Three weeks in El Salvador and if the heat doesn’t kill me then the excitement will. Working as a volunteer for Progressio is turning out to be the once in a life time experience I hoped for. Our group is working with a women’s rights organisation, IMU, who aspire for gender equality through families. A typical day includes helping to create sustainable gardens, topped off with an afternoon of English classes.

On arrival, we had an orientation week in the capital of San Salvador. Experts from a variety of fields gave interesting and thought provoking talks. We learnt everything from the fatal injustices of gender inequality, to the national threat of climate change. Since arriving at our placement in western El Salvador, we have taken on a workload of ten gardens as we are determined to bring sustainability to our poverty hit community. Our group consists of five girls and me… if I don’t make it back alive then you know why. However, rolling up your sleeves together in order to make a positive difference seems to makes us, one big happy dysfunctional family. Teaching English is a great way to interact with our community and slowly but surely we are beginning to make meaningful friendships. Volunteering with Progressio enables us to become a part of a new culture and that makes our placement a unique learning experience.

So far, every effort has gone into finding us suitable accommodation and before you know it, tortillas and beans become an essential part of life. Top tip, making up Spanish words doesn’t work here but getting to grips with basic Spanish is as simple as you make it. My Spanish vocabulary is increasing and I’m finding communicating to be easier than I thought.

So what have I learnt about my placement country? On the outside, El Salvador’s problems are etched into a history of natural disasters and the country exists as a scar of crime for the whole world to see. I’ve had the privilege to look beyond that image, to find that this nation’s charm blooms from within the people. Salvadorans are warm, welcoming and down-to-Earth. Crime is a major problem here but that doesn’t hinder the strong spirit of a population, who are still recovering from civil war and natural disasters.

My experience so far has matured me in ways I didn’t expect. An open mind is essential here and the rewards of our hard work materialises in the gratitude of the people we help. We also have moments to take in the beauty of El Salvador. I can say for certain that my group and I will continue to grow and learn in the upcoming weeks. Until next time… Adios!

By ICS Volunteer Aasim Shaffi

Photo: Berta showing Rahel and other volunteers how to make pupusas, taken by Karen Carpenter.