A member of Leeds Trinity University's Chaplaincy team has recently returned from a visit to Central America, where she was working alongside the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD). Sophie Aulton, who is on a year's placement with Leeds Trinity and CAFOD, travelled to El Salvador and Nicaragua, meeting families who are involved in CAFOD's programmes which fight poverty and injustice.
This is her blog about the experience.
Before the trip, I had few expectations having never visited a country in Latin America. I could only read up on CAFODs notes on the history and current situation in Central America to prepare myself for the visit. The training days filled with warnings of dengue fever, sexual assault, armed robbery and gang violence made me slightly uneasy about making the 10,500 mile trip to some of the most dangerous and gang ridden areas in the world.
To my utter bemusement, upon arrival and the subsequent days I spent in El Salvador and Nicaragua I did not feel unsafe once. This meant I was able to concentrate on what I had been sent out to do: experience the work that CAFOD does first hand.
Our time in El Salvador was split into two. The main chunk of our time was spent in the rural area of Guaymango. There we were able to experience life with families who had received help from CAFODs partner Solidarity Services Association CVX. All of the families were farmers who had been struggling to produce enough food to eat and sell. This was largely due to the loss in traditional farming techniques and crops.
Solidarity Services Association CVX was able to help the farmers by teaching them farming techniques that had worked for many years, and giving them traditional crops that could survive in the harsh monsoon climate of El Salvador. In addition, families were also given assistance with their bee keeping. Before this help, the bee hives were hard to get into, and the honey comb was allowed to form naturally meaning that the process of getting honey was slower and less efficient. By giving the farmers bee keeping frames, more honey could be generated, meaning the farmers were able to sell more honey.
The rest of our time in San Salvador was spent with CAFODs partners in the city, one of whom was a group of nuns who lived in a gang ridden area. One project we saw was the 'Saturday Cub'. This was a place where children could go to do activities such as dance, sport, and music. The idea of the club is to build up a sense of community whilst preventing children being on the street and exposed to gang violence and the pressures of joining a gang.
We spent less time in Nicaragua. However, we were able to spend several days with CAFODs partner, Mary Barreda Association. The association was set up to help with Nicaragua's prominent sexual exploitation and trafficking issue. Marry Barreda Association helped young women who were being sexually abused, exploited, or in a situation of prostitution. They were able to work with the women on how to break free of their situation, and then develop skills to provide opportunities for employment. Their work also centred on young people, making them protagonists of combatting physical, psychological and sexual violence.
Returning from the trip made me reflect on just how much I had learned from these experiences. Actually seeing CAFODs work in action made me realise the very real connection between those fundraising in the UK and the people being helped on the other side of the world. It really slotted into place the process that CAFOD goes through, building relationships with people and partners in order to ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved and ensuring that people's donations are going to projects that will carry on helping people as much as possible.
I feel extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to go to Central America, not only because of the people I got to meet, but the skills I learned when I was there. I can now say that I have been in multi-lingual meetings discussing project development and outcomes of funding. I have worked through a translator while still having a personal encounter with individuals, and I have represented a charity overseas, acting as a representative for people both in the UK and then back home for those from El Salvador. It was a truly unique and enlightening experience that has allowed me to grow as a person.