Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Scholarship Forum 2016: Salvadorian Youth discussing immigration

** This blog post was written by Anta, an intern from York University in Canada, who has been helping us with the scholarship program for almost 3 months.  Thanks Anta for all your hard work and dedication.  We hope you have received as much from this experience as you have given.

Immigration is real issue affecting the population of El Salvador, as many people have now left the country in order to seek better economic conditions in foreign countries.  Indeed, many Salvadorians believe that leaving their homeland and immigrating to countries such as the United States, Australia or Canada, will allow them to have a better economic status, and a better quality of life. A good percentage of the people trying to immigrate are usually young people, who on their ways to crossing the borders face tremendous difficulties, and exposed themselves to serious risks.

Understanding how central the question of immigration is to allow the country to develop, CIS dedicated their 7th edition of their Scholarship Forum, to analyze with scholarship recipients, which factors cause immigration, and discuss about ways to create a community in which every member will feel included. Therefore from Friday July 22nd to Sunday July 24th the scholarship forum was held in Coatepque, and gathered youth from every community to discuss about the question of immigration.

The forum has been beneficial to both CIS and the students, allowing both sides to gain more knowledge on the subject, and find possible solutions to help address the issue. Indeed, the forum helped raise awareness about the danger of immigration to the students, and made them realized the danger to which they are exposed within the process. Throughout a series of workshops conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), students got a chance to learn about difference about immigration and emigration, the dangers to which people intending the process illegally are exposed to, and which rights are guaranteed to immigrants and people in asylum. On another hand, the forum helped CIS collect testimonies from young people, explaining why so many people choose to migrate, and how it affects their families and communities.

 Additionally, the forum was a great opportunity for students, as it allowed them to meet other students within the program, and share their experiences. Indeed, each community in which CIS has a scholarship committee, had to send representatives to take part in the event, where they would spend 3 days together in Coatepeque. During the event, students had to share habitations and take part to activities with others that were not from the same communities as them, which made them get to know each other, and share with each other their experiences about the program.

Finally, the forum was also an occasion for students to make member of the delegations know more about Salvadorian culture. Not only was the event an encounter between students from different communities and CIS members, but also an opportunity from CIS partners supporting the scholarship program, to take part in the forum, hear what the youth think about immigration, and gain more knowledge about Salvadorian culture. Indeed on Saturday night, a cultural night was held, where the different groups of students from each community made a performance related to illegal immigration, as well as showing an aspect of the country`s culture. Throughout the night, members of the delegation saw dances, dramas, poems performed by the students, in which they tried their best to present their culture and their point of view over illegal immigration.
In conclusion the 7th edition of the scholarship held in Coatepeque about the question of immigration, was a nice opportunity for the youth of El Salvador to share their ideas about the issue, for CIS students to meet other young people within the program and share their experience, as well as for members of the delegation to discover more aspects of Salvadorian culture.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tom Bright – UK- England

I can’t remember exactly how I found CIS’ website. I was studying at university at home in the UK, and looking for a chance to be involved in language learning. There is no shortage of specially arranged programmes to students- companies promising to arrange all sorts of experiences in all kinds of locations. But when I read CIS’ website, I knew it was something special. It wasn’t a product being sold by a “voluntourism” company- it was the opportunity be involved in a social movement that empowers local people at the same time as extending links of solidarity across the world.

Tom and his Spanish Teacher, Vicenta
I had been interested in Latin American politics and history for a short while before, but knew only a little about El Salvador. El Salvador is not a country many people in the UK know much about. My friends and family mostly knew only about the gangs, or nothing at all. Some people thought that it was a dangerous trip for me to take, but I didn’t encounter any trouble in El Salvador. I was given a lot of good advice on how to be safe, and once I was accustomed to the city of San Salvador, felt comfortable. I did some reading before flying to El Salvador, but it was at CIS where I gained a more detailed understanding of the country’s history, because I was surrounded by knowledgeable and passionate people to learn from.

Staying with a host family during my stay was a great experience for three reasons. Firstly, it gave me plenty of opportunities to practice my conversational Spanish, secondly, it gave me the chance to understand and be involved in family life and culture in El Salvador, and thirdly my family were lovely, generous people, who were so kind and supportive to me.

I was a little younger than most of the people who had come to be involved in the English school- and I was very nervous about the responsibility of the role of facilitating a class. As the start of the teaching cycle grew closer, I started to think that perhaps I had taken on too much of a challenge, as I had no previous experience. But everyone at CIS- staff and volunteers, did so much to help me and make me prepare and feel much more calm. I was still a little nervous on the first evening of classes, but the friendly enthusiasm of the students relaxed me very quickly, as well as the support gained by sharing the experience with the other volunteers.
Tom and his English Class

Something else that helped me to feel more calm was that classes at CIS don’t operate with a traditional, rigid set up of an “expert” teacher and the students who just listen and follow. The classes are based on discussion- of society, politics, and ideas- and the content of the classes comes from the experiences of everyone attending. Students are split into classes by level of English, but the approach remains the same for all of them.

Planning classes was an interesting challenge. Each week I learnt more about what worked well, what didn’t, and what new ideas we could try. We had group conversations, presentations, music, role plays, and more. If you’re a creative person, then you’ll probably have lots of great ideas for activities. But if you aren’t, then that’s not a problem, as you’ll have lots of help from other volunteers with thinking up ideas. And you’ll probably surprise yourself with how much you can think up.

It’s important to give support with grammar- practising what’s already known, and introducing new grammar too, but volunteers at the English school at given a lot of help with this, so it isn’t something to be worried about. You’ll learn a lot about the grammar of your own language! And it will help you to get to relate to and understand grammar in Spanish.

Like the other English School volunteers, I took Spanish classes at CIS, where we had the opportunity to discuss El Salvador’s history and current social and political challenges at the same time as improving our Spanish speaking and comprehension. (They also help you with ideas of what you could include in your English class, and how to be an effective facilitator.)


These classes were a pleasure to be a part of- we talked about a range of historical and contemporary issues, and were encouraged to consider them in relation to our own experiences, and our own countries. Because I was at CIS for an eleven week teaching cycle, I met so many interesting people from different parts of the world during Spanish classes- as people visiting El Salvador come and join classes for a week, a month, or however long they are staying for.

You are placed in a class with others of a similar Spanish level to you, so you won’t need to worry about being left behind or not being helped to progress in your ability. At one time my class was just me and one other student, and one there were around ten of us. Both class sizes had their merits, but I remember that the most common number was three. The small class size is a huge help, as it allows you plenty of time to speak each day, and ensures that you get all the help you need. The atmosphere is always friendly and supportive- but intellectually stimulating at the same time. You’ll definitely look forward to the discussions in class, and without a doubt you’ll make very significant progress with your Spanish.

My time at CIS changed me, and was the most exciting time of my life. My life and its commitments make it difficult to return for the time being, but I think about El Salvador regularly and I hope I can come back to CIS soon. There’s so much I could write about here- taking a trip to Guatemala during a break in classes, visiting community groups and historical sites on day trips organised by CIS, all of the interesting people I met….. I can’t recommend it enough, and it doesn’t matter where you are from or what age you are- the friendship and solidarity between everyone involved in CIS is a wonderful thing which I will never forget.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Joe the Maryknoll!

Joe, top right, with his homestay famil
Joe is a Maryknoll lay missioner who arrived in El Salvador in January 2014.  Maryknoll is a community of priests, sisters and lay missioners of the Catholic Church who have been working in El Salvador since the 1960´s serving both local churches and community services. Missioners usually study Spanish and culture at CIS for their first three months in El Salvador and can, as Joe did, continue with individual  tutoring focused on his needs and interests.  
Joe started language study with his Spanish at an intermediate level and progressed to the advanced level, more or less ready to survive on his own!  He attended classes during two national elections in El Salvador – the 2014 presidential election and the run-off – when the school was filled with election observers from many countries who were also studying Spanish.  Though large class sizes were a drawback, the election observer program offered students special field trips, speakers, and events to learn not only about the elections, but also the country’s history, ecology, and community organizations. 
Checking out the 'carpets' at a vigil.
Joe learned a great deal from the field trips of the Political-Cultural program led by Don Oscar.  Some trips were planned in response to students’ interests. e.g. Joe’s interest in archaeology led to a visit Joya de Ceren, a place where an ancient Mayan village has been excavated and preserved.  Other field trips gave him the opportunity to practice translation in an easy setting.

The CIS staff also arranged for him to visit CIS community programs as a way to further learn about El Salvador – he traveled with Don Luis to visit some of the communities where CIS has a program providing clean water and with Delmi to one of the women’s sewing cooperatives. He participated in leadership workshops with Iris, gaining an introduction to the culture and processes used in community organizing here in El Salvador. 
“The staff at CIS oriented me to basic safety for life here, which involved learning a new mindset of awareness and conscientious choices about where and when to go and how to get there.  They oriented us to the bus system, the neighborhoods, etc.  Safety here depends on being informed, and the best help CIS provides is a great staff from whom one can ask advice about getting around, and meeting other students – both Salvadorans and others – so you can always go with someone. 

Speaking with mining activists

Solidarity Crafts

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Maude, English Teacher and Election Observer

Maude Dews

Maude and her mom at a community radio station
I first arrived at CIS, together with my mother, in June 2014. We had come to teach in the English school during the three-month summer term. Various vaccinations were required before I left Europe, and I think this was probably the most difficult part of the entire process! Once we had arrived, we were guided and advised by staff at CIS, who have a lot of experience in helping foreigners orient themselves to Salvadoran society. We were lodged with a very caring host family and discovered that El Salvador is good at providing substantial breakfasts with red beans, scrambled eggs, and fresh tropical fruit such as papaya and plantain -- and mango from the tree in the garden! After some training and discussion exercises at CIS, we began to lead regular classes. Students at CIS come from a variety of backgrounds and are highly motivated to learn English. The classes are based not only around grammar and vocabulary, but also around mutual cultural exchange between students and teachers. Students decide which political-cultural topics they would like to cover during that term’s class, and each lesson – the CIS has plenty of resources to help with lesson planning – is based around one grammar topic and one political discussion topic. During these discussions, students improve their vocabulary and their fluency
The other volunteers
and confidence in speaking English, while teachers learn about the history and culture of El Salvador, and about the students’ views on the country’s current political situation. As well as teaching in the evenings, my mother took Spanish classes in the mornings. Spanish classes are based around much the same model as the English classes, a model which she felt helped her make rapid progress.

Teachers in the English school can also participate in the CIS’s political-cultural program, which involves visits to sites of interest around the city of San Salvador and indeed the whole country – as the country is so small, it’s easy to see a lot of it in a relatively short time. A highlight was our trip to Joya de Cerén, one of the world’s archaeological jewels: known as the Pompeii of the Americas, it is a farming village from that was preserved in ash during a volcanic eruption. It is
Statue at the museum of the Revolution, Perquin
unique in giving us a look at the life of ordinary Central American people 1,500 years ago.

The English teachers and English school coordinators also traveled together to the remembrance site for the El Mozote massacre, which took place in 1981 during the civil war, and visited the Museum of the Revolution in Perquín and the National Museum of Anthropology in San Salvador. With friends, I visited the Museum of Folk Art, another hidden gem, which contains many remarkable and often humorous miniature clay sculptures.

While at CIS, I met several people who had been coming to El Salvador to volunteer every year for a decade or more.  I myself enjoyed my spell with the English school so much I decided to return to El Salvador the following January, in 2015, as an international election observer, taking up an invaluable opportunity to play a small part in the political process of this new democracy.

After my duties as an election observer were over, I stayed still longer, and traveled to the beautiful rural, mountainous area of Chalatenango in order to serve as an observer in a local referendum on whether to allow mining companies into the area. The result was overwhelmingly No, and the struggle to prevent mining companies from polluting local water sources continues. I know I am not the only CIS volunteer to have found it difficult to tear myself away from El Salvador, and to intend to come back again in the future!

Students and Teachers having fun!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ana, English Student

Ana at work
My name is Ana Gutiérrez, I live in San Salvador.
I work as a Physical Therapist, Occupational and Speech Therapist too.
I work with deaf people in my church, doing interpretation in Sign Language and I´m a volunteer in the Red Cross.
Ana with some classmates

I´m learning English because knowing English, I can serve many people in different ways and places.
English helps me to have contact with English speakers who want to work with people that I work with. It allows us to do the work with more efficacy and we can provide more people with necessary services. 

Why do you study English at CIS - what is special about CIS?

I enjoy studying English at CIS because I have the opportunity to practice my English with native speakers.
At CIS we have the space to speak about subjects and topics of social interest, and CIS provides us a good environment for expressing our opinions, It´s a good place for listening to different ways of thinking and for learning to respect others’ thoughts.
Sign Language
In CIS at the same time that we have an education of quality we don´t invest too much money.  This is a advantage for us; due to the economy in our country.  Salaries are really poor and in my case I couldn´t afford an education with native speakers and with this high quality in another institution.
The location of CIS is accessible for people who come from different places of San Salvador. The CIS´s facilities are comfortable and good for learning. 

Why is it important to native English speakers to come to teach?

From my point of view, it´s important to learn English with native speakers because it helps us to learn the correct English pronunciation and at the same time we can learn to understand diverse accents. That is important because we can speak with people who come from distinct countries.
We learn about the cultures of the countries that our teachers are from and it´s good for us to have a better comprehension of the world.
I think it´s excellent for me to have the chance of to make new friends.
Ana's class

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Meg, a social worker

CIS changed my life in so many ways. From becoming proficient in Spanish which has opened a world of opportunities to me, to growing in solidarity with the people of El Salvador, to forming wonderful bonds with friends from El Salvador and around the world, to meeting my amazing Salvadoran husband, I can’t imagine my life now if I had never gone to CIS!
 I studied at CIS several times between 2012 and 2014 for a total of about 6 months. I kept coming back because I could see I was improving and was fascinated with the classes. I started in level Basic B and finished in the Advanced.  Thanks to learning Spanish at CIS, I later worked as a delegation leader and translator at a NGO in El Salvador before I was hired at my current position as a social worker in Washington, DC in large part because of my Spanish proficiency. I now spend large parts of my workday working directly with immigrants doing clinical work in Spanish.
I was attracted to CIS because I knew Spanish fluency would be essential for the social services work I was going into and I wanted to study in a more meaningful way than typical Spanish classes.  I knew I wanted to go to El Salvador because I was also very interested in its rich history of liberation theology and struggles for social justice. The fact that CIS uses a popular education model and shares the lived experiences of people in Central America further drew me.  I wasn’t disappointed! The material presented a rich cultural and social justice history, and I felt absorbed in learning.  It was practical and useful and what I wanted – practice talking about issues – from water rights, to land ownership, to politics. The teachers come from shared or lived experiences that we are learning about and were eager to share their culture and history with us. And in the evening, I could use the language skills I was learning to bond with my host family over dinner or playing with their dogs to further deepen my learning experience.
Meg with one of her classes
The Political-Cultural program in the afternoons and some weekends was important, as well. I connected what I learned in class with seeing things and practicing using the language, which made the language and the history and social justice issues come alive. Some of the most powerful moments were hiking Puerta del Diablo, visiting the UCA massacre site, and learning to dye indigo. We experienced food, people, music, natural environment-all the special things that make El Salvador one of a kind.
Vigil at the UCA
I also experienced the country could be in solidarity with the people of El Salvador without feeling that my safety was compromised. We got a thorough security briefing upon arrival that left me feeling aware and prepared. My whole time there was without incident because of all the precautions put in place, and I never felt less safe that I do in my home city of New York – mainly we just took universal safety precautions that anyone would take traveling to any city.

Teaching English was a really powerful experience, as well. In addition to learning really helpful teaching and training techniques, by far the greatest learning experience I had was getting to learn from and hear first-hand accounts from my students about their experiences living in El Salvador in present time – while working on grammar they could also express from their heart. Also, it’s FUN! I did a ton of fun events with CIS to foster community, from cultural nights, to Halloween party, to a field trip celebrating “Teacher’s Day.” Some of my favorite exchanges were teaching my students about my home in NYC-
Indigo Dresses!

I made wonderful friends between my students and fellow teachers from around the world who were
studying, teaching and volunteering on election delegations – rich friendships that I still have 4 years later, some of whom even flew in from around the world to my wedding in El Salvador.

CIS remains an important part of me and my husband’s lives-we even had the favors for our wedding 

made by one of the cooperatives that CIS supports through their program for women artesans and our 

musician was my former English CIS student! I can’t imagine my current life now without CIS and would 

encourage anyone considering a powerful and effective way to learn Spanish and apply!