What is your work background?

I am a nurse, and whenever I get the chance I am happy to tell people as I love what I do. Before becoming a development worker, I worked in different hospitals and different areas of nursing. I wanted to make a change in my personal and working life, so I applied for this placement in health education.

How would you describe yourself? 

Happy, caring, a dreamer and headstrong, I apply myself 100% to projects that I enjoy and I am passionate about what I do, and until I get it right...I don’t stop. I think I am a people person, and I value friendship above all else. I try to act according to my principles, which is why I like jobs that promote justice, equality and support. I love to travel and this job as well as everything else enables me to enjoy the beautiful countryside and culture of this region of Central America. What more can you ask for?

What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?

A change in my personal life encouraged me to use my nursing skills in a different way. A friend, knowing about my idea and pursuit of personal development, gave me the link and I loved the work and the idea of change, so I set myself the goal of getting the placement, and now I am here and happy!

What made the biggest impact on you? 

I had already visited El Salvador, but my first impression on getting off the plane was of this humid heat and a smell that I cannot describe, then Carmen Medina (the Country Representative)’s welcome, which was so warm and welcoming that I was put at ease.

The truth is that thanks to the people who are working as development workers in the country, you see the prejudices that we see in the news of the violence, gangs and insecurity in a different light. When you go out into the street and you see the wire fencing and security guards with huge guns, you get an indescribable feeling of paralysis, you think “what have I got myself into”; but as I said the welcome and the experience of my fellow development workers has made it all easy.

Fortunately, what I see now is a marvellous town that fights and works for progress, some impressive landscapes and food that not only feeds the body but also the soul.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Everything that I am learning and how my experience here is supporting the personal development that I was looking for - I could not have come to a better place. The team work with Flor de Piedra and my field trips, which, although they are not very frequent, help ground me in reality, especially when I am immersed in thousands of tedious computer tasks.

When someone you have worked with gives you positive feedback, you feel a sense of satisfaction and quite emotional knowing that there are people to whom you can give as much as they give to you. It is very gratifying. 

What has been the most exciting moment so far?

It’s hard to say; often the most exciting moments are when I am with the Flor de Piedra support group for people living with HIV, and when I talk to female sex workers, who tell me about their lives and share their fears and hopes…

Last year we produced a publication related to the project, together with Centro Bartolomé de las Casas,Fundación para el Desarrollo Juvenil, Contrasida and Flor de Piedra, with Progressio development workers working at each of the organisations. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to publish a piece of work – it was really good and very exciting.

What has been the biggest lesson so far?

Learning, all the time, and keeping your mind open to what may happen. Knowing that we are part of a life-process that can make you a better person day by day, and having the joy of being able to share it with more people. 

What is the biggest development challenge facing El Salvador and/or the area in which you are working? 

I’m pleased that you have asked this question; one of the biggest challenges is continuing the work in relation to HIV prevention, as there is still a lot to do and Progressio is moving away from this towards governance, (where I think there is more scope for HIV).

Working in HIV means working to reduce the differences, inequalities and injustices that exist, the ultimate aim being the deconstruction of the patriarchal model, which is a never-ending task.

The challenge would be to work more closely with other Central American processes to share learning and to join forces to help break down the patriarchal model.

If you could change one thing, what would that be?

To have more quality time for everything I want to do, as Mafalda (the Argentine comic-strip character) says: “As usual, urgent matters don’t leave time for important matters.”

What strikes you the most from the development worker Model?

That it facilitates wide-ranging exchanges of experience and knowledge and if it were to include more countries, it would be even more successful. The good thing about Progressio is its development practices, as it focuses on technical support, which also promotes inter-culturality and understanding.

What is your favourite motto or saying?

Oh, my mind has gone blank. Every saying has its place, and because I am a fan of Mafalda and Libertad (Argentine comic-strip characters), I always find a way of mentioning them in my workshops.

I like “The chains of slavery only tie our hands: it is the mind which makes man free or slave” by Franz Grillparzer, because it reminds me that everything we experience is a process of liberalization and change, and not to lose the hope of working, changing and growing  along with everyone else around me.

And I always like to say goodbye with: “Tomorrow: we’ll do more and do it better”.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

Do not come with pre-conceived ideas because it is harder to grow that way; be open-minded or open to what life can offer you here because it is a huge and amazing opportunity.

Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?

I have no idea, I haven’t asked myself that question yet. I imagine I will be back home, trying to recount my experiences and trying to apply them to my everyday life, and because I am a little restless, I’ll probably be looking for new challenges. What I do know is that I will return a different person and that will help me in future life projects.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Not really, just thank you for the opportunity to work with Progressio - it is a pleasure to work in El Salvador.

Warm regards from El Salvador,

Virginia López Tito