Mudabbir Khalid reflects on his first experiences of El Salvador, as an International Citizen Service volunteer.

Throughout my preparation for travelling and volunteering in El Salvador, I did my hardest to keep my expectations to a minimum, just so reality wouldn’t be as big of a slap in the face. Yet, in the first two weeks of orientation, the reality of the situation in the vulnerable yet proud nation still managed to leave my jaw hanging and my eyes bulging.

My first thoughts flying into El Salvador consisted of a stream of vivid images from The Lion King film; if you could see the trees here you would know what I’m talking about! There is an abundance of greenery and natural landscapes, the beauty of which is endangered by international corporations who wish to exploit the country’s vast natural resources.

When coming off the plane, the first inhale of air, as much as it was fresh from the surrounding area, brought along with it an immense heat, which sort of instinctively made me remove my hoody. How strange and foreign I must have looked to the nationals. I was filled with excitement and anxiety, mostly because of how unaware I was of the work we’ll be doing, how strenuous it would be, whether it would be monotonous and I would lose interest in it, whether I’ll actually be able to see some progress being made, or how I would be greeted and welcomed by the nationals and the other volunteers. Once being welcomed by Carmen, one of the directors of Progressio in El Salvador, and being given a brief introduction to the nation and the situation of the other international volunteers who had arrived a day earlier, I was beginning to feel at ease, and embarking upon a journey of hope and progression with Progressio was becoming a reality.

The orientation consisted a lot of immersing ourselves into El Salvador, understanding it’s past, the assassination of Monseñor Romero: The trigger to the horrendous civil war, outraging all those who gloried him for his efforts to revolutionise the oppressive system in El Salvador. We visited museums on the history of El Salvador, learnt about its people, the iconic and the general, about the culture, its language, its traditions, its life. Although all of this was new and an exciting intake, none was intriguing me more than this nation’s current situation and the direction in which the pendulum is swinging.

Photo: Local and international volunteers mingling and having breakfast during orientation.