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Study Abroad in El Salvador

A Revolutionary Education

By Jennifer Re

I am the lucky beneficiary of a truly revolutionary education. Like a wise and gentle grandmother, El Salvador has taken me in and taught me patiently, with few words but with a depth of compassion that transcends languages. Like an earthquake, it has shattered preconceived notions, startled me into new realizations, and made me rethink everything that I have ever been or known. I am one of 12 Americans (and one Chilean) who belongs to the Casa de la Solidaridad, www.scu.edu/casa/, study abroad program, run through Santa Clara Univ.

What makes Casa de la Solidaridad ("the house of solidarity") special is its use of Salvadorans as teachers-not just the UCA (Jesuit University of Central America), www.uca.edu.sv, professors who teach our courses but the poor and marginalized Salvadorans who teach us twice a week by including us in their lives. I am a student of the people of San Ramón, a community plagued by unemployment and family disintegration, which lies at the foot of the San Salvador volcano. Every day I visit this community I am intrigued by what I learn.

Monday, September 30th: While my two Casa partners and I were hiking up to a special site at the foot of the San Salvador volcano, I tried to pay attention to Gustavo, our guide, explaining the politics of what we were about to see. But I was too captivated by the life vibrating all around me. As we approached the apex of the hill, I heard a soft rumble. Before us sprawled a once beautiful, now devastated valley, covered with tractors, billowing black smoke into the clouds. The red earth was torn up like somebody's art project dropped on the ground and splattered everywhere. People stood watching from behind their twig-and-barbed-wire fences as a tractor ripped up their neighbor's house. As far as I could see down the valley tractors were pushing dirt back and forth, trying to coax flatness from the uncooperative land.

We had come upon the first evidence of the construction of the Anillo Periferico, the government's multimillion-dollar interstate and part of a grand plan to increase international trade.

The contractors building the highway are international corporations. The mayor has not told anyone what is going on, and the people are frightened and confused. The ARENA, the party in power, is attempting to privatize the country, putting global economics ahead of social welfare and amelioration of the stinging poverty that Salvadorans suffer daily. But to us humble visitors the people are welcoming, so willing to share what little they have--shelter from the rain and even the luxury of Coca Cola.

Whether climbing volcanoes, taking tortilla-making lessons from a woman who lives so far up in the mountains that her town is considered a "myth" by the government, or listening to a speech given by the famed liberation theologist Jon Sobrino, I am always flabbergasted by the way El Salvador makes available what it has to teach me. I have grown spiritually and intellectually in ways that I never expected or imagined possible. Nearing the end of my stay here, I am left with an abundance of memories and a perspective forever transformed. Most of all, I am left with a cavernous sense of gratitude. There is no way I could sufficiently thank El Salvador or the program that has brought me here. The most appropriate thing I can do is to try to let the Salvadorans speak through me in the future when events in my life demand an adherence to human compassion and integrity.

JENNIFER RE, from Oakland, CA, expects to graduate from Santa Clara Univ. in June 2004 with a double major in English and Sociology. She has recently changed her name to "Lupe" to reflect the part of her that remains Salvadoran.