Finding Hope in El Salvador

Joanna, our R&D technician, shares her El Salvador experience

It is a profound experience to have your heart broken and then filled with hope by the people of a foreign country. I spent the last 10 days of October in El Salvador learning about the violent history of the country, meeting its people, and seeing the hope and hard work they pour into solving their current social issues. 

My friend’s church graciously invited me to join their delegation to El Salvador to visit their sister church in El Paisnal where they support high school students’ education costs and university scholarships. We were greeted warmly with songs and gifts by the church and its children. They shared their homes with us and their dreams of how they are making life better for the people of their extremely impoverished community.

The kids sing songs with us at La Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Buenas Nuevas.

The kids at Buenas Nuevas Lutheran church made us T-shirts and sang songs with us.

An organization called CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) arranged our trip. They bring delegations to El Salvador to show people the country’s history and current conflicts in order to create horizontal relationships, meaning relationships where foreigners don’t simply pass down money to them, but work side by side and stand in solidarity with the people of El Salvador. 

For 12 years, El Salvador fought a civil war, before signing peace accords in 1992. But for decades prior and during, the people suffered heinous abuses under the hand of their government. Our delegation learned about the many massacres that murdered and tortured thousands of children, women, and men. We visited the university where six Jesuit priests and two women were assassinated. We sat in the church where Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down at the altar during mass.

Municipal building in El Paisnal, El Salvador.

We met with the mayor of El Paisnal at the municipal building. The banner celebrates Monseñor Romero being canonized by the Catholic Church on Oct. 14.

We found immense difficulty grappling with the reality of our government’s involvement. The United States funded the Salvadoran military, arming them, training them at the School of the Americas, and ignoring the death squads and rampant human rights violations. 

Today, the people still suffer the consequences of the trauma, trauma not only emotional and psychological, but also structural. The youth were born into a broken system. Widespread poverty, gang violence, and government corruption stand in the way of their dreams.

But they dream none the less. We met with several Salvadoran organizations — many full of young people — that work tirelessly to heal their country. Non-profits work with youth to prevent them from joining gangs. Others help families search for missing migrants, many who left for the U.S. to flee violence and break out of paralyzing poverty. Still others work on ecological issues, the impact of global warming, and water rights.

The greenery of El Salvador.

El Salvador is so green!

We visited Sister Peggy, an American nun, who has been in El Salvador 32 years. She runs an art therapy center in Suchitoto called Centro Arte para La Paz (Art Center for Peace). Students study music, dance, visual arts, and more, free of charge.

BumbleBar under a coconut tree in El Salvador.

We brought BumbleBars for our group to snack on and we shared them with all the kids!

Programa Velasco runs a child development center that educates young kids, while focusing on the impact trauma has likely had on them. A women’s empowerment program there helps women start their own businesses — something we at BumbleBar get exceptionally excited about! They provide vocational training, seed money, and mentorship and psychological counseling. We ate helado de coco (coconut ice cream) made by one of the women, visited one woman’s massage spa, and watched a woman make luxurious epsom salt body scrubs. 

The Salvadoran people, though burdened, brim with hope and change. I felt their love in their handmade pupusas, curtido, and tomato salsa. I saw the playful joy on kids’ faces. Glowing sunsets halo their gorgeously green volcanos and black sand beaches. I won’t forget them. 

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