by Hannah Flamm
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into by going on this trip. I had no experience with building and I would be building a school. I didn’t know anyone in this community and I would be living in their homes for two weeks. I expected an extra-fulfilling camp experience in a different language; I got the most thrilling and outlook-changing time of my life.
As our rickety bus plowed through the dirt-and-rock road that leads into Hacienda Vieja, Cristina, our guide and mother yelled, “photo op!” I raised my camera up over my head and took pictures. (I couldn’t stand up for the luggage and dogs under my feet.) Only later did I look at those pictures; the kids holding signs welcoming, blessing, and thanking us; the older men nodding and smiling; everyone’s eyes emitting love, expectation, and joy into each member of our delegation. We got off the bus and hugged.
The feeling that I was important to these people who didn’t even know me yet, the knowledge that we could hug after having only glanced at each other for a moment, only grew during the trip. When else have I spent two weeks (even two days) when all people say hi with their mouths and hearts, when all children are adorable and loving and try to help you carry cinderblock and 5 gallon bottles of water, when all adults will teach you and include you and respect you and trust you? When else?What did we do in Hacienda Vieja? We put up the walls for a CEDI, the school for 2-7 year olds. Noel and Elba, the teachers (and my best friends), currently teach the 25 to 45 kids who attend the CEDI on the porch of Elba’s mother’s house: every morning Noel and Elba put out desks and chairs; every afternoon, they put them away, and every school day the kids are cramped in and easily distracted.
The trip was about more than shoveling dirt, mixing cement, and placing cinderblock. The trip was about exchanging hand sanitizer and energy bars with kids who gave me paper prizes from their bags of Ranchitas snacks. The trip was about listening to personal stories and community histories and feeling a connection with the people, their pride, and their sufferings. The trip was about building my second home. This year will be about waiting to go back.
Hannah Flamm was an International Partners Teen Delegate in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 and 2007, she served as a Team Leader. In August, 2007, she assumed the role of Communications Coordinator. She is now an attorney working in New York and a member of the International Partners Board of Directors. This piece was written after her first year as an International Partners Delegate.
Participant Feedback“It was really, really a life changing experience for me… probably some of the best two best weeks of my life.” -2013 participant
“This experience was the most worthwhile of my life.” – 2013 participant
“El Salvador changed my life more than I could ever imagined…” – 2013 participant
“Last year’s service trip to El Salvador was probably my son’s most awareness-expanding experience so far. He returned with a new sense of self-confidence and of commitment to do his best to improve this world and the lives of others. Words cannot express how grateful his mother and I are to International Partners for making this possible.” – parent of delegate
“During this trip, I learned about my abilities as a leader and my history as a descendant of Central American cultures.”
– 2004 and 2005 participant
“I learned a great deal about Salvadoran history. I also learned that I can make a difference in the world.” -2005 participant
“I learned that I can easily help others without thinking of myself at all and that it made me feel better than I have ever felt.” –2005 participant
“It was hard physical labor but I was rewarded by seeing how much my new friends and (host) family appreciated what we were doing. I’ll never forget my trip and I learned that I want to have a future in helping people.” –2005 participant
“This was third trip with IP and it reaffirmed my belief that what I do can really change communities and lives for the better.”
– 2003, 2004 and 2005 participant
“The trip was the greatest experience of my life. The feeling of accomplishing something that will change the lives of people for many generations to come and also changing my own life makes it more than worthwhile. I can’t wait to go back this year.” –2004 participant
“In El Salvador the work was hard and satisfying, and the people we met were unbelievably inspiring. In a country that has so recently experienced a war, every person has their story to tell and each is more amazing than the next.”
– 2003 participant
“I feel the trip has made me a more compassionate person” –two time participant
“Despite immense poverty and tragic war, our two weeks were by no means depressing. I lived in a two room house with a dirt floor and slept on a sagging bed, but woke up most mornings happier than I often am at home, thanks to the people I was living with and the stories they shared.” – 2004 participant
“During my two weeks, I had planted more seeds of hope for a positive future than I could have ever anticipated as being within my capacity. This gives me the greatest happiness: to give someone else reason to hope.”
– 2004 participant
“This was the most meaningful professional experience of my career. An opportunity to use my skill as a dentist to really make a difference.” – two time participating dentist