A SMALL COUNTRY WITH A BIG SMILE
El Salvador is the littlest and most thickly populated nation in Central America. It is called the land of volcanoes or the valley of the hammocks because El Salvador has a very active volcanoes along with frequent earthquakes. The country is on the border of Guatemala at the north, Honduras is located on the east and the Pacific Ocean is located on the west.
Salvadorans are extremely caring and loving people . They are known as proud hard working people . Despite the hardships they have had to endure with such disasters like floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, a cruel Civil War (12 years – 1979 – 1992, where more of 75,000 people died) you will find Salvadorans saying “Buenos Dias” (good morning) with a huge smile on their face
Being the smallest country in the area, El Salvador offers you the opportunity to visit its incredible beaches, unique archeological places, and volcanoes all in a few days. Surfs up! The beaches in El Salvador are beautiful and stretch for miles. In many areas, they are a big attraction for surfers. We recommend Punta Roca, San Blas, El Tunco, Zunzal, El Palmarcito, El Zonte, and Mizata Beach in La Libertad.
Even though it is the smallest country in the area, El Salvador still has tons of attractions to keep you entertained such as incredible beaches, unique archeological places, and volcanoes all within close promixty of each other. So get your surf board ready and enjoy the beaches in El Salvador because they are beautiful and stretch for miles. Some of the beaches we recommend Punta Roca, San Blas, El Tunco, Zunzal, El Palmarcito, El Zonte, and Mizata Beach in La Libertad.
El Salvador is an independent democratic republic since 15 September 1821. Although it has undergone various forms of mostly autocratic governments, since the end of the “Civil War” in 1992, there have been free and valid elections. The Supreme Court is an independent government organization. El Salvador has a free press
Food - PUPUSA!
The cuisine queen in El Salvador is the PUPUSA. It is a corn-based patty, about the size of a small pancake, filled with cheese and/or meat and/or beans. They are found everywhere and at any time. Corn, bean, and rice dishes are prevalent parts of a Salvadorean meal. The use of local spices sets the cuisine apart from many other parts of the world. However, if you are a ‘fast food junkie,’ in the larger cities, you can fill yourself with just about any type of fast food that you crave.
If you decide to travel to El Salvador, we recommend being careful about what you eat. The local food can be something new for your stomach to get used. Salvadorean people eat a lot of fried food such as yuca, pupusas, and corn. If you visit the country for 2 or 3 weeks, you could avoid this food, especially if you have sensitive stomachs.
The seafood is incredible in El Salvador, but you need to be sure that the food is handled correctly.
In El Salvador people love beer. It always comes with ‘Bocas’ (snacks) typically mango, jocote (tropical fruit) and conchas. Do be careful with the conchas though!
Markets and Bargaining
You will find markets, supermarkets, and tiendas (mini-stores) all around the country. People tend to bargain, but we honestly don’t recommend doing that. Our idea is to help and impact the local community. If we don’t bargain in a supermarket, I don’t think it is correct to do so to people who are trying to get a better life. These people can be a farmer or those selling food/things in the streets.
Remember that the impact needs to be positive in the community. All the hours that a person spent preparing and taking care of the land to cultivate food deserves respect. To avoid being taken advantage of by the locals, make some friends, and bring them along as you shop. They will help you get the correct prices.
Dress and Grooming Code
The people of El Salvador are very conservative and formal in their dressing and grooming. Grungy, immodest, or very casual attire is not worn to work. Teaching is a highly respected profession in the country. If you decide to volunteer as a teacher or any school, you need to keep this in mind.
Do remember that you are a volunteer and not a tourist!
You will lose the respect of the local people and your volunteer program team if you don’t dress according to the local standards.
Volunteers may wear comfortable clothing to the project. T-shirts are acceptable, but should not have any logo or other “artwork” that is deemed inappropriate for school. Examples are profanity, references to drugs or alcohol, or crude messages.
Volunteers must be free from body odor (alcohol and tobacco, etc.). The physical appearance of the volunteers must not be a distraction for the people involved in our projects.
Coordination of your program
As a volunteer, you will be following the rules of the host organization and project. Programs are usually conducted with schools, churches, or communities with a very organized group. Typically, a volunteer will work based of a code of conduct that is connected to the terms and conditions that they accept before arriving.
If you volunteer in a school, you will be under the coordination of the host organization, and the school director.
How much? The currency in El Salvador is the US Dollar, but some legal transactions are stated in both US Dollars and Colons. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, and ATMs are plentiful but require a bank-issued card. Dealing with a bank can be quite difficult. Prices for imported items are expensive because of an import tax. Locally produced items are well made and are less expensive. There is a large variety of goods to be had.
If you drive, there are road rules. However, drivers seem not to remember them. In larger cities, traffic can be heavy and horrendous. The inter-city roads are mostly in good condition.
In El Salvador you have different options for transportation, Buses, Microbuses, taxis, moto-taxis, and recently UBER, buses are cheap can around $0.25 -$0.35
The ethnic makeup is Indigenous/Spanish peoples formed over centuries of mixing. There are still some Indigenous and Spanish residents, but they are in the minority. Many things, such as art and food, are a blend of both cultures. Spanish is the official language. American English, due to the close relationship between El Salvador and The United States of America, is becoming a second language – look at the use of English on commercial signage.
El Salvador Family
El Salvador has a reputation for being a country with friendly people. Inviting you to dinner or enjoying a trip with the whole family will be very common if you made new local friends. The figure of the mother is probably the most important in the local culture. Sundays are family days where everyone goes for lunch, dinner, take a trip to the beach or some beautiful place. Do feel privileged if you are invited to spend time together.
As with most places in Central America, El Salvador often does not have a strict adherence to times and schedules that are ingrained in North American and other western cultures. Instead, time is a lot more fluid, flexible, and loosely-based. This concept of time is jokingly referred to as “Salvadoran Time” and can sometimes be frustrating to someone new to the culture.
For example, when making plans for a specific hour such as 7:00, it is perfectly normal for people to show up or for the event to start an hour or later. Thus “7:00” can sometimes mean “8:00” in Salvadoran Time.
Volunteers should be understanding of this difference in culture and not let it surprise or frustrate them when it happens. Remember, patience is a virtue, and things will arrive at their own pace in El Salvador. However, it is still important that volunteers do not adopt this attitude but instead always remain punctual and prepared to start on time.
In El Salvador, people pray for their food before every meal. If you don’t practice their religion, we recommend waiting in silence as a sign of respect. If you are invited to a local family dinner, it is courteous to bring some cake, wine or fruits.
Be careful when you say “Te Invito”! If you invite someone to go out in El Salvador, it means that you are going to pay for everything the person eats or drinks.
Importance of a volunteer Teaching English as a second language
As a volunteer, you need to know something important. Teaching is a highly respected profession in the country. You need to remember that in El Salvador, classrooms in the public education system are not what they are in the USA, Europe, or your country.
Speaking English, knowing how to use a computer, and some other skills are essential in El Salvador. Especially when it helps a person becomes more competitive when finding a job in the future to support their family. Education is the best gift that you can give to a child. These are children who come from families surviving with $50.00 or $100.00 monthly, in a country where the basic salary is less than $300.00 and is generally from a family of 5 members.
Education is free in the public system from kindergarten to high school. However, English is not part of the curriculum. Few public schools offer English from the 7° grade to high school, but there is no foundation built before they arrive at the secondary level.
Christianity is the dominant religion in the country. Christians account for nearly 80% of the total population of El Salvador. 17% of the population are atheists and agnostics or do not claim to be affiliated with any religion. The remaining 3% of the population are affiliated with religions like Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.
Volunteering in El Salvador
Volunteering is a fantastic way to offer help in El Salvador. From environmental projects to teaching English, your support contributes to globalizing the students’ mind.
Many organizations that aren’t used to foreign volunteers, but still need the help, may see you as free labor. Avoid these organizations, or if you wish, you can try to educate them on what it means to be a volunteer.
Remember, you are here to help. You are not just free labor. Once you have decided to volunteer abroad, ensure that you have a contract that clearly states your agreed working days, hours, and benefits (if any). Both you and your host should sign this contract and keep a copy of it. The contract can be useful if there is any breach of agreement on either party.