Following or first day in Perquin and the visit to the war museum, or group (minus a couple of sickies) went out for the day to visit a local school which was founded by the owner of the hotel we stayed at (the Perquin Lenka hotel), then we continued on to the village of El Mozote.
According to the gentleman who founded the school, the goal behind it is to instill practical skills and motivation for improving the lives of the inhabitants of Perquin and the surrounding areas. We were treated to musical performances from several groups of students and then we’re given a guided tour by some eighth graders. We speed by every classroom and were given explanations around each group’s curriculum and what they were up to. I felt a bit guilty that we were taking away from precious class time with our presence, but none of the students nor teachers seemed to mind. What I found most fascinating was the way which every grade above grade one didn’t seem to have broken apart their curriculum so that they would learn math for twenty minutes then science for thirty minutes, etc. Rather, the curriculum was integrated so that the class had one big project that encompassed all of what we would call traditional subjects and allowed students to learn and apply lessons all in one go.
The grade eight class, for example, was working in the community to educate people around the consequences of littering and teaching people to recycle and not throw trash from their vehicles. (Incidentally, loose trash is an enormous problem here). The grade sixes on the other hand were working on creating an effective irrigation system and had learned all about how various plants collect water and retrain it. It was really exciting to see and hear about the students’ project’s and what they are up to – this school definitely gives me hope for the community in Perquin and I expect that they’ll make a big difference as time goes on.
From this place of joy and possibility, we traveled on a bit further to the repopulated town of El Mozote. El Mozote is a pretty small town which was quiet while we were there in the mid-morning hours. The square was located in front of the relatively recently rebuilt church and right there was also the memorial wall built for the victims of the massacre that occurred in the early 80s. This place was so very eerie for me. It have me flashbacks to my visit to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, knowing that so many lives had ended here in such a tragic and senseless way. It also got me thinking about the way that the Bavarian Germans are said to be happy to forget their forefathers’ responsibility for the atrocities committed there. I wonder how many Americans or Canadians are even peripherally aware of the unbelievable amount of pain that our democratically elected governments caused on this place.
Anyway. The memorial was especially interesting because Rufina Amaya was also buried there after having passed away a few years ago. She was the sole survivor in the village where 1200 men, women, and children had lived and been murdered in cold blood. Wondering what the reason for the massacre was? To strike fear into other villages. 1200 people were killed to show the other villages that if they harboured resistance fighters, they to would be wiped off the map. Who trained these killers? Uncle Sam at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Let that one sink in for a minute.
We were shown one of the few remaining buildings in the village that survived being burnt and wasn’t torn down outright. The entire front façade was full of bullet holes from the night of the massacre. Unbelievable stuff to see.
Next we were taken to the location where Rufina was able to sneak away while in line to be shot by the Alcatl battalion. So much has changed in the area since then, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene from thirty years ago.
The hope I found in all this was that the community was alive again and it seemed as though they had moved on, though the reminders are all around. What a place.
That afternoon we traveled back to San Salvador to cut the travel time down for the drive to Sonsonate. The drive was long, but relatively uneventful when compared to the adventure of the ride to Perquin a couple days previous. The group was interested in having a bit more choice in food, so we were taken to a food court at a local mask in the upper class area of the city. This mall put many of the malls in Canada to shame. Think Yorkdale mall in Toronto. In the middle of a city where the average wage (if lucky enough to be employed) is around $250 per month. And a significant portion of people live in shacks that most Canadians wouldn’t deem fit to be a garage let alone a home. That’s what this mall was like. I came out after a fast food dinner feeling sick. And realising that while it’s not this extreme at home, these inequalities are very much present, but we’ve become numbed to them.
After that we returned to the hotel where I crashed and was up again the next morning for the drive to Sonsonate. The drive was only an hour and a half, but we passed by two different volcanoes and as usual, absolutely stunning scenery that never seems to get old.
We arrived at the Hotel Agape which is an innovative little community within the larger community of Sonsonate. Agape is a retreat centre and community focus point which hosts among other things, a huge, modern Catholic church,
a nursing home, several clinics for the poorest in Sonsonate, its own TV and radio station, two restaurant-cafeterias, a hotel, at least three group accommodation spaces (capacities between 100 and 300 by the looks of them), playgrounds, and plenty of secure green space. Apparently the place runs on a combination of donations and user fees and in some ways is the most plush place we’ve been, though in others, it’s still quite rough. For example, the grounds are immaculately maintained and there is little to no trash floating around, however, the “dorm” we are staying in doesn’t have a latch on the door other than the deadbolt and the bathroom is filthy and only has cold water on tap.
Either way, it’s beautiful here and it’s beginning to feel like home.