The first few days in Santa Marta have been very exciting.  Starting on Thursday 9th October and ending on Wednesday 15th there has been a festival that commemorates the return of the people of Santa Marta following their forced evacuation from the town during the civil war.  Due to the violence that penetrated Santa Marta, the townspeople were forced to flee the violence and seek refuge over the border in Honduras.  After 7 years of exile, the first of them eventually returned to Santa Marta on 10th October 1987. 

The festival that marks this momentous occasion every year has been alive with market stalls that sell local cuisine, DVDs, confectionery, tourist souvenirs, games for prizes, carousels, Ferris wheels and a swinging pirate ship.  There has also been a lot of Salvadorean music and dancing which perfectly highlight the determination of the people of Santa Marta, not to mention Salvadoreans in general, to party hard and not to let life and all of its hardships get them down.  

Our first day after our arrival in Santa Marta was spent getting to know the town.  We visited the recycling plant that was built during the previous cycle and Ana Maria, the community representative, gave us a guided tour of Santa Marta which included a chance to go inside an underground cave that was used as a hospital during the civil war.  It wasn´t for the squeamish because inside there were scorpions and massive “scorpion spiders” which were really freaky! 

On Thursday night, we i.e. the team, along with the National Volunteers (NVs) continued our team bonding and went to the community hall and visited the town market.  As it turns out, Manisha has a hidden talent: she is a crack shot with an air rifle, a talent that won her a cuddly toy.  Rachel won a cuddly toy as a reward for her skill at popping balloons with a dart.  

On Friday, there was an event that commemorated the refugees´ return to Santa Marta.  It was attended by the community leaders, many of the townspeople and a few volunteers who were there to record the event.  There were touching tributes and members of the community were able to pay respects to those who died or suffered and celebrate the deliverance of those who survived. 

It wasn´t all play and no work though!  On Monday morning we got our hands dirty – quite literally – and helped to clean up the town by picking litter that is to be recycled as part of our environmental programme.  It was hard work toiling in the morning sun with the sweat on our backs, scouring the mud for any plastic bottles, metallic drinks cans, food wrappers, etc.  It was tough work but well worth it as the town looked the better for it.  

Written by ICS volunteer Chris Oswald