A year ago, I could not have come close to predicting where I am right now.
The winds of fortune have blown me some 5,000 miles from home to El Salvador along with 12 new compadres.
El Salvador is a ceaselessly surprising and vibrant country: this tiny country the size of Wales is covered in volcanoes; the buses are all vividly decorated in every colour (much like the wildlife); and every wall is painted be it with street art, gang insignias or painted advertisements.
In the few weeks that we’ve been here, I have tried to absorb as much of the culture as possible (at least as much as my Spanish allows), but I’ve realised that I have barely dipped my toe in the proverbial ocean of this country’s culture and history, both of which are as vibrant as the scenery here.
I am here in this beautiful country volunteering with Progressio ICS, and we are working with Progressio's partner I.M.U. (Instituto de investigación, Capacitación y Desarrollo de la Mujer… acronyms work differently here to how they do in Britain). IMU is a feminist organisation in a country where the concept is almost unheard of and we are here aiding I.M.U.s efforts to empower the women of El Salvador.
My group has now begun our work on the project and we are still very much getting to grips with everything. We’re quickly getting to know the Salvadoran volunteers that we’re working alongside, as well the community they are from, and they are all immensely warm and ingratiating. I am also pleasantly astounded at how ready the people in the community (El Refugio) are to drop everything and bend over backwards to be hospitable to us, but I could get used to it.
Our project centres around building organic vegetable gardens for members of the Women’s Group in Bendicion de Dios (a small community at the edge of El Refugio), and we’ve gotten off to a flying start even in the incredible heat. The purpose of the gardens is to both boost the health and nutrition of the women and their families, but also to combat the issue of pesticides (an appallingly prevalent and harmful issue here and more widely in Central America).
Having seen examples of such gardens built by previous volunteer groups, I am convinced of the benefits of the gardens and also optimistic about matching the success of these previous groups.
By Progressio ICS volunteer Jonjo Warrick.
Photo of an El Salvadoran man sprinkling compost on his food garden by Progressio ICS volunteer Jason Lovatt.