monkeys and wild birds at this resort.  There were four pools as well as the ocean to swim in.  I made sure to go into all of the pools, but I did not swim in the ocean.  The day of relaxation was very well spent and very much needed.  It was a great way to end the trip and was a great in-between day before flying back home to everyday life.

Day 15: Saturday, May 10th

Saturday was spent in airports and in planes.  Our flight from San Salvador to Atlanta was delayed and it was a fiasco getting to the gate for our flight to Grand Rapids.  I honestly did not think that we would make it in time and would have to spend the night in Atlanta.  Luckily we made it in the nick of time (with lots of running) and arrived home right on time.

Post Trip: The past few weeks

Sunday the 11th for me was filled with laundry, unpacking, and catching up on my TV shows (the season finales were that night).  I jumped back into work the next day, and actually worked at both of my jobs that Monday.  I have been very busy working and have only had two days off since coming home (I work seven days a week so weekends don't count as days off for me).  It was good to see everyone, but I missed El Salvador.  I didn't experience any strong incidents of culture shock, although on the plane from San Salvador to Atlanta, I was very confused as to where to put my toilet paper.  The first few days back I felt guilty about flushing my toilet paper down the toilet, but it didn't take long for me to get back into the swing of things, United States style. 

Due to my busy schedule, I haven't been able to really process everything.  I went from having a very stressful end of the semester to El Salvador to having a full work schedule. I haven't been able to slow down and process anything in the past few months.  Which, I believe says a lot about United States culture.  Here in the States, life is so busy, stressful, and fast-paced, that we don't pause and reflect on anything.  I also think it says a lot about me and who I am and what I value. I juggle work and school the best I can because I am always conscious about my future. Work gives me the money I need to accomplish my goals along with school to achieve my version of the "American" Dream ( I put quotes around American because the United States may label itself as America and its people as Americans, but there are a good handful of countries that are also in the Americas and are therefore Americans as well).  I will process as I go along and it as helpful meeting with my group and reflecting together recently.  Processing is well, a process, and I will have to let time be on my side.

I am so thankful that I was able to go on this trip and learn and see everything that I did.  I met so many wonderful people and I will never forget the warmth I felt and the inspiration I have from their strength and solidarity.  My group was amazing and I am so fortunate to have been able to experience this life-changing experience with all of them.  Our lives are all taking us down different paths, but I hope that we stay in touch over the years as much as we possibly can.  This trip made me glad to have chosen Grand Valley as my college, because without Grand Valley I would not have had this experience.  Although I want to go to Africa and Ghana, I am glad with how things played out.  I will make to Africa someday, and maybe Ghana as well.  Everything worked out well and I am very happy with that.  This trip reaffirmed my love of human rights, social justice, equality, humanity, and social work.  I am still figuring out whether or not I want to do international social work, and this trip has given me a new perspective on that.  I do know that I absolutely love to travel and am so hungry to explore the globe.  I  learned so much in two weeks and experienced so much.  I have become more socially, globally, and environmentally conscious.  I grew in these areas, as a social work student, and as a human being.  I am not the same person I was on April 25th, and I think that is my greatest and most valued souvenir.  That can never be taken away from me and it can't be broken or thrown away. El Salvador amazes me and inspires me as a social work student and will continue to inspire me as fighter for social justice and human rights.  Wherever I go and whatever I end up doing, I will always have El Salvador in the back of my mind as an example of perseverance and solidarity, for myself and for others.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day 13: Thursday, May 8th


After breakfast today we did presentations on our service sites.  There was three groups, with the other two groups presenting on a women's shelter and the other on working with gangs.  It was interesting to learn about the other sites.  Their presentations were very good and I wished that I was able to experience their sites with them!

After our presentations, we went to Shicali, which is a ceramics co-op that is run by people with disabilities.  The artwork was very beautiful and I liked that this shop is completely run by members of this diverse population.  Although we did not work with this population on our trip, going to the shop and learning about it helped show support.  This is a population whose voice needs to be heard in social work, and I'm glad that we were able to spend some time with them.

We returned to the Oasis for lunch and ate with Rocio, who is an activist for the LGBTI community in El Salvador.  She talked to us as a group after lunch and shared her story and passion with us.  She told us about the incidences of hate crimes against this population and about what issues are important for them in El Salvador.  This population receives numerous violations of human rights all over of the world and it was interesting comparing the role of culture as to how this population is received.  After she left, we went to the Wall of Memory and Truth at a nearby park.  This huge wall is dedicated to all of the missing and murdered victims of the war.  Not all of the names are on it, but there are thousands on it so far.  The wall is also accompanied by a mural sculpture also on the wall, that depicts the history of El Salvador.  This wall really makes the amount of deaths more real than just hearing a number.  The wall is also amazing due to the fact that the government did not fund this project, but organizations and individuals did.

After our park visit, we spent some time in a local artisan market.  There was many shops and I was able to buy some items.

After coming back to the Oasis, we packed our bags and began getting ready for tomorrow.  Tonight is our last night at the Oasis, as we are spending the whole day and night tomorrow at the beach.  We went out tonight for our free night out and explored the row of restaurants in downtown San Salvador.

*I am not sure if there will be internet access at the beach tomorrow.  Saturday is full of airports, flying, and layovers so I will only be able to blog if the airport allows me to.  If I am unable to blog the next two days, no worries because I will definitely be blogging the coming week(s) to reflect on my transition back to the United States culture.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day 12: Wednesday, May 7th


Today was our second and final day at our service site.  We began our day by playing with the kids for an hour or so. I was with the five year olds today and we worked on a house project and watched a bit of Happy Feet.  We also went outside and played on the playground for a bit before we had to move on.  The three of us then went and visited with the school psychologist and we chatted with her about her role at the facility.  For lunch we ate with the kids in the cafeteria and left for home visits.  We were able to do two home visits and went to other homes, but the parents were not there. We also stopped back at the Soy place to pick up some items and bought some natural products from the clinic. We ended our day by thanking the leaders and saying goodbye to the kids. We also celebrated Keigan's graduation tonight with a lovely strawberry cake! Below are pictures of the school building and of the clinic.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Days 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11

¡Hola! It has been more than a few days since my last post!  We spent the weekend in Santa Marta and I was too tired Sunday night to write and have been having issues with the internet the past few days.  Alas, let's begin!

Day 7: Friday, May 2nd

On our way to Santa Marta we stopped at Ciudad Mujer, which is an AMAZING facility for women.  It provides women with resources in health, jobs, child care, and so much more.  I was so impressed with it's programs and buildings.  It is a wonderful project and I wished we had one in the United States.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but I do have one of the outside, which doesn't even show half of it!

Upon arriving in Santa Marta, we arrived at Aida's house, which was our base camp for the weekend.  After eating dinner at her house, we met with our host families.  I stayed with Esmeralda and her son Ranaldo.  They were very nice and hospitable to me and their kindness was greatly appreciated.

Day 8: Saturday, May 3rd

After eating breakfast with our host families, we met up at Aida's house.  She gave us her testimony on the history of Santa Marta and her experiences during the war.  She talked to us about having to relocate and about the community came together and rebuilt.  Her testimony was very emotional and inspiring.  She also told us about her trip to Italy, where she also gave her testimony.  We then took a walk around the community with Walter, who gave us not only his testimony, but historical information about the war.  We visited his house and talked to his wife has well.  They both had very emotional testimonies and had witnessed very traumatic events.  Despite their immense hardships, they are dedicated to educating others about what happened.  Walter dreams of having a museum dedicated to Santa Marta's history and has collected different objects.  Below is a picture of half of a bomb that dropped but luckily hadn't detonated.

After lunch we met with Carlos and talked about agriculture.  He discussed the history of farming and the land in El Salvador and in Santa Marta.  He showed us some of the corn that he grows and talked to us about environmental issues that are social issues, like pesticides and pollution.  Below is a mural from one of the centers in the town that depicts the war.

We next talked to Reginita, who works at the local bakery.  She told us about the history of the bakery and how it started from nothing and has become successful.  She also told us about how the bakery has helped empower women and her history of hard work and dedication as an entrepreneur.  She also baked us a lovely cake.

Day 9: Sunday, May 4th

After our last breakfast with our host families, we said good-bye and headed toward the town of Victoria.  Along the way we stopped at a wood-working shop.  In Victoria, we went to Radio Victoria, which is a radio station run in part by our leader and is dedicated to promoting social justice and truth.  We talked with members of the station and they enlightened us to their history and to some of the challenges they have faced and continue to face.  Their testimonies were powerful and inspiring and I have immense respect for what they do.  We got to talk live on-air and we all thanked our host families (it was translated for us), as we knew that they would be listening.

On our way back to San Salvador we went on a crafts tour and went shopping.  We arrived in time for dinner and it was wonderful to be back at the Oasis!

Day 10: Monday, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo!)

We spent the morning at the University of Central America, or the UCA, which is home to the Mons. Romero Pastoral Center and has a museum dedicated to the massacre that took place there during the war.  This location was home to six Jesuit priests who were assassinated along with the gardner's wife and daughter by soldiers in the eighties.  This experience was very emotional and some of the images we saw were graphic and horrific.  Incidents like this in history remind me of the importance of protecting human rights so heinous acts of violence and destruction do not occur ever again.

We ate lunch at Beatriz's house, who is a friend of our leaders.  During lunch Carlos talked to us about gold mining and about how it heavily impacts the environment and humanity not only in El Salvador, but in other countries as well.  Carlos is an environmental activist and he shared his vast knowledge and passion on this topic with us.  I sometimes forget about how the environment plays a role in social injustice and how issues in one country impact people outside that country as well. Carlos' testimony was a good reminder for me.  After our talk we went to Fernando Llort's gallery.  Llort is a famous artist in Central America.  I was not allowed to take pictures inside the gallery but I took the one below of the artwork outside his gallery that resembles his style.

We ended our day by talking to Kay about the issues of immigration and youth.  She informed us about the history between the United States and El Salvador and about how this history has led to a complicated and frustrating relationship when it comes to immigration.  I learned a lot from this talk and it made me reflect on the issue in ways that I have not thought about before.

Day 11: Tuesday, May 6th

Today was the first day of our service site placements.  Mario, Chris and I were placed at ANADES Nuevo Amanecer, which is focused on schools and community.  After talking to the directors about the program, we each were assigned to different rooms for an hour and got to spend time with the kids.  I was assigned to the room of four-year olds and it was very interesting.  The kids were fascinated by me and it was a bit challenging to understand their Spanish.  I enjoyed playing with them nonetheless.  We went to their clinic next, which promotes natural medicines and we talked to a gentleman there for a while learning more about what they do.  We ate lunch at a nutrition organization that is soy-based and talked to the woman that runs it. After lunch we accompanied a staff member on two home visits and met with the parents of two of the students.

I didn't take many pictures today because I am not allowed to take pictures of the children and post them online and because we were busy learning about the facility that I wasn't able to take touristy pictures.  I was able to snap the picture above of the front part of the facility at the end of our visit.  We return tomorrow to this site and I will try to take more pictures.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Day Six


Today was May 1st, as you are aware, but here in El Salvador that means that today was the International Worker's Day March.  The March was full of numerous organizations representing themselves and others as a means of solidarity.  As guests in the country we of course did not join in (it wasn't a protest, by the way), but we observed.  We also actually recognized some of the people we had met this past week who were participating in the March.  There was also fireworks going off during the March, which I didn't quite get used to.  I really appreciated the collective aspect of unifying for human rights and celebrating solidarity.

After leaving the March, we went outside of the city a ways and visited Maria's house.  Maria is a close old friend of both of the leaders of the group.  We learned to make pupusas (pictured below), which are tortillas filled with beans and cheese.  We have eaten them at meals many times before and it was fun to actually make them!  It was nice meeting with Maria and her family and making food together.

After visiting with Maria for a bit, we came back to the hotel and had the rest of the evening to do what what we wanted.  Our group decided to go out and explore the town.  Before we left I took a picture of the outside of the hotel, as I mentioned that I would include pictures eventually.

**This will be my last post for a few days, as we are headed to the northern part of the country for the weekend and staying with host families.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day Five

¡Hola and Bienvenidos!

Our first visit today was visiting the Divina Providencia where MonseƱor Romero was assassinated.  Romero was a Catholic bishop from El Salvador who was murdered while offering Mass (in the picture below) in 1980.  He was killed for speaking out against the government and military and advocating for the rights of the El Salvadoran people.  He is revered as a national hero and martyr, and his presence and legacy is found all over this country and all over the world.  We also visited his house, which has not been changed at all in thirty four years.  The robes he was wearing when he was killed and pictures of the assassination were hanging up inside.  His work was very noble and inspiring and is a testament to the fight for human rights and the end of oppression.

Our next stop was meeting with David Morales, who is the Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights.  El Salvador's government has an office for Human Rights, much like how the United States has different departments.  His role would be equivalent to meeting with the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense in the United States.  We were honored that he took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us.  I learned a lot from him today about the past and current state of different social, political, and environmental issues in El Salvador.  He was very knowledgable and passionate about his work and I have much respect for him.

After we ate lunch, we went to a local community park and met with two groups of young women who are shelter residents at a home for human trafficking victims.  I do not have any photos of them to keep them safe and protected.  We played basketball (I made a basket!) and engaged in two other group games (one of which was the human knot game).  It was nice to be able to interact with them in a safe and neutral environment in a fun and safe way.  While at the park, Mario and I met a young boy and played football with him for a while.  It was fun to play with the kids and donate our time with them.

After dinner we watched a film on the community of Santa Marta, which we will be visiting this weekend.  The film was about how this community rebuilt itself after being destroyed by the war.  I deeply admire the ways in which the community stayed strong and was resilient and determined to start again.  It was truly inspiring and I wish more communities came together like this and fought together for social justice and change.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day Four


Today we first went to Equipo Maiz and learned about the popular history of El Salvador.  We learned so much today.  I was very interested in the political role of the United States in prolonging the war.  I was also very interested in the effects of the fairly recent dollarization of El Salvador currency.  Many humans rights issues arose during this presentation and narrative of history.  There is much work to be done from a social work perspective and much has been accomplished.  Despite all of the challenges and hardships this small country has faced, it is very inspiring learning about the strength and determination of its people.

We next arrived at the San Miguelito Market and split into groups.  We each received pieces of paper with items on them that we needed to locate and buy.  The food we bought will be used later in the week.  This was an economic exercise for us to comprehend how much food costs in comparison to the average amount people make.  The market was very interesting and I was able to use my Spanish.

We spent a good portion and most of the rest of our day in the town of Suchitoto.  We ate lunch and met with Sister Peggy at the Art Center for Peace.  She is a very inspiring and full of life and I enjoyed listening to her testimony.  She is an admirable agent for social change, social justice, and for human rights.  We visited the museum on site and learned more about the town and what the war was like in this town.  We went shopping for a few hours and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Day Three


Today we visited the community of La Selva and met with gang members.  We learned a lot about the history of the country in terms of politics and social structures and how gangs factor into the equation.  Gang members face discrimination, harassment, and heinous brutality from the police and the military on a daily basis.  Our presence in the community kept the soldiers and police from entering the community.  I am not posting pictures of the young men we talked to or other pictures of graffiti and paintings in order to protect the privacy and perhaps safety of the men we talked to.  Unfortunately the social structures, institutions, media, and other members of the community do not allow gang members to re-enter society or change easily.  The testimonies today of the young men reminded me of numerous human rights violations, especially the right to not be subjected to torture and discrimination.

We next visited a community health clinic.  This center is focused on providing services and resources that members of the community are unable to receive from the public health system.  Two doctors come and treat patients in the morning and afternoon.  This center is committed to helping and treating everyone the same, and the gang members that we talked to earlier are welcome to go there for medical attention.  Health care and access to adequate health care is a human right and unfortunately medical resources are politicalized and are not available for everyone based on monetary greed.

Our next stop was a Masculinidades workshop with San Bartolome de las Casas, which I loved.  This group works to prevent gender-based violence and works with men, women, youth, and children discussing gender and what it means to be a man.  As a group we did some exercises discussing this topic and had a very good conversation as to how gender intersects with numerous social issues all over the world and in individual communities.  I loved this site because this is not only one of my favorite subjects and a topic that I am passionate about, but I enjoyed working in small groups and as a whole group discussing these issues and how they play a role in our own lives.  Equality is an essential human rights goal and value and this workshop was beneficial in striving toward this goal.

After dinner we watched a short documentary on Probusqueda, which is an organization that is committed to reconnecting lost children (now adults) that were separated from their families during the war.  During the war the soldiers would kidnap children and sell them to adoption agencies under the guise that their parents were dead (although some of the children's parents were murdered either in front of them or later on) or would raise them as their own children.  After the war ended in the nineties, parents were able to safely demand for the whereabouts of their children.  This movie was very emotional and was a reminder as to the severity in fighting and advocating for human rights and an end to violence and injustice in government and societal structures.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day Two


Today was a very long day and luckily it was much cooler than yesterday!  We began our day by hearing the testimony of a gentleman's fight for social and political justice, beginning during seventies and continuing to today.  His testimony was very emotional, due to the numerous hardships he endured and yet was very inspiring.  He is a great example of the motivation and audacity individuals and groups possess for working toward change.  His testimony was a reminder as to the importance of human rights for everyone, the impact of violations of human rights, and the challenges that arise in achieving these rights in societies that are adamant that such change does not occur.

We next journeyed up the mountainside and visited a coffee co-op, where organic fair trade coffee is grown, processed, and exported.  I thought that it was very good and I am not much of a coffee drinker.  I myself had a few cups and as it was hot out, drinking a hot beverage was not in my favor, but it was too good to just have one.  The gentleman who is one of the partners running the co-op was very knowledge and passionate about the coffee process.  I learned a lot about coffee and was given a tour that guided me through the entire process.  Not only did I learned about the agricultural component of coffee, but about the social and political global component of the coffee industry.  I learned about roya, which is a fungus that infects coffee plants and is a crisis for coffee growers worldwide.  Unfortunately, being an organic and fair trade co-op is difficult and costly, despite the benefits of having such products and their benefit to the economy.  Both fair trade and organic products are human rights issues because resources should be shared equally and both the environment and the health of humanity should not be comprised for monetary greed.

We next went to Paseo El Carmen, which is a shopping area.  I bought some items and got to sit in bench that was sculpted to look like two hands cupped together.  I unfortunately do not have photos of this area, as my camera died toward the end of our tour at the co-op.  Another group member took a photo of me sitting on the hand bench, so all is well.   ;)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day One

Greetings from El Salvador!

After two good flights today, I arrived this afternoon to the very HOT and beautiful San Salvador.  We arrived and had lunch at a cafeteria type restaurant.  We then stopped at the beach and dipped our feet into the Pacific Ocean!

The water was warm and we interacted with two young girls selling mangos.  They were selling them for a quarter a piece.  When one of the other members of the group told them to keep the change, they were unsure as to how to proceed.  They insisted on giving him back his 3 quarters, but he insisted that they keep it.  It was interesting to witness how a gesture such as keeping the change is experienced differently in different cultures.

After the beach we headed to La Libertad Port, which is a fishing community and is lower-income.

A fishing community is not complete without a pier, which we explored. The pier was full of all sorts of seafood, vendors, and boats. We watched fish being caught and saw that someone had caught a baby shark!

While we were exploring, we were "joined" by a young girl and her brother.  They followed us all over, but said little to us.  She was selling cut fruit, but did not try to push it on us.  I spoke to her a bit in Spanish and learned that she was 9 and her brother was 8.  I believe he sold items as well.  She told me that her parents were around, so I assumed that they sold goods to locals and tourists as well.  The pier and surrounding area was full of vendors, selling all sorts of things.

Encountering this young girl, the two girls selling mangos, and the other young children selling items has been very tough and I am curious about the hardships of their young lives and what lies ahead for them in the future.  Witnessing the poverty of children has been challenging, especially as I reflect on how vastly different children in the United States are expected to be treated and my own experiences in my privileged childhood.  Child labor is a human rights issue, as humans have the right to an adequate standard of living that meets their needs and children have the right to special care and assistance.  This issue is an important social work issue and I am interested in learning about what policies are in place surrounding this issue and what work has been done to advocate for this group.

Later we arrived at our beautiful hotel (pictures to soon follow!), the Hotel Oasis.  Our hotel is located near a volcano and we are lucky to be taken care of by a wonderful staff!  We had a yummy dinner and celebrated Mario's birthday.