Global Learning, International Exchanges

Dispatches from El Salvador

A delegation of Northwest School students and faculty embarked on our annual trip to El Salvador on March 4. For two weeks they will be learning about the country and its history, will meet with the leaders of SHARE (our partner organization in El Salvador), and hear about the work SHARE is doing to secure basic rights for the people in their region. The students will also visit our sister community in the village of Huisisilapa, where they will stay with local host families and share stories, experiences, music, and dance with children in the local school. We will be publishing periodic updates as they come in, so be sure to check back!

March 17, 2017

Today we had to say goodbye to our home stay families, and although it was a sad occasion, in the back of my mind there was a constant reminder of how amazing it is we can create such strong bonds over just three days. The goodbyes were made harder due to the extraordinary generosity and kindness of my home stay. Once back in San Salvador, we had a final reflection n the entirety of the trip. It was a space to bring to light the lasting insights of deeply impact experiences we had. Ahead of us lies a long ride home, and having to unravel the intricacies of our experiences here is something I'm anticipating will be difficult.

- Errol B.

We arrived for the second time in Huisisilapa unsure what to expect as far as our home stay experience, because our first was intimidating. I believe this is because Ruby and I were struck by the limitations that come with the language barrier, as our Spanish is far from perfect. Soon after arriving, Ruby and I decided to show them pictures of our families to try to start up a conversation. This photo sharing session went really well and they loved hearing about our families. Then they showed up pictures of their family, including telling us about their older brother and his wife who live in Alabama with their baby. After we connected over families and photos, we laid in the hammocks with the two girls, watching music videos and talking about our lives at school. This made me so grateful to be able to share these special moments with this family, who graciously took me into their home. I know that I will never forget these experiences we had in Huisisilapa.

- Ella N.

During this last night in Husislaupa, I felt the strongest connection I have had all trip to the community and the Savladoran people. Going through awkward activities with other kids in the community and playing a big game of soccer were great ways to connect with others and build real relationships we will always remember. Following a talent show, I played a simple game with a couple of kids in the community for over a hour. The joy that it brought to the kdis and to myself was immense even though the actual thing we were doing was so small. This connection was very special to me and it will always be remembered.

- Andrew S.

March 16, 2017

There have been so many horrific events in El Salvador's history, one of which we got to understand more today. Visiting the monument for the El Mozote massacre, as well as many others, might have been the most touching thing we have done yet. The killings of over 1,500 people, regardless of their gender, age, and economic standing, were killed without any mercy. Many of the ones who died were children, including new born babies. That was something that struck me quite hard. At the top of the monument area was a children's play area that was so peaceful. A place that those kids will never be able to experience.

The monument itself contained many leaders who strove for peace, such as Martin Luther King and Ghandi. The surrounding area was filled with small yellow blossoms. Each one felt to me like a representation of the glowing life that each person in the massacre had. The beauty of this area was so unlike what you could have imagined in comparison to what had happened there those years ago.

The second thing we did today was go to the site of the massacre itself. In the center of this plaza (a place where many people were rounded up to then be killed) stood a memorial with a wall of names. Next to the names were ages. So many of the names were of young children. We had a guide to show us around, his name Serafín. He was a man who previously was a member of the guerrilla starting as a child. His expression earlier had been composed and gave off a gentle happy vibe. When he started talking at the wall I could see a twitch in his face of sadness. We learned that some of his family had been killed in this massacre and he had escaped. It was so moving to see him standing there today talking about his story in such a courageous manner. One of the most saddening facts for me was that even until this day, many of the bodies remain unidentified. Over the years they have been doing DNA tests on the remains, but many families still don't know where their deceased family members are.

One of the strangest things about the whole day was how peaceful both of the locations were. Never would I have imagined that something so tragic would have occurred there. After having such a heavy day we had a long ride back to San Salvador to reflect. There is so much more I could say but I am still processing everything our group experienced today myself.

- Raina Z.

Hola Todos!

We have been away for the last two days in Morazaán, north of San Salvador, specifically in a small town called Perquin, and today at El Mozote. We spent yesterday morning driving up to Morazon, and stopped for a 10 am ice cream break. Arriving in Perquin, there was a refreshing change of surroundings: cooler climate, pine trees, and crisp air. The hostel was full of wonderful surprises, including an unexpected friend: a local boy from Perquin named Dario. Morazán was not only beautiful and peaceful, but an emotional shift from being in San Salvador. Over the course of the past two weeks, we have learned about the civil war from several different point of views, but in Perquin we got the unique advantage of being guided by Serafin, a Salvadoran who had actually fought in the Civil War as a child. He proved to not only provide a extremely knowledgeable background, but a personal and emotional one. We ended yesterday night with a reflection session in our hostel that was another countless example of some of the rich, genuine conversations I have had with this group of people.

We started this morning by visiting the monument to the massacre in El Mozote. Driving through the town of Mozote, there was a noticeable shift in the demeanor and mood of the group, as the juniors have recently studied this massacre and knew some background of the horrors of the tragedy. Serafin took us to the top of a mountain, filled with clovers and small yellow flowers. There was a distinct heaviness in the air and yet a sense of shared peace and quiet. Personally, this morning was the most emotional I have felt this entire trip. Our surroundings were silent except for the sound of Serafin's voice and the cicadas. We listened as Serafin recounted tragedy after tragedy, the horrors of the massacre that is still largely unrecognized and goes unknown to many. We have heard this information in different forms before throughout the trip, but something about standing in the clovers at the monument today, in such a stunningly beautiful place, with such meaning in the air made all the facts and statistics we had heard feel real. I found myself thinking about the people in my life who I had lost, but then quickly felt guilt as I realized how remarkably small that number is compared to the hundreds that had died in Mozote. Somehow, our second stop this morning was even more emotional. We visited the actual site of the massacre, the town center and church.

Tomorrow morning we go back to Huisi for one last trip.

Adios, y Hasta la Vista!

- Rae H.

March 13, 2017

Today is the ninth day on the trip in El Salvador. We gained insight on the different challenges the country is facing by meeting with people who are working to combat them. I was moved when two members of Radio Victoria talked to us about the challenges they faced when they were working to spread the truth about the effects mining would have in the country. Radio Victoria is an independent radio station that was started in 1993 to educate, inform, and unify repopulated communities when other sources of media only existed for profit. The people who talked to us explained how they determined how terrible the effects of mining would be and how they used their station to inform the population. Mining companies were actively trying to get rights to exploit the natural resources of El Salvador and other news sources controlled by the conservative ARENA party were saying that the country was facing an economic crisis and the mining would help boost the economy. The real reason, however, that representatives of the ARENA party wanted to allow mining was because they would get paid by the mining companies. Radio Victoria saw that the lasting long term effects of mining on the environment, the water, and the health of Salvadoran people far out weighed the short term benefits that mining would bring to the economy. With their anti-mining message, the radio station became such a big obstacle to the mining companies that the companies attempted to pay them off. When the radio station rejected the bribes the companies threatened their lives. It was really powerful to hear from these people about how they were willing to put their lives on the line to fight for the rights of the Salvadoran people. They said they were inspired to stand up against injustice by the desire to be examples to the next generation as those who had fought against the oppressive government during the civil war had before them.

- Jamie C.

While the meetings with organizations and activists over the course of this trip have been incredible, I’ve also been enjoying the conversations I’ve been having with Salvadorans that I’ve met along the way. One of these conversations that stood out to me was a conversation that I struck up with a Salvadoran police officer after dinner at El Atico while some of the boys debated buying a laser from a street vendor. We chatted about the group. He was understandably curious about what a bunch of Americans were doing in the middle of El Salvador, and he asked what our motivation was in coming to the country. I told him that we had come to learn about the civil war and the impacts that it had on the country. I mentioned how much I had learned from the people here and how kind they have been to us during our trip. I was surprised when he told me that he was an officer for a similar reason--he loved the people, he felt that his job contributed to their safety, and that he was contributing to progress in El Salvador. Although it was a brief conversation, I learned from the officer that we were working towards similar goals, even though the way in which we are instigating them are different. He's taking a direct action to better society, whereas our goal is to reconsider our privilege and to learn about and bring attention to the issues in El Salvador (once we return). But overall, I was struck by the commitment to improving the country that he had. I aspire to find a career that I feel as passionate about and one that I feel is contributing to society as did the officer.

-Lexi R.

March 12, 2017

We are now back in San Salvador from our lovely weekend in Huisisilapa and the commemoration of Padre Rutilio Grande. The students have been settling back into their rooms and reflecting on their time away from the city. We will have one full day in San Salvador before heading out again to Perquin on Tuesday.

Gracias y buenas noches,
- Thomas, Suzanne, Scott, Isabel

Yesterday was our first full day at our home stays in Huisisilapa. The temperature hovered above 90 degrees throughout the day, and at 2:00 pm sharp we found our sweaty selves seated in la iglesia (the church) to attend a Quinceañera. Most of the community attended, and a very large portion of the teens in the community were there as well, dressed in turquoise, to complement the Quinceañera's pink dress. Though our group was sweaty and hot for the entire Mass, we all did our best to be respectful and stand when asked, as we were invited, as complete strangers, to a small community's celebration of a 15-year-old girl's birthday. It did not occur to me until after the day was over how welcoming an act like this was. Even though it was a very large event, the amount of generosity that went into our invitation was incredible. The community invited a group of American teenagers (that they met just the previous day) to a coming of age celebration that would only occur once in this girl's life. Needless to say, we were graciously welcomed in as part of the community during Mass, and even during the banquet-style dinner that was served after, where we had large tables pushed together for us and heaping plates of chicken and rice brought right to our tables!

Following the dinner, there was a dance party complete with a DJ who blasted Latin pop and Reggaeton. Though by the time our small group showed up, it seemed as if the party was over, but as soon as we got onto the dance floor, many more people came to join us. Teens and children whom we had met during the day joined in dancing with us, all with huge smiles on their faces, and even a few of the elders were busting a move as well! The events that occurred during the Quinceañera on Saturday helped form my opinions of this small but loving community. First of all, I learned from the children to be curious and outgoing when meeting new friends. I've learned from the elders that you are never too old to stand in prayer and to dance like you are young again. Last of all, I've learned that you must always be gracious and loving when welcoming new faces into your community, as those whom we have met in Huisisilapa have done for us. I hope that we would do just as well at this if they are to ever visit us.

- Megan

When we first entered the small town of Huisisilapa, we were greeted and led up to the school. Upon our arrival, a classroom door opened, spewing out countless smiling children who rushed forward bearing hugs. While we have met many gracious and outgoing people during our stay so far, the strong unconditional love shown to us by the young children of Huisisilapa nevertheless took me by surprise. Of course it was not only the young children who made us feel like part of the community. After several welcoming songs were performed, we were handed over to our home stay families. They welcomed us instantly and made us feel as if they were truly our family. Azure and I were led to our family’s home, which was equipped with dogs, cats, very small rabbits, and likely many more animals which wandered in and out of the house. Our hosts kindly asked if there was anything we needed as we reclined in two shaded hammocks, resting for the big game of soccer that was scheduled for that evening. Azure and I returned to the social center of the town about half an hour before the game would start. However, we found another soccer game going on, this one with the young kids playing. We happily joined the game, which delighted the kids, and were often impressed by their skill. Thankfully when time came for the game with people around age, they created mixed teams with our group and people from the town. They were incredible. It made me realize that in a world without most distractions known to me, sports were the main pastime. Furthermore, it illustrated the power of constant persistence, as all of the people were very talented because of their constant practice and clear hard work.

- Peter G.

March 8, 2017

We have continued to learn and grow in our time together through impacting conversations with individuals, meetings with local organizations, and marching in solidarity for El Dia Internacional de la Mujer. At this point, I believe that most (if not all) of us have begun to really feel and think about the powerful information we have seen and heard. We have also had opportunities to reflect on our experiences over lovely meals, time spent outside in parks, and through listening, singing, and dancing to music (in Spanish) on our bus rides. It has been a wonderful first few days with this group of 14 students!

Please enjoy two more student posts by Josie B. '18 and Ruby D. '18 below.

-Thomas, Scott, Suzanne, and Isabel

Hola Todos!

Our second full day here in El Salvador was a full one indeed. We started with breakfast at the hotel Villa Real, where we are staying, followed by a meeting with Padre Fredis from the Romero Coalition out on the patio. He told us about his experience meeting Oscar Romero as a high school student and how it inspired him. He also spoke about his organization. That meeting was followed by a short bus ride to the National Cathedral and Romero’s Crypt. The architecture of the cathedral was absolutely stunning, with incredibly tall ceilings, dark wood doors, and pews contrasting the light walls and beautiful murals. The next church we visited, El Rosario, was very different. It was a large concrete building with stained glass embedded in the walls. The side opposite the altar had a beautiful eye meant to oversee the congregation, and the other two sides had a rainbow gradient. This was followed by a wonderful lunch and then a talk with a representative from Equipo Maiz.

Our final event for the day was conversations with men and women from the group CODEFAM about their personal experiences, and their family stories during the Civil War in El Salvador. We had this meeting at the Monument to Truth and Memory. The monument is a long wall filled with the names of the disappeared or missing, as well as those who were killed. I had heard from the faculty and others who had gone on this trip before that seeing the wall was a powerful experience, but this completely exceeded my expectations. Looking at the vast amounts of names was full of impact even without seeing the lists of massacres at the end, and hearing from the survivors of the war was truly touching. I was so shocked and appreciative of their vulnerability to share with a group of strangers about such a personal and emotional topic. I am so thankful to have had this experience.

We ended the day with pupusas at Nelly’s. It was an exhausting day, but equally gratifying.


Hello, families!

We hope you are all doing well! I am writing from our hotel patio after dinner and a group reflection. Many of us are feeling tired and sun kissed after a fantastic and long day! Unlike our first few days here in El Salvador, today did not include many meetings. Instead, we marched downtown in San Salvador for International Women’s Day, and then drove up to El Boquerón National Park where we went on a very small hike and enjoyed some beautiful views.

For me, the definite highlight of the day was the Women’s March. As one of my classmates shared just now in our group reflection, it was so much fun to get outside of the bus and really be among so many El Salvadorans. There was contagious energy, music, chanting, and a lot of bright morning sunshine.

Hasta luego,


March 6, 2017

We have had an emotional and full first day, complete with an in-depth exploration of the historical reality here in El Salvador. We were also fortunate to be joined by 2 university students that will be with us until we head out to Huisisilapa on Friday. Everyone is healthy and the food has been delicious. We have attached a group photo with the two visiting students, our SHARE coordinator Claudia, and SHARE's El Salvador director Isabel Hernandez. Also, please enjoy the first student check-in below from Azure!

- Suzanne Bottelli, Thomas Elliot, Scott Davis, and Isabel Constanzo

Today we started with a meeting with the chair of SHARE in El Salvador (Isabel Hernandez). We spoke about many things involving the history of El Salvador and an outline of the inner workings of SHARE. We spoke for roughly a hour. Even thought it was early in the morning, Señora Hernandez had a way of drawing you in with every sentence, and all of the students were very engaged during the discussion. After the meeting, we were off to see where Monseñor Romero spent most of his days. On the tour we saw the small house where he lived, which the sisters built for him, as well as the church where he was assassinated. The construction of the church was beautiful and truly is a work of art. We then went to la UCA (University of Central America) and were accompanied by an alum of the Northwest School (Hilary Goodfriend '08). We spoke about gang violence in El Salvador and she stressed that it is on the decline. Following this activity, we went on a tour of the museum located in the university. There we were shown the extent of the violence during the war through photographs, and we saw actual articles of clothing worn by people who had been assassinated on the campus. It was an amazing first day and we, the students, can't wait for the days to come.

- Azure H. '18