Like Julia, Kat spent 4 or 5 weeks away from her normal environment in the Youth Ministry Team to visit some communities that CAFOD supports in El Salvador. That was in January and Febuary so we went to visit Kat to get her reflections on the trip…
What were your expectations before the trip?
I knew it would have an impact on me but I didn’t think I’d be surprised at what I saw. Other people seemed apprehensive on my behalf.
Before I went to El Salvador, I knew a little about the country: Oscar Romero and tomales (steamed or boiled corn based dough eaten with a savoury or sweet filling), It’s hot, lush and it has volcanoes.
How was the journey out there?
We went from the UK to El Salvador via Miami, so were able to walk along the Miami beachfront. Once we got to El Salvador, Hernan, our mini-bus driver took us along some motorway standard roads, but once we got near the villages, the roads became rutted dirt tracks.
Your first impressions?
The CAFOD partners we met were all friendly people. It’s a very green country, not dissimilar to England and that was quite comforting.
How was the accommodation and food?
We stayed in the University buildings at first, so we were well looked after. Later, we stayed at the radio station of the Jesuit Development Service (a CAFOD partner) who had quite basic facilities like an intermittement water supply, so buckets were filled when the water was available and you washed from the bucket when it wasn’t. There was no air conditioning, but sometimes there was a fan.
The food was tortillas, (but different to ones in the UK) chicken, lots of beans, plantains and sweet, black coffee. This wasn’t due to my preference, just that there was no milk.
Highlight of the trip?
We worked with the youth group in Arcatao making pupusas (tortillas filled with cheese, meat and beans) but to be honest, we weren’t good at making them. We introduced ourselves and spoke about England, then played a game we use at the Youth Ministry Team. After his, the young people performed a drama they had prepared about the civil war that raged between 1979 and 1992. Some of the older people said that they were concerned that the generation born after the war didn’t care about what had gone on, but it was clear to us that this wasn’t the case.
Lows of the trip?
When we visited Arcatao we had a very powerful and very, very cold shower. The local people could hear our screaming! Also I had no hair straighteners and when I tried to Skype home, it malfunctioned so I could see them but not hear them.
Tell me one story that you’ll always remember.
We met Marlene who is a nurse at a clinic that we visited. She told us how the people and especially women were treated throughout the war. There was a courageous and protective community spirit during the war, with people coming back to the villages that they were forced to flee from and rebuilding them. Marlene also a hero when we discovered a massive spider, taking it on with only a flip-flop!
What reflections do you have on the trip now?
I’m comparing El Salvador with Sri Lanka. (Like El Salvador, Sri Lanka underwent a civil war but lasting over 25 years.) My dad was born in Sri Lanka and my mum’s family are from there, so now I want to find out more about the island and what went on there. That we should “live life to the full” and about the great inequality of opportunity present in El Salvador. We saw shacks made from corrugated tin, leaning against the walls of a shopping mall.
What would you say to other people who might be thinking of applying to Step into the Gap?
Do it! If you’re feeling that you are being called into it, just do it. It’s an experience that you can only gain from. It’s a year from your life that’s worth it to deepen your relationship with God and experience different cultures.
Both Kat and Julia are back at the Youth Village telling young people about their experiences overseas and how CAFOD are helping people to lift themselves out of poverty.