When I look back at it now, it is comical what I was expecting El Salvador to be. I guess in my mind I had taken the images of poor and starving children with taglines for money and sympathy as the true state of third world countries. However, I found quite the opposite. Our first day in El Salvador, we woke at 9, ate breakfast, then headed to the clinic about 25 minutes away. The clinic is a two-room brick building with a small attached waiting area. Once at the clinic, the staff instructed us we were to make presentations on Dengue, or "Bone Breaking Fever," to be presented to the community. Since no one in our group had Spanish experience apart from High School, we were really pretty shocked. However, the staff was largely helpful and we managed to put together and present three presentations on Dengue between Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, at lunch we met three children who immediately became our friends, Luz, Hurzon, and Helen. Even now it makes me smile thinking about those children. Every day at lunch, they promptly met us at noon to play soccer, other children's games, and to laugh. Perhaps these three children will be what I remember most about my trip, but I certainly hope the best for them and truly cherished the time I spent running around in front of the clinic kicking up dust and laughing with them. The great thing about children is they have not had time to build up walls we must overcome, rather, they were simply excited to have playmates for the week.
Wednesday afternoon, three of us went into the community to give some vaccinations to babies while two stayed back and shadowed the doctor at the clinic. For those who have never done it before, it is scary sticking a baby with a syringe for the first time. However, Morena, the clinic's RN, helped out, sometimes by actually forcing us to stick the babies. For those of us that are not pre-med students, I think this was an incredibly influential experience on them. I call to mind one student walking while staring shocked at his hands exclaiming, "I cannot believe I just gave a baby a shot."
Every day after we left the clinic at 4:00 we had the opportunity to pay between $20 - $50 (per group) to go to several sites around El Salvador. We utilized these opportunities and definitely feel we got to see quite a bit of the natural sites around El Salvador including a beautiful beach with huge waves. One night we got to go Salsa Dancing and were the only "gringos" in the club. However, as was the case everywhere, the people were more than welcoming and happy to have us there.
I feel I could write pages about each day in El Salvador but am limiting myself for the sake of your time. I found El Salvador was not a case for sympathy or tears, but rather a case of hope. A case of people with problems just like you and I face everyday who are doing their best to take what life has given them and live happily. The people didn't need us to blindly throw money at them, but rather to come live as they did; to walk hand in hand with them and see life from their side of the screen - to teach them about us as we learned about them. Life in America seems different now after returning from El Salvador and I found the differences between cultures to be not only eye-opening, but life changing.
-Alex Moseman Wabash College Class of 2011 (Crawfordsville, IN) FIMRC Volunteer in El Salvador, March 2010