Joshua Delson, a junior in the College of Computing and Digital Media, recently participated in a DePaul Service Immersion trip to San Salvador, El Salvador. At times, the trip was difficult and unsettling, but the experience was also transformative, inspiring and eye-opening. Learn more about Delson’s journey in his travel diary below.
Day One: San Jacinto, El Salvador
In San Salvador, we met our local tour guide, Colocho, who has partnered with DePaul for the last 20 years. We were hosted by the Daughters of Charity in downtown San Jacinto Parish, where we experienced a new and different culture and had the opportunity to live simply as a community.
Day Two: Meeting the Children
The Daughters of Charity operate a daycare center, and we spent time with the children throughout the week. This site was actually created by the Daughters of Charity with resources from DePaul. Their goals are to educate local youth and provide a daycare program for working-class families.
Day Three: Óscar Romero, Universidad Centro Americana, Su Casa
At a church in San Salvador, we learned about Óscar Romero, the fourth archbishop of San Salvador, who fought against poverty, social injustice and torture. He was assassinated in his church in 1980. We also went next door to Central American University for a review of student struggles during the Salvadoran civil war. We stood in the rose garden where five Jesuit priests, as well as a mother and daughter, were tortured to death during that ordeal.
That evening, we had a community dinner with the House of Solidarity of El Salvador, where we enjoyed the country’s specialty dish, pupusas, thick tortillas filled with cheese, meat or beans.
Day Four: To the Mountains
In the mountains, we gained a new perspective on the nation. We spoke with various leaders, advocates and radio station employees about the impact of mining on the country. After the war, numerous companies across the globe created mining-related jobs in El Salvador. These jobs helped at first but ultimately had a negative effect on the country’s land and pollution. It’s an ongoing problem. That weekend, we stayed at an inn that was actually a former militia base. I felt true solidarity with the hosts because they showed us the beauty of Vincentian hospitality.
Day Five: El Mozote Massacre (Militia)
In El Mozote, we heard the militia’s perspective of the civil war. There was a well-known massacre (actually on my birthday) in 1981, when the military killed more than 800 people in the city. They burned the males alive in the church, and then raped and killed the mothers and children in the mountains. The townspeople told us they still see blood rising from the ground sometimes when it floods. We traveled to the militia museum and explored their old base. There were these really fragile bridges that hundreds of people walked across to flee from the war. Various bombings happened there as well, and our tour guide told us he still uses this bridge as a way to cope with the war. He also said that the country doesn’t have the resources to assist people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Toward the end of the day, we visited a beautiful hidden waterfall near the base.
Day Six: Sister Peggy and Working-Class Food Chains
We spent a day exploring El Salvador’s fine arts scene in Suchitoto. We roamed around their shopping districts and met with Sister Peggy, who is well known for creating a music and art program for local youth. She also runs a museum on famous female leaders in history. While in Suchitoto, we learned about working-class families and how major industries affect the country as a whole. For example, places like Burger King used to charge $7 for a meal, but the middle class was only making $2-3 per day. The country was in such financial difficulty that they changed to the U.S. dollar 15 years ago.
Day Seven: St. Vincent de Paul Center, Orphans and the Elderly
There was a St. Vincent de Paul Center near San Jacinto Parish, so we spent the day at their orphanage and elderly center. One resident was 111 years old! Everyone told us about themselves and their personal take on the history of El Salvador. We served them food and ended with some songs before surprising the orphanage next door. The kids were so happy that they were calling all of us “Mama y Papa.” Playing with them was such a heartwarming experience.
Day Eight: Rick Jones, Catholic Relief Services
We met with Rick Jones, senior advocacy advisor for Catholic Relief Services, who told us about El Salvador in the aftermath of the war. (Years ago, he helped connect DePaul’s University Ministry with service work.) He told us how some individuals don’t even consider their recent battle a civil war, but instead call it an “armed conflict.” What was disheartening to me was how the U.S. was a contributor to the war and is also partly responsible for the current gang war aftermath. In fact, we couldn’t go out during the evening because of the gang violence.
Day Nine: CRISPAZ and Farewell Party
We visited Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ), one of the nation’s interfaith-based service organizations. Their staff helped us figure out how we could positively influence El Salvador once we went back home. For example, they connected us with various organizations, websites and individuals who have created a system to support marginalized communities within the area. Later that day, we surprised the kids from the orphanage with a special party! There were piñatas, cake and performances. That evening, we hosted a community night with all our family homestays and people we’ve met on the trip. Even the family members of Óscar Romero joined us!
Day 10: Departure
On our last night, we prayed with the Daughters of Charity and reflected on our trip. While flying back, we journaled and spent the time taking in everything we had done. Being able to gain an awareness of and live in solidarity with some of the communities in El Salvador was truly an experience. What was special about this trip is how our service did not end when we left El Salvador. It actually started when we came back home. I look forward to staying connected to this amazing country in the years to come.