Andrea Giroux's International Experience in El Salvador

Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

Andrea Giroux's International Experience in El Salvador

No amount of words could illustrate the proper image of what my two weeks in El Salvador were like, but I’m going to share some life changing experiences. Having barely left Ontario I had no idea what awaited me in a country immersed with poverty. Upon entering the city of San Salvador my eyes were met with several new images: barb wire atop of nearly every wall, police/security officers with guns around their necks, and gang graffiti covering the walls. I thought to myself how can people live here with such a melancholy disposition.

I quickly learned that the people of El Salvador are all individual little light bulbs that help the country shine brighter than I could have ever imagined. Everywhere we went we were greeted with open arms and open hearts – from the staff at the INDES hotel to the principal at the Universidad de Pedagogica they quickly made El Salvador feel like our new home. The University even had a welcoming performance and meal for us. They were all so thankful for our presence and the group and I were ecstatic to get to work.

A couple days after arrival to the country we went to our first public school Comunidad Serpas. The schoolyard was no bigger than half a tennis court. The paint on the walls was faded and chipped. Several of the children’s uniforms were tattered and ripped; it was evident that their families lacked resources. But then the most magical and amazing thing happened – Gudelia Castro (main physical educator at the Universidad de Pedagogica) put on this song called Chuchuwa and the courtyard transformed into a magical playground. All twenty of us adults were transformed into kids as we followed Gude’s movements to learn our new favourite dance along with our newly made friends. We then proceeded to play our Unity Games with the children. After playing we went into the classrooms. I looked into the children’s workbooks to discover some really beautiful and detailed drawings for their age. One of the children asked me to sign their books and when I complied there were suddenly another five books being held in front of my face. It was one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of my life. Me, a nobody from Canada, was being asked for my autograph.

Later that week we travelled to the Private British Maya School where I quickly learned the benefits of having money in a poor country. The Maya school had a gorgeous basketball court, a library, a computer lab, a science lab and several other assets the public schools in El Salvador lack. The children’s uniforms were in good condition and numerous students had glasses and braces. The contrast between the schools was a metaphoric representation the country’s state – the poor have nothing and the rich have it all. The children at the Maya school were just as fantastic and willing to participate as the previous school. Once again the warm heartedness of the country was illustrated when the principal Jaime Comandari told us to contact him if we’re ever searching for a teaching opportunity abroad.

One week into our adventure we visited a small public school on the outskirts of Suchitoto. After running our Jumpstart games with them we had an hour or so to just play with the kids. Naturally, a big soccer game commenced in the middle of the schoolyard. I noticed one child who was quite a bit smaller and younger than his companions playing soccer sitting off to the side observing the game. I grabbed a ball and walked over to him with it. We started by throwing the ball back and forth, which transformed into playing hackey sack with the ball, which evolved into passing the ball with our feet. Him and I went around the corner to an open area and played soccer together for about 30 minutes. With the little bit of Spanish I knew I found out his name was Kevin, he was 6 years old, and he had 4 brothers. But, it was in the middle of this patch of dirt, under the scorching sun, that I learned my most important lesson of the trip. The power of play – happiness created through physical activity doesn’t require a translator. To run, skip, dance, kick is universal in every language. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and language should never be seen as a barrier. It’s only a small hill that one is always capable of climbing.

The last school we visited was a public school in Santa Ana. When we arrived we were greeted with signs, colourful flags, a decorated schoolyard, and an opening ceremony put on by the kids. To conclude the warm welcome, the El Salvador national anthem was played. These children belted out every word with every inch of their hearts. How overwhelmed I felt is indescribable, I cried throughout the entire song. After opening ceremonies we participated in an organized recess that the physical educator of the school, Mr. Cruz, had created. It was such a nice change to be taught instead of trying to teach. At one station there was a game with marbles. The kids drew a circle in the sand and I was completely lost. The two young boys I was playing with evidently knew I didn’t know where to begin. They took the time to show me how to shoot the marble and showed me with actions that the object of the game was to knock your opponent’s marbles out of the circle using your own. I was touched to see their desire to not only include me, but ensure I understood the game.

On the bus ride to the airport on departure day we discussed as a group possible responses to people who ask you how your trip was. Here’s my answer: my trip was absolutely amazing and life changing. We as Canadians are incredibly fortunate to live a safe life where we can walk down the streets without fear. We have an excellent education curriculum that teaches us the necessary information to be successful later in life. We also have the privilege to live in a country that supports physical education and doesn’t view play as a mindless waste of time. We are so lucky and it is our duty to share our fortunate lifestyle with others – this doesn’t mean writing checks. It’s about taking the time out of your everyday life to share your knowledge and experiences with others.

If you’ve never travelled to a third world country go!

I dare you! I promise you will return home a more amazing person than you currently are. 


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