By: Karen Allen, TWP Tour participant El Salvador Tour 2019
Tooth Whitening Product? True Whig Party? Textured Whey Protein? The Warrior Princess? No, Trees, Water & People, of course, and more recently, its educational offspring, Travel With a Purpose.
TWP’s travel arm returned to El Salvador in May, with a sweeping tour that opened eyes, warmed hearts and, maybe, just maybe, blasted away a few myths that pervade mainstream news reports. El Salvador is dangerous. Perhaps in some places, but anywhere can be dangerous, even your own backyard or kitchen if you happen to be inept with sharp objects. At El Porvenir, the biggest danger we faced was eating too many pupusas or scorching our fingers as the women of the village taught “pupusas-101” on a fuel-efficient stove installed specifically to show off to the visitors.
Nevertheless, based off what I know, El Salvador is a highly resource-depleted country. But the tree nursery supported by TWP’s in-country partner, Árboles y Aqua para el Pueblo, was cutting edge in sustainable reforestation. Gone were the black plastic seedling holders that are single-use, glorified trash bags. In their place were sleek conical multi-use pots supporting their baby trees in compost and rice husks. It was a brand new technology – a technology the nursery workers had gone to Nicaragua to learn, rushing back to show it off for the visitors.
The amount of work that went into the changeover was impressive, and the pride in the accomplishment was obvious.
El Salvador’s youth, unfortunately, face many challenges, dominated by gangs and uninspired about the future, looking for any way out of often desperate circumstances. However, one group of youth that we met did lead us on a merry chase through a hedgerow labyrinth in Apaneca, pointing us left when we should have gone right, but they were clearly not an uninspired bunch. Once we emerged, they talked about personal goals – not of leaving, not of building a drug-running empire – but of making their country better in big and small ways. Their goals ranged from a girl who wanted to open a shelter for stray cats and dogs, to a boy who wanted to organize trash pickups and anti-litter campaigns, to a group leader working on making college on opportunity for everyone.
At a nearby coffee plantation, the foreman spoke honestly about declining prices, operating at a loss, and the effect that had on his workers. But on the same plantation, a school thrived – with students learning English well enough to warble pop songs, studying in a computer and robotics lab, and learning software technology. The idea, or perhaps dream is a better word, is that the declining coffee-dependent settlement might support an international call center or an IT service center. It could be a place where students could graduate into well-paid professions without leaving home.
For me, my tour companions, and those who go wandering in the future, maybe it stands for a Total Widening of Perspective.