Friday, November 25, 2016

First Impressions

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanks Melanie for sharing your experience.

First Impressions

I first found out about CIS through my university which has an internship program where we get to work at CIS for three months on various projects. While they have a plethora of social programs from their clean water project to their youth scholarships and women's enterprises, their English school really caught my eye. I particularly liked CIS's focus on incorporating social issues into the curriculum to empower students to provoke change. I had never taught an adult class before so I was a bit nervous, but as I quickly found out, there was little I had to worry about.  

I didn't really have any expectations going into my internship besides being super excited about being immersed in a completely different environment and culture. Plus, I really wanted to learn Spanish and what better way to do that than living in El Salvador! Of course, I had some reservations about coming to El Salvador. On the other hand, my school has been sending people over for internships since 2008 and students had always had a great experience. 

My first week in El Salvador has gone by superfast. Everyone at CIS was very friendly and helpful. It was quite relaxed as I got acquainted with the area and the different projects. The biggest thing I had to adjust to was the weather since it's much more humid than what I'm used to in Canada. Since it's the rainy season there are rain storms at least every other day, which cools things down considerably during the night. I'm also constantly amazed at the amount of animal and plant life in an urban area like San Salvador. Every day as I walk to CIS I see so many different types of exotic flowers and fruit trees as well as all sorts of birds, including chickens just minding their business on the side of the road. And everywhere you go, you get a cool view of the San Salvador Volcano!   

                                Living in San Salvador

The food is delicious here and extremely affordable at an average of $3 USD a filling meal and drink (usually a fresco, aka natural fruit juice). There are fruits galore here, many of which are exotic ones rarely see in North American supermarkets, and all of them delicious. There are at least 3 or 4 comedores where you can get lunch around CIS so there's always plenty of options (breakfast and dinner are provided by the host family). My go-to lunch is roast chicken with rice, relleno de quisquil (chayote stuffed with cheesse... mmm) and a tortilla or two. And the frozen! I love how affordable the ice cream are here! I can get a double scoop waffle cone for $1.60. There’s also a tienda near CIS where they sell delicious fried things like freshly made fries, fried yuca (which honestly are better than fries), pastelitos, empanadas, and my personal favourite, Chocobananos, a whole frozen banana dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with peanuts, choco krispies, or spinkles. At 50 cents apiece, you can’t go wrong and it’s the perfect way to cool down on hot summer days. 

On a field trip with the Cultural Program through the central market in San Salvador. 

The two biggest things I've had to adjust to have been the humid heat and the mosquitos. Bringing breathable pants is something I would definitely stress, because the humidity and sweat coupled with long pants was uncomfortable to say the least. I’m also very glad I packed my hoodie since there were days were it  felt like 20°C, especially in the morning. And if you get cold easily, you’ll definitely want something warm while watching a movie at Reforma; they really crank up the AC there. There was even one time when two of my fellow CIS volunteers had to bring a blanket, it was so cold. Of course, it might’ve also been because it was a horror movie and they wanted some barrier between them and the scary nun in El Conjuro 2. I may or may not have used that blanket during the movie as well, to keep the cold away of course.

As for the mosquitos, a good investment is to buy one of those plug-in mosquito repellent things for your room, especially if you don’t have a mosquito net. They’re only $5 at Super Selectos  (the most common supermarket here) and they last around a month. 
Overall, the transition has been quite smooth. The wonderful people at CIS have definitely made the transition much easier and my host family has been really supportive. Everybody is always helpful and giving bits of advice about where to eat and cool things to do. Another thing that really made a difference was CIS’s Cultural Program because it allowed me to understand the history of El Salvador better and become more familiar with travelling around San Salvador.  

Melanie Zhang - York University Intern and volunteer with the English School 

Friday, November 4, 2016

A delegation experience, in pictures.

Ever wonder what its like to come on a delegation with the CIS?
Check out these amazing pictures and summary of the trip of a lifetime.
Special thanks to the ST. ELIZABETH'S/ST. PETER'S JAN 2016 delegation for making this beautiful Adobe Spark document and sharing it with us.  The photography is amazing.
We hope this trip was as important and life changing for them as it was for the communities they visited and continue supporting.
Solidarity forever.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tibby: Women's Small Buinesses Volunteer

Let me open with a poem, since it is, after all Poetry Mondays at the CIS. At the end of the poem “I know why the caged bird sings” by Maya Angelou, it says…

“The caged bird sings with

A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.”

Are we caged birds, caged by what? These big questions and more occupy my mind here in El Salvador. Caged by society, international oppression by Core countries like the U.S.(a little Dependency Theory for ya), and our circumstances which I see firsthand here in the communities that I visit with the CIS. I have amazingly, wonderful, eye-opening opportunities to work closely with 2 communities “caged” in different ways, Comunidad Romero and San Isidro. But with the support of the CIS (including MEEEE!!) and the initiative of some kick-ass women we’re learning to grow vegetables and indigo organically to combat some of these disadvantages that exist here. Break down the cage, however you can! 

What is the unknown, and why does it call to us? El Salvador was certainly unknown to me, and I would be lying to say that I wasn’t nervous coming to live here. My largest fear is not being liked, fitting in, and being able to build a community of friends. Getting to know new people and deeply sharing our perspectives is one of the beauties of life that calls to me. I have found El Salvador to be the place that I was meant to be at this time in my life; it is really, truly, a blessing to be here. Why? I guess you have to come here to find out!

Ok, now I guess I’ll introduce myself. Hi! I’m Elisabeth Miller, but everyone calls me Tibby. I volunteer at the CIS through Brethren Volunteer Service, and will be here for 2 years. I am so so so excited to see what this time will bring, and to be a part of such good work going on in the world.

Let us sing of freedom!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My time in El Salvador: (Delegation experience)

While in El Salvador, I experienced many things, but the one thing that stands out in particular is the people. The country is full of kind, spirited, hardworking, colorful people and every moment spent with one of them was one to remember. I can recall reading up on the country before visiting and
seeing all the stories about how welcoming the people were and how kind the country was as a whole. I experienced this feeling firsthand the minute I stepped off the plane and saw our wonderful CIS guide waiting with a smiling face and a waving hand.

I was visiting El Salvador with a few other classmates from the University of Toledo in Ohio to install a water purification unit in the village of San Pablo Tacachico. The process was long and grueling, but the locals did not mind and they stayed with us until the end. They were gracious enough to feed us lunch and keep us company throughout the day. I will never forget the moment when clean, purified water ran through the pipes. The locals’ faces lit up and their joy was immeasurable. It was so heartwarming to see the people of El Salvador become so grateful for something that many take for granted. This moment and the people I experienced it with changed my life and the way I view things. In fact, El Salvador changed my life and the way I view things. If given the chance, I would return to this beautiful country in a heartbeat and I know I would be graciously welcomed, once again. Thank you El Salvador and thank you CIS for the amazing sights, people, and experiences. Que Viva El Salvador!

Kylee Kramer – University of Toledo student and Water Program Delegate

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!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Berta, English Student turned English Teacher

Hi, my name is Berta,

Receiving her Diploma!

I would like to share my experience at CIS. In the beginning I was a student and the most important thing that I learned of CIS was "How important it is to promote solidarity in El Salvador". When I finished improving my skills I was invited to participate as an English Volunteer teacher. This was a really good experience for me because it gave me the opportunity to practice my English knowledge by helping other students.

Berta with her students

Several years ago I graduated from the University of El Salvador with a degree in Business Administration. My experience as a volunteer English teacher at CIS inspired me to return to school to obtain a teaching certificate. Last year I took a break from my classes and volunteering at CIS to complete a one-year program. I hope to obtain a teaching job and I will be returning to volunteer at CIS in April too.

I invite you to participate in this program because you can have the opportunity to practice Spanish with native speakers, to know about our culture and, the most important thing - to promote solidarity between our countries.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Margie comes back every year!

Margie showing off the pockets in her new backpack from the CIS store.

Margie Legowski is a former teacher, Peace Corps volunteer, education and training specialist
and program manager with the Peace Corp and the Corporation for National and Community
Service (the agency that funds AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps, NCCC). She is active in Holy
Trinity Catholic Parish, Washington, DC, the group that first brought her to El Salvador and a
group which has had an on-going relationship of support and solidarity with the parish of Maria
Madre of Los Pobres (where she now has a goddaughter) in San Salvador for over twenty-five years. Margie has been involved in this solidarity work for the past five years and has studied at CIS four times in order to learn Spanish and/or increase her fluency. In addition to spending time working in the parish, she has also participated in election delegations with CIS and Cristosal in 2014 and 2015. She is here again this year for two months and is spending her mornings studying at CIS, so we had a chance to interview her about her experience with classes at CIS and her time in El Salvador. 
Elections forum
Margie´s words:
My first teacher was Zulma and there were only two of us in the class. Basically, Zulma took us
from where we were to a new level. My fellow student and I both love music so she used music
and her own stories to engage us in learning. All the CIS teachers have helped me understand
¨la lucha¨ - the struggle for justice here in El Salvador – and all use very creative strategies to
work with us to improve our language skills.

Each time I have come, I have stayed with Nora, who has one of the host homes for students and volunteers at CIS. She is one of those women made in heaven– former teacher, activist with the FMLN and even in her 70´s full of more energy than most young people. She has also been a student in the English classes at CIS. 
My experiences with CIS and with Maria Madre Parish have led to so many other things in my life. I have new friendships in El Salvador and with people in DC, Baltimore and other communities that work for justice Latin America. I've participated in several the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) meetings in Fort Benning, Georgia, and a few months ago I joined a delegation to Venezuela to broaden my perspective about Latin American issues. And I am now an emergency foster parent with the Latin American Youth Center in DC. 

I can see that security issues are difficult for people living and working in El Salvador. The people at CIS, my host mother and my friends and family at Maria Madre de los Pobres do everything they can to to keep us all safe. I'm particularly interested in the issue of security as I lead my church's delegations here twice a year. The CIS document analyzing violence in El Salvador was particularly helpful in that regard.

Basically, I listen to the advice Salvadorans give me: I take cabs when I am out after dark, and I don´t carry or wear valuable items when I am out traveling around by bus or on foot. I use many of the same safety precautions here that I use at home in Washington, DC. or when I travel anywhere outside of my own country.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Erica connecting with her cultural roots and understanding her parents' stories

Erica (left) and her sister with a great view of the volcano!
 Hi I’m Erica and I’m a university student from Vancouver, Canada. I first learned of CIS

while doing research on development projects and NGOs in El Salvador and was really

drawn to the CIS’s mission of promoting cultural exchange and social justice in El

Salvador. My parents are from El Salvador and they left during the civil war in the 80s

and most of what I knew about El Salvador was from the stories they shared with me.

I decided to teach English at CIS; at first I didn’t know what to expect as I had never

taught before but CIS does a great job at preparing their volunteers, I really liked their

use of the popular education concept for teaching and learning. Teaching English was

definitely an exchange of ideas, each class was structured so that every grammar lesson

Erica presenting during a cultural event
was accompanied by a social issue topic. Some sample topics included mining, the

environment, gangs, and historical memory. Getting to know my students and learning

about El Salvador through them was definitely the highlight of my experience.

Through my time at CIS I learned a lot about the current political and social realities in El

Salvador, another highlight for me was definitely taking part in the Political Cultural

Program at CIS. Through the program other volunteers and I had the opportunity to visit

various sites of historical and cultural significance in El Salvador, and it really allowed

me to gain a better understanding about Salvadoran history and its current reality. Many

of the social and political factors that led to the civil war that my parents escaped are still

visible in various forms in El Salvador, and those same factors contribute to the current

Salvadoran reality.
Some of the students and teachers at the CIS

While in El Salvador I didn’t run into any major security issues. I took the buses during

the day, but at night travelled by taxi. In general it’s a good idea to avoid walking around

alone after dark as well as carrying flashy valuables. CIS was always really great in

making sure students and volunteers always had a safe way of getting home after classes.

As part of my experience I also had the opportunity of enjoying the beauty that is El

Salvador: the land of volcanoes (23!). I got to climb a couple and it is definitely worth the

trek, once you are at the top the views are incredible! The beaches are not too bad either!  

Being in El Salvador was really like being home, it really allowed me to connect with my

Taking a boat to visit a women's sewing business on an island!
cultural roots and gain a more complete picture of my parents’ stories. I would really

recommend anyone, especially those with roots in El Salvador to learn more about its

history and its current reality. My experience at CIS definitely provided me the

opportunity to do this, and along the way I got to meet incredible people, many of whom

I’m still in contact with today. I’m really looking forward to my next visit home!