On June 19, 2015 sixteen CRLS/City Links Program students and three chaperones embarked on a journey to El Salvador, Central America. The goal of the trip was to immerse students in a different culture and language, to learn about the history and to participate in service learning projects in the community of San Jose Las Flores, Chalatenango El Salvador. From the chaperones and students perspectives the trip was a great success. First and foremost students were able to create strong friendships with the youth of Las Flores in such a short time. Learned from the youth leaders and elderly in the community about the history of the civil war and how these moments in history touched the lives of everyone in the community. Contrary to what media and communication outlets say, the communities we visited were very safe and peaceful. Students were also impacted by the terrain, the ocean, the rivers and the mountains and made many geographic connections, to their native countries.
I learned a lot about the history of the war, and it was very interesting to hear people’s experiences in the war. I learned about both specific dates and times in the war, as well as the general idea of what was going on. I also learned how small communities like Las Flores live, with the cooperatives, which is very different than America. – City Links Student
Students had the experience of living and observing a community that suffer deeply and was destroyed during the Civil War in the 1980’s, but a community that was determined to rebuild and develop with limited resources and with a vision of a shared economy. Students were able to observe first-hand how people working together can succeed in building a community that is a strong and a viable place to live in.
What I learned about myself on this trip is that I am absolutely spoiled in the United States. In El Salvador people use less. Money is an amazing thing, but it’s a luxury in El Salvador. Many of the things that I have here, people don’t have in El Salvador. I have a phone, cable, electricity, nice shoes, and Internet all the time. Some kids in El Salvador can’t afford that. The people have less of everything; we have such as wealth and education. I realized that I have it better than other people, and I should be grateful for such an opportunity. – City Links Student
Students also learned how the local elementary school is teaching students how to harvest plots of land in organic ways, and how to do so with limited resources. Students had a great time interacting in the classrooms with teachers and learning about the differences in the education system compared to the one in the United States. During free time, mostly in the late afternoon and evenings, students were able to hang out in the park, playing soccer, dancing or just simply resting. In addition, students had the opportunity to work in the different community cooperatives, where they were able to learn more about the work of the cooperatives and interact with community members. Over all it was a fun learning experience for everyone who participated in the trip.
On this trip, one thing that I heard from a girl in the high school that had a huge effect on me is that she walks for about an hour every day, both ways, to and from school. This, for me, connected to the broader theme of the pure desire for education that I saw when talking to people from San Jose Las Flores, and even more so when spending time in the school itself. I think that in Cambridge, we often take for granted how we are provided with a first-rate education for free, which is convenient and near. Kids often complain about school or homework. However, this is not the case in El Salvador. In El Salvador, I believe that kids better understand that education is all too often a privilege, not a right. They realize that they are very lucky to be able to attend school, and want to make the most of their opportunity to learn. This, for me, was inspirational, and certainly made an impact on me. – City Links Student