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Finding History and Inspiration in El Salvador

September 16, 2011

  • Lucy Roberts CAS ’14 and Mia McLaughlin CAS ’14 with their host family in El Salvador.

When Molly Hetz B.A.’11 first volunteered in the rural village of Guarjila in northern El Salvador as a high school student, she immediately connected with the people there and knew she needed to return.

“What first struck me about the community in Guarjila was how compassionate and accepting the people were,” said Hetz, a sociology/anthropology major. “They showed me a different model for community, one in which all people are accepted and involved regardless of their physical or mental abilities.”

In the years since, Hetz has made five more trips to El Salvador, building a working relationship with the Tamarindo Community, an organization that was founded after the country’s civil war ended in 1992. (The organization takes its name from a native, fruit-bearing tree called the tamarind. These trees were among the few things left standing after the war and still inspire the citizens today.) The organization’s mission is to build a better future for people living in Guarjila through initiatives such as health clinics, microbusiness development programs to discourage families from emigrating, and educational and recreational programs for youth.

Hetz’s commitment to El Salvador—and her indelible experiences there over the years— inspired her to bring friends to the Tamarindo Community. This spring, she organized an alternative spring break trip to send a delegation of Lewis & Clark students to El Salvador to participate in the work of the Tamarindo Community and to learn about El Salvador’s tumultuous history firsthand.

mural“The Tamarindo Community is engaged in countless community service programs and runs a 24-hour safe house for community members,” Hetz said. “It has been a dream of mine to bring Lewis & Clark students to Guarjila. My goal for the trip was to expose more people to Guarjila so that the two communities could begin to establish a relationship.”

Angelica Pulido-Westlake CAS ’13 helped organize the trip after visiting Guarjila with Hetz last summer. Pulido-Westlake said she was opened to a world she had never experienced before, calling the trip a “living classroom.”

“The Tamarindo Community in Guarjila has shown me what it means for a postwar, Third World community to struggle for and successfully obtain the means of self-improvement,” Pulido-Westlake wrote about her experience. “The mixture of joy, tragedy, peace, violence, militancy, activism, and love that makes up El Salvador is one of the most powerful representations of a people I have ever encountered.”

In addition to Hetz and Pulido-Westlake, 10 other students made the journey: Emily Cousins CAS ’12, Jonas Fahnestock CAS ’14, Dale Forrister CAS ’14, Amy Huang CAS ’13, Jessica Lodal B.A.’11, Tracy Marvin CAS ’13, Mia McLaughlin CAS ’14, Kaylin Preston CAS ’14, Lucy Roberts CAS ’14, and Rachel Wolf CAS ’12.

playgroundThe spring break program that Hetz organized was supported by Lewis & Clark’s Center for Career and Community Engagement, which provides grants for student-directed trips focused on social justice issues and other topics selected by students. Students interested in leading programs during fall or spring break apply for competitive grants and, if selected, develop alternative break experiences in collaboration with staff from the Center for Career and Community Engagement. The programs can be local, regional, national, or international in nature.

The Student-Directed Alternative Break Program is just one of the many ways the center helps students become innovative leaders and citizens of the world. The center works with students throughout their time at Lewis & Clark to help them discover their goals and interests, connect to opportunities in the community that enrich their academic experience, and prepare for successful lives beyond college.

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