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Reflections on Learning in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador

This post is from Augsburg student Leah McDougall, who traveled to El Salvador with CGEE as part of an Augsburg College class.  

I have dreamed about traveling to Central America since I was in high school. Finally, I was given an opportunity to explore, first hand, the culture of that part of the world. El Salvador was an experience of a lifetime where I was able to become more awake and witness a different type of beauty in the world.

There are many factors that made this trip very memorable, well-rounded, and life changing. The leaders of the trip planned it so we would get a large perspective of the country.  We spent time in three different cities: San Salvador, Suchitoto, and Nueva Esperanza, and were able to see life in El Salvador from many different perspectives.  We met with local historians, attended a local mass, toured church and plaza where Archbishop Oscar Romero preached and was killed, checked out the local markets, toured museums with loads of information about the Civil War, met war and massacre survivors, spent time with Sister Peggy at the Art Center for Peace, talked with the two main political parties, visited with the US Embassy, and spent a night on the beach. Throughout all the travel within the small country, I felt pain, anger. and sadness because of the terrible war they had been through and the amount of people in severe poverty today. But I also felt a sense of hope and beauty that is hard to explain. The people we encountered were very hopeful about the future and not bitter about the past. Religion was a large impact in their life and it showed thro ugh their actions and conversations. They relied on each other’s company and companionship to get through the pain of the war, the struggles of daily life and the hardship of life.

My favorite part of the trip was the time in Nueva Esperanza. It is a small agricultural community that functions like a cooperative. In the 1980s, they were forced out of their homeland and moved to San Salvador because of the dangers of the Civil War. Later, they were sent to a refugee camp in Nicaragua where they remained until the early 1990s. I was exposed to the power of a community in three ways.  First, the majority of this community chose to stay together throughout the war and move back to their homeland together.  Second, the sense of responsibility they had for each other was prominent. They all looked after each other financially, emotionally, and physically. They made it clear through their words and actions that they would never let anyone in their community go hungry or struggle alone. Lastly, the simple lifestyle overall was something very different yet comforting to me.They worked hard and made a lot of time to be in the company of others and be present in each other’s lives. This is something I don’t always experience in my day to day life.

Leah McDougall and her CGEE group worked together with local youth the repaint this mural in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador
Leah McDougall and her CGEE group worked together with local youth the repaint this mural in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador