Before we reached our destination we were still unsure at what we would find. We were aware that we would be working in the environmental field in the community of Santa Marta but knew nothing more about the community that would be home for 3 months. So, even though we had been prepared to be ready for practically anything, there were still many things about El Salvador that impressed us at first impact.

First of all, we were pleasantly surprised by how friendly and open the people were.

We spent a few days of orientation in the capital and the local volunteers succeeded in making us feel welcome even before we reached the community. In Santa Marta too, the people are all welcoming and incredibly open minded, considering it’s a quite isolated community where the development we are used to hasn’t reached yet.

We already knew that the town does not have constant access to water, but only receives it about every 15 days in the summer season. However, going from showers to washing out of barrels of water, it was startling how little water one person can use when washing from head to toe. As an alternative, washing in the river with some friends has been a nice discovery that we will surely miss when we leave. The water issue obviously touches toilets as well, which most of the time are latrines or ‘long drops’ in the garden. Not the best situation for those who don’t generally care for the multitude of insects that crawl out at night or people who need to make a run during the night.

Much more flattering, and probably one of the most beautiful things some of us have ever seen, is the clear night sky, with an amazing view of the stars, so bright thanks to the near-absence of light pollution. The nights are usually early and characterised by the unexpected animal noises that usher in the dark hours. Each family’s ‘gallinas’ (hens - not to be mistaken with hyenas) and ‘chuchos’ (dogs) awaken at night, calling to each other in an endless vicious cycle. The noise is not limited to the dusk though, and in the morning we wake at about 6:30 to the sound of the roosters singing and the local radio blasting happy folk music, which often accompanies us the whole day. The work starts at 8am: the manual labour in the heat took some getting used to, but delicious fresh food, veggies and fruit always await us at each meal to raise our spirits, thanks to our kind cook Leti.

Only two weeks into the placement, our experience has already been unique. Despite the differences with our home countries and the language barrier that sometimes gets in the way, we are all proud of the beautiful community that has welcomed us and look forward to having a great 10 weeks in El Salvador.

*Chucho is a Salvadorian word for dog.

Written by ICS volunteer Giulia Nespolo

Photograph by ICS volunteer Georgia Watson