It´s difficult to know how to describe our first week here and settling into Nueva Gualcho – there have been so many activities, stories and emotions – yet I think it´s fair to say that for all of us here, we already feel at home. For us, orientation week began with name badges and a lot of awkward hugging, but it is uplifting to see how quickly we´ve all adapted to chickens laying eggs in our beds, frijoles (refried beans) for breakfast, and having friendships which stretch far beyond the limitations of language barriers. 

From our time here so far, I think that two principle lessons we´ve learnt are these, that:

1) Grief is universal

2) So is hope

Orientation week was emotionally intense as we learnt more about the destruction and loss of lives here during the civil war, which, having only concluded in 1992, is still fresh in people´s memories. It was particularly poignant visiting the war memorial at Cuscatlan Park in San Salvador. The granite memorial is inscribed with the names of those civilians who lost their lives or went missing during the war. The scale of the structure is statement enough of the enormity of losses. Even more shocking was the realisation that those who took arms to defend themselves against the Salvadorean army (termed “Guerillas”), and those in the army itself, remain unmentioned, as do hundreds of civilians killed in unrecorded village massacres. Here, it is down to “collective memory” that the stories of such individuals do not go untold. In Nueva Gualcho, the commonly known phrase “Lest we forget”, is not just a motto but a way of life; El Salvadorean people do not want to forget, they do not want their stories to be silenced, they want them to be shared, and to ensure that such things never happen again. 

We were extremely lucky to have several war stories shared with us, and to light candles in remembrance. United in a circle, it was clear to see that all of us, nationals and internationals alike, had stories of our own, with grief and happiness intertwined, and it´s the hope we all hold to create a better future and learn from the past that joins us. It doesn’t seem to matter what part of the world you come from, we are united in the difficult times we all go through as individuals through parallels in emotions, yet we are also united in our desire to re-channel these emotions into positive outputs. And I´m pretty sure that working here over the next eight weeks, that´s exactly what we intend to do.

Written by ICS volunteer Amelia Hunt