El Salvador 2013

Where do I begin?

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that times are tough, that the world is “going to pot” as my grandfather might say. We like to throw around terms like “fiscal cliff” or “post-truth era” and allow the consensus to be that no one cares, that the world is on a downslide and there’s nothing to be done about it. Doom sells, so we’re inundated by it.

But it’s simply not true.

I’m making a bold statement here, but in my opinion, the world has never been better. It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination and there is an incredible amount of work to be done everywhere before we can claim a just, peaceful, and abundant world. But we are able to connect to the human condition in ways never before known and technology has allowed us to reach out in ways unheard of a mere decade ago. Micro loans allow a single individual to reach across oceans and national borders to lend a bit of money to an entrepreneur who just needs a place to begin. Classrooms in the United States can learn side by side with students across the globe and form bonds that last a lifetime. Through digital media and the wonders of the internet, we can view the triumphs and tragedies of people everywhere within moments of their occurrence.

Some would argue that this access has made us numb to tragedy and suffering. I disagree. Wholeheartedly.

I was lucky enough to go back to El Salvador a few weeks ago. Like last year, I went with a group of motivated and dedicated high school students from the Keene, New Hampshire, Interact Club. These kids have spent the last year raising money- a LOT of money- in order to work with the mountain village of Talnique to build homes for the families of this community. They have worked with the members of that community to lay out a vision to build 100 homes over ten years. Last year they built eight complete homes and outfitted them with bunk beds. This year they completed ten more.

To see both the residents of Talnique and these students working so hard, side by side, to create safe and stable homes for those lacking them lifts my heart right up and reminds me that there are people the world over who simply won’t accept that there are those without proper food or shelter. And then they endeavor to correct it. Weekends that could have been filled with friends and fun instead fill with fundraisers and roadside clean-ups. Dollars that could have been spent on “stuff” instead get squirreled away for a service trip to another country. Work that could have simply been toil is done with smiles and grace and heart.

I believe everything begins with empathy. With the ability to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others and know that we are, at our most essential, the same. Your children are my children. Your hunger is my hunger. My plenty should be your plenty and my hands, your hands.

With so many hands at the ready, sometimes work got finished ahead of schedule (awesome, right?)! So while waiting for additional supplies and things like mortar to dry, the kids got the opportunity to explore the tremendous beauty of El Salvador! The country has many volcanos, both active and dormant, so we went to check one out!

Waterfalls! The waterfalls! It was truly amazing to hike and hike and then turn a corner and have an oasis appear!

It requires special skill and nerves of steel to drive a bus through the mountains of El Salvador! To say that our drivers were serious professionals is a gigantic understatement!

Talnique! The brightly painted homes are those that were built last year! Amazing to see how they’ve transformed from houses into homes!!

The children of Talnique worked side by side with the adults…they took an enormous amount of pride in their contributions to their community and were serious workhorses!

There’s no rule that hard work can’t be fun!

This little guy must have walked up and down that hill hauling his little pitcher of water and sand at least 30 times. He will live in the house that he was helping to build and even at 2 1/2 years old, he wanted to take part.

Arrival back at the hotel each night began by shaking out as much of the dust as possible…

The kids bring a huge amount of clothing, shoes, toys, and household items with them to donate to the families as well. The residents of Talnique open the day care center and families are able to come in one at a time to pick out items that they need or want. The children gather at the window and shout requests at their family members, usually “pelota! pelota!” as soccer balls are a hot commodity! Shoes are the most in-demand item and by the end of the trip, most of the kids left Talnique on their last day in just their socks.

Their parents may opt for the sensible items, but the children know where the goodies are to be found!

Each year, one of the Rotarians from San Salvador arranges for the students to spend an afternoon at a private beach club. Black sand beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and some serious waves make for an amazing day!

Evenings back at the hotel continue the adventure!
With a limited amount of work left on the worksite the last day, the students were able to explore the rest of the village of Talnique. Through a huge community effort, the residents of this town have organized themselves and built the quality roads and infrastructure that allowed our project to happen here. Our escorts were excited to show off their town to us!

We were invited to hike to another waterfall. The hike wound through a coffee plantation and gave us a tremendous view of the mountains…absolutely stunning!

The students have worked with an orphanage for physically and developmentally disabled children in San Salvador over the past several years. They invited the kids to the hotel for pizza, pinatas, and a rousing game of duck-duck-goose!
On the final day in El Salvador, we hit Mayan ruins as well as a windy precipice known as Devil’s Window (or was it Devil’s Door?). The opportunity to see some of the rich cultural history of the country was awesome!

If you have a spare moment and are interested, I invite you to view the video to get the essence of the trip!

El Salvador Interact Trip 2013 from Cindy Giovagnoli on Vimeo.

Amazing job, Interactors! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey!

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