The March - June team of Progressio ICS volunteers are the second cycle of volunteers in the community of Nuevo Gualcho, and are continuing the work within the environmental sector. Part of the project is to write a feasiblity study of introducing an eco-tourism route, so that in the near future Nuevo Gualcho can put itself on the map as a hot spot for tourists looking for an authentic and environmentally friendly experience of El Salvadorian culture.
On arriving in Nuevo Gualcho my first impression (which I’m sure my fellow volunteers will reciprocate) is that it’s hot, really hot… and it never stops being hot! The sun will burn you in moments if you give it the chance and being fair skinned as I am, I found myself using up a bottle of sun screen within the first two weeks. Despite the sun, the people of Gualcho seem to stick with it. When breaking rocks to build the Artisan Craft centre, I could easily change my shirt three or four times to avoid looking like I had gone for a swim prior to the work, whereas the national volunteers can just work shirtless without the ever present fear of turning the colour of a lobster.
Nuevo Gualcho is a small community of around 2000 people in the municipality of Usulatan to the east of San Salvador. During the civil war of 1980 – 1992, Usulatan was a FMLN (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional) controlled territory where many people either joined the guerrilla army or were forced to flee to neighbouring Honduras because of the military bombing campaign ‘scorched Earth’. When the civil war came to an end, hundreds of refugees repatriating back to El Salvador from Honduras couldn’t return to their original homes, so set up a new community - Nuevo Gualcho.
Nuevo Gualcho is therefore a community full of history and stories of which the people of the community are eager to share if you are willing to listen. For many of us our host families themselves where involved in the civil war, for example my neighbour and his wife both joined the guerrilla army aged 14 and 16 respectively and proudly tell their stories and share their pictures. It is this history that I feel gives Gualcho such a fantastic opportunity to create a thriving and unique tourist industry for people who want a chance to experience something completely different and learn about a part of the country’s history which takes a completely different form when spoken from the mouths of the people who lived through it. Like Dorita, for instance, she told us the story of her four sons who all fought in the civil war, and of which two tragically died in combat. Despite the sadness, she is proud that they died fighting for something worthwhile, and still told us some stories from the war that made us laugh - like travelling back into El Salvador so that she could spend New Year’s Eve with her daughter in the guerrilla camp she was stationed in, but causing an argument between a man and his wife because she danced with him the whole night long.
From my view point Nuevo Gualcho is a community which one day can share its stories with the people from around the world who want to hear them, and can thrive from its beautiful natural surroundings blending beautifully with the hills and forest that surround it.
Written by ICS volunteers Iram Sarwar and Harrison Shackell Green