Heading back to the UK and it’s the time to write a final blog about the time in Santa Marta. It’s pretty incredible to think that ten weeks ago I was packing for a journey where I had no idea what to expect. At the end, I didn’t want to pack again because I didn’t want to leave. My Progressio ICS experience has been an interesting one. Being the oldest UK volunteer amongst a young team has brought about its own challenges but through facing these, I’ve learn more about myself than ever before.  

The last ten weeks have definitely highlighted, at first hand, some key issues of poverty and politics. One of the biggest issues of waste management in Santa Marta could easily be solved if the municipal government recognised their need for a waste collection. It’s clear to see how the recent history of El Salvador continues to impact society but how through programmes like these, things can be improved. Santa Marta may be classed as poor on an economical scale but socially there are definitely lessons we can take to the UK. 

The experience can be summarised by ‘Community’. A key lesson learnt from the refugee camps during the civil war is that community is key to surviving and thriving. This message is seen every day in Santa Marta and it was such a privilege to experience it. The hardest part has been leaving my host family and incredible national volunteers. I already miss working with them, spending time with them and laughing uncontrollably with them. I cannot wait to come back and visit them. 

As a group of forty volunteers we achieved all of the objectives we were set. We built, from materials we recycled or found in the natural environment, a 30m wall, a bench, toilet wall, gardens, repaired a bathroom and built a bench with kiosk in a neighbouring community. We gave talks from children to adults and organised an eco-festival where over 300 people attended. We had the opportunity to share with our national counterparts and learn from them. Returning to the UK, we now have an opportunity to continue this at home. This is the power of an ICS placement. 

As an individual, I was constantly supported by the leadership team in anything I wanted to do. There are way too many brilliant moments to recall. I’m really happy that I got to deliver three Zumba classes for the community, where in the last over 100 people attended. I designed and then built a section of the wall and managed to lead on the complementary activity of supporting the eco-tourism routes in Santa Marta. Aside from this it was just a pleasure to enjoy an incredibly beautiful community. I spent a large amount of time crying with laughter with the nationals, with my host family and my roommate. 

The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that the more you put in, the more you get out. This goes for everything, from working in construction, to making an effort with your host family, spending time outside of work with the national volunteers and seeing how you can support the community. ICS will challenge you. It will push you far out of your comfort zone so that you have to adapt and be flexible. Hard work and effort does pay off so when you finish your placement you can leave safe in the knowledge that you’ve made history and a positive impact in the world. 

Written by ICS volunteer Gagan Aggarwal (AKA Oso Zumba)