St. John’s Jesuit HS Students in El Salvador

10 IMG_0635Students from St. John’s Jesuit High School joined Peace Corps volunteer Greg Taylor and local community members to build a court in the sleepy town of La Peña, El Salvador, population 200.  Located in northern part of the country just across the quiet valley from where the last Courts for Kids court was built, a school has blossomed and it all started with the idea of building a court.

Greg and the local school director approached the Mayor with the idea of building a multi-sport court next to the town’s only school.  The mayor jumped at the idea and with the help of the community members, they began what would not only become a court but a complete transformation for the school, and the community.  The school, which was originally just a run down two room schoolhouse, now had renovated classrooms, a new kitchen, new bathrooms, a constant water source, new office, new roof, outdoor eating area, and now a new multi-sport court!

1 before

2 after

Our group’s journey started when we arrived in San Salvador with an eye-opening visit to the UCA (Universidad de Centroamerica) and Jesuit museum after which we headed out of San Salvador and up into the mountainous rural north.

UCA Rose Garden

UCA Rose Garden

Our bus could only take us so far, so for the last few miles we all hopped into a cattle truck, which we’d get pretty accustomed to riding in throughout the week.  The group settled into the local church which would be their home for the week.  The community had even constructed areas where they could take bucket-showers out back.

Loaded up on the cattle truck

Loaded up on the cattle truck

Over the next few days we would all work harder than we’ve ever worked before; leveling land, moving dirt, shoveling gravel and sand, lifting bucket after heavy bucket into the mixer, and wheelbarrowing the cement to the court.  It was wonderful to have the help of the local children who came out each day.

One morning, before the court was finished, a group of school children were already running and playing soccer on the half-completed court.  As one St. John’s volunteer said “seeing those children so excited to play on a court that wasn’t even complete made it all worthwhile for me.”  Everyone pitched in and worked tirelessly and we completed the court in just over 3 days.

Every day we were treated to tasty home cooking from Niña Martha and the local ladies, and we’d wash away the aches from the workday with some cold sodas.  In the afternoons we’d socialize with the community, teach the kids games such as FourSquare, and listen to impromptu guitar jam sessions under

Working hard with the local kids!

Working hard with the local kids!

the town’s only street light.  Some afternoons we would play on the local mountain top soccer field, which has to have the most incredible view of any field we have ever played on… just don’t kick the ball out of bounds!

Once the court was finally finished we began to see how passionate the local youth were for learning new sports.  We taught basic basketball skills, played Knock-Out, and everyone had a blast.  A group of girls was standing on the side lines too timid to jump into the action, but with a little persuasion they went from being afraid to touch the ball to sinking layups one after the other.  They were hooked!

Taking a break

Taking a break

Once the court was complete we took a day to see some of the natural beauty that La Peña had to offer.  We hiked up to the top of a surrounding mountain to see breathtaking views and later we hiked down to a river swimming hole where we swam and jumped in the cool refreshing waters of the waterfall.

At the end of our stay, the students and professors from the school had prepared a ‘Goodbye Party’ for our group complete with music, dancing, piñatas, and of course lots of basketball.  Everyone ended up dancing and having a great time.  Towards the end of the festivities, as if to say “goodbye” the skies opened up and let out a torrential downpour cooling everything off and christening the new court.

We had all grown very close to the children and families that had opened their doors to us that week, they had

Sharing a Coke with a new friend.

Sharing a Coke with a new friend.

treated us like family, so as a special treat the group purchased a pig and helped Niña Martha prepare a feast for everyone.  We will cherish the time we were privileged to have spent with the wonderful people of La Peña, to bond together as a group, and learn more about the world around us.

“My favorite memories from this trip are getting to know the kids and spending time with them.  I greatly overestimated the language barrier and quickly discovered that all I needed to communicate with the kids was a wide smile and a sense of slap slick humor.”    -Victor

“The community of La Peña taught me how much connections on the personal level mean.  Everyone it the community treated each other like family.  If ever a family was struggling, everyone in the community would pitch in to help.  Also, whenever they see each other they take the time to stop and talk, rather than just walking by.”                -Tommy

Dancing at the Going Away Party.

Dancing at the Going Away Party.

“I learned an incredible amount from the community in La Peña.  The greatest thing I learned was how to be happy without material wealth.  Although many would consider these people unsuccessful because they live in small, concrete houses, I would consider them more successful than most people.  They truly have a good time and have incredible relationships with each other, all without having many material things.  Those people taught me how to enjoy life without needing the newest, greatest thing.”    -Ben

The mountain top soccer field.

The mountain top soccer field.

 

“I learned that in La Peña everyone is family.  The community is so close and welcoming that it made me wish that my suburb in the USA was as close as the people in La Peña.”    -Mario

The one thing less clear to me now is what path the rest of my life will take.  I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but this has opened my eyes to a number of other, spectacular opportunities.  Now I have seen firsthand the great things the Peace Corps does, and organizations like Courts for Kids….  This has been an eye-opener, and I can’t wait to explore my new options more and see what the future has in store.”    -Matthew

Hammocks back of the church.

Hammocks back of the church.

“The primary lesson I learned about the world this trip is the idea that human actions can transcend generations.  The court will go on to influence and alter the course of lives for generations to come, and the kindness and hospitality of the people of La Peña will affect me forever.”    -Carson

“This trip changed me through the way I think.  I thought I knew what I wanted to do but now I am rethinking and debating going into service of some sort.  The Peace Corps or Jesuit Volunteer Corps both seem like good options.  Either way, I know that I want to do service for the rest of my life.”    -Aaron

Hiking to La Pena

Hiking to La Pena

“I understand more clearly now the importance of family.  In La Peña every family is tight knit and close.  They value meals together and hard work which is sometimes missing in modern American families.  I hope I’ll be able to take these values back with me.”    -Victor

“The biggest stereotype that I had that changed was that America was rich and the people we were going to help were poor.  My view on this has totally changed.  The life I live with minimal contact with my neighbors and community is a poor life.  Everyone in La Peña greeted everyone that they passed.   The love they showed was unparallel to anything I’ve ever seen and hopefully I will be able to bring these qualities back with me.”    -Keegan

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