Rhiannon Clapham travelled to El Salvador in July 2014 for her International Citizen Service with Progressio. Here, she shares the story of the inspirational lady who hosted her.
The rural community of Santa Marta in El Salvador was almost destroyed by civil war. The lady who hosted us – our abuela – had suffered more than most. At 67, she had lived through 12 years of war, become a refugee, and lost her husband, parents, brothers and two of her children. She now raises her grandson singlehandedly after his father migrated to the United States 15 years ago.
She’d tell me stories about El Salvador and its history of lucha – fighting for a just society. She taught me about the importance of preserving the historical memory and the spirit of lucha in the young people of El Salvador – so that they carried on working and putting their energy into making a difference.
My abuela inspired many of the activities we did during our placement. We created a monument to a famous massacre that took place in Santa Marta during the civil war, where 300 civilians escaping to Honduras were murdered by the armed forces. We also interviewed people in the community about their experiences in the civil war and recorded these to pass the historical memory of the community on.
Saying goodbye to my abuela was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. She said: “It is always like this when my children leave me, but I have to remember that you’re not mine – that I’ve just borrowed you; and that you have to go back home. You’ll always be remembered and you’ll always have a home here.”
After my experience in El Salvador, Progressio’s strapline, “People Powered Development”, makes so much more sense. I’d definitely recommend ICS to other people. You learn a lot about yourself and about how to understand different cultures and people. Working and living with a small group in such an intense environment teaches you a lot of skills that are necessary when you go home.
“My abuela taught me about the importance of preserving the historical memory and the spirit of lucha in the young people of El Salvador – so that they carried on working and putting their energy into making a difference.”
Written by Katy Oglethorpe based on the experiences of Rhiannon Clapham.