At the end of last week we were given a tour of the local school by the Principal, who warmly welcomed us, despite the whistles and stares we tend to receive from the young people - we're pretty foreign-looking!
That afternoon we attended a workshop at the clinic by IMU (the partner organisation that we're working with) about gender equality and sexual health. It was delivered to a group of around 15 'popular' young people from the area, and also a few local parents, as we were told that schools don't really provide sexual education here.
The lack of basic knowledge about sexual health worried us a bit (for example, one father suggested that you could tell by the way a woman walks if she is a virgin or not) and what was more worrying was that IMU don't seem to have the opportunities to equip all the local students and parents with basic sexual health knowledge. They have fewer resources than they really need.
Weekends - El Salvador style
This weekend we had some free time, and on Saturday we were shown around the community by three local young people. They were very friendly and open with us, and upon seeing some gang related graffiti they assured us that it must have been done by someone visiting because gangs were not a problem in this area.
Certainly these three had a lot of sense about them, as they all had ambitions of going to university in the next few years. Each one told us that their parents had fought in the civil war, and it really hit home for me how recently the tragic history was, because these young people were born just one year after the war ended.
On Sunday we went back to the local town Suchitoto where we did our training, on the back of a pick-up truck so naturally we arrived slightly windswept but glad to be somewhere with shops! A few of us attended the largest church service of my life so far, in a really beautiful building in the central square of the town.
Despite the language barrier, I tried my best to participate, by looking up the scriptures on the Mass sheet and just reading them in my English Bible. Seemed the best solution! It was quite overwhelming how many people were desiring to worship there, and more carried on arriving all the time and squeezing into the pews. Just makes me think that the relative poverty that the people are living in seems to make people more reliant on God for everything that they have.
The work begins!
The work started properly for us on Monday the 25th when we were equipped with some pretty dangerous looking blades, plus rakes and such and were let loose on taming the grounds around the clinic which we'll be painting next week. A cut finger and the discovery of a scorpion later, it looked a lot nicer and it was great to start our volunteering proper!
Tuesday and Wednesday we assisted clinical staff in weighing and measuring babies, first from Ciudadela, and then from another community (Hecienda Montepegue), where the mothers were also given information about how to prevent and treat illnesses. After the second day we walked back from the other community through some fields of maize, and there was an amazing view towards the mountains.
Last night it was the birthday of Judith, an American lady who has been volunteering in the local community with her husband Tom. Her birthday not only meant that we got to taste a delicious cake, and get introduced to some friendly locals, but that we got the opportunity to sit and listen to a live Salvadorean band! It was a lovely atmosphere, and I think this was the point that I realised, despite the bouts of home-sickness, that I'm really enjoying myself here.
Lily Bland is a Progressio Empower volunteer in El Salvador. Photos: Lily Bland/ Progressio