In mid February we hosted the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut. The team consisted of 15 high school students and 15 parents/adults. This was a different and somewhat challenging team dynamic for us and the week did not exactly go smoothly. Despite at least half the team getting sick to various degrees throughout the week, we got a great deal of work done in only 4 days. We poured two floors, the walls for one house, prepared the foundation for a new duplex, and dug two holes for septic tanks. The team finished the finished the week by throwing a big party at the beach house for all the workers and people who helped throughout the week.
Although much of her team may disagree, Molly Case, a 17 year old volunteer from Old Lyme High School, admits she “might actually miss pupusa’s,” one of El Salvador’s few local food staples. Many visitors to El Salvador want to try all the local food they can. However, careful selection is critical as one evening out to a local restaurant sidelined a third of the group the next day. The team also suffered from a drastic change in climate as they exited Connecticut’s ongoing snow piles and entered El Salvador’s tropical sun. The team elected “safety officers” to monitor teammates’ health conditions and water intake. It was great to see everyone working together and looking after each other.
Positive feedback from their experience has not stopped. Even after a difficult week, Carson Shook, who will graduate this year from East Lyme High School in Connecticut, found that after returning home “there are some things that make you realize how great life is, and how little you need to be happy, and what people truly care about you…I miss El Salvador.”Many of the participants on the trip were experiencing a foreign world for the first time. In El Salvador it is easy to find people generally living happy lives despite the fact many of the structures people call homes would not be suitable for a tool shed in the United States.
Lizz Zanin, a freelance television producer from Los Angelas who joined the Connecticut team, is already telling her friends that she “totally recommends this kind of ‘vacation’ …so give it a try sometime! Your body will be tired when you come home, but your soul will be totally recharged!” The team had plenty of soul charging moments as they worked alongside future home owners and heard their stories. They interacted with the children of current homeowners by distributing toys, coloring books, and temporary tattoos. The volunteers made a big hit with the kids. It didn’t take long for the kids to start following their favorite volunteers around all day from the moment they exited the van in the morning, on the worksite, until they chased the vans away in the afternoon.
The team worked incredibly hard despite a plethora of obstacles. It was a learning experience for everyone and is already starting to have lifelong impacts for many.