So, I’ve decided that Tuesdays will be Travel Tuesdays on the blog! I think that will give me the chance to mix it up and share some of my recent travels on the blog which I have not been able to work in with all the knitting! The first few Travel Tuesdays will focus on my recent trip to El Salvador.
Way back in 2007 I had the opportunity to visit El Salvador and that trip has stuck with me. Our youth group was looking a mission trip and, through some connections, we became aware of COAR Children’s Village in Zaragoza, El Salvador. This project appealed to us because it did not involve building anything and was more of an immersion trip. We went and spent a week playing with the children who lived at the village and visiting various sites in El Salvador. When we returned home the first thing I did was sign up to sponsor a child and I’ve continued to support COAR since that time.
In November of last year I was asked to join the board which I was happy to do. I knew I needed to go back and visit the village. I remember talking to people before my first trip about how it was down there and everyone I talked to had been there multiple times. After having been there for a week I thought all those people were crazy. It’s a scary place down there with none of the first world comforts we have up here. And yet, on a cold and snowy Saturday I found myself headed back down there along with our executive director and program director. There is something about the country and the people that pull you back despite all scary stuff.
The Village was started in response to the war that was going on in El Salvador back in 1980 and it took in war orphans. The end of war led to a change in the kids that were being taken in, now they were victims of the crime and gang culture that sprang up at the end of the war. Families were unable to care for them and they come to us. Today, the Village is still evolving as the child care laws in El Salvador have changed and we are mostly seeing children who have been victims of abuse and/or neglect at home. In the States we would say it is more of a foster care system.
Some of those changes are allowing the kids to go home on the weekends. Because of this we did not know how many children would be there when we arrived on Sunday. Lucky for us it seemed like many had stayed the weekend. As we arrived, they were planning for a group of visitors from a parish in Cleveland and had arranged a fiesta.
I should say now I don’t speak any Spanish and these kids only speak a little English so communication is tough but they were so excited to see us! The kids all knew the staff members I was with and they were anxious to meet me. While we waited for our visitors to arrive the kids decided to watch a Korean TV show which really confused me – I was watching a Korean show, dubbed in Spanish and could understand none of it! They have one TV with a DVD player which is kept in the community center. As I questioned the choice of TV show, I was informed that Korean TV is dubbed and distributed very cheaply – they all loved it!
Those plastic chairs are everywhere down there!!! One of the differences from my last visit is that most of our kids are pre-teens or teenagers now as opposed to 2007 when most of the kids were pre-school/elementary school age. This is somewhat due to the child care law change down there. And, many of the same girls were still there, I even recognized a few of them. As with many countries around the world, boys are more highly desirable so we tend to have more girls as they are not “useful” to the family.
Our visitors finally arrived and the kids needed a little time to get their skits and songs together so we took them for a tour of the village before coming back to the community center. The kids sang a few songs and did a skit and presented the visitors with small gifts they had made.
And then it was time for a game! The beauty of games is that the rules can be explained by demonstration and once the game starts no conversation is needed so they bridge the language gap. I’m not sure I ever heard what they called this game but I’m pretty sure you could not get away with it in the States as the possibility of someone losing an eye is extremely high. Basically, there were two people who had very long sticks on each side. The goal was to get the ring around the stick and this involved a sort of basketball like guarding of the stick. The ring could be passed between teammates and then tossed like a Frisbee towards the stick. It’s great because it requires no special equipment and no special field – it can be played anywhere with materials you can find around. Everyone who played had a great time!
While some played, others gathered around one of our visitors who had brought her guitar and had a sing-a-long!
After the game, our guests had to leave and we were able to have dinner with the kids. We had pizza, Coke and tres leches cake which was pretty tasty! The most interesting thing going on during our dinner was the book list that was circulating around. Our program director had offered to donate Kindles for the kids to read books but instead the kids wanted actual books (be still my heart, I guess I belong in Central America…) So, he told them to make a list and make a list they did! All during dinner kids kept coming up to add books – most of which are popular here in the states, titles such as Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Hunger Games, Divergent and Percy Jackson to name a few. All excellent choices! Kids who want to read – it warms the heart!
One last picture for this post – this little girl is new this year and really stole my heart. Down there the school year runs January – November so it’s still early in the year and she’s still getting used to her new surroundings and is quite shy!
I’ll be posting more about my trip in upcoming Travel Tuesdays but if you wan to learn more about COAR you can visit our website by clicking here!