An update from Justin, a first-year student majoring in biochemistry and world languages with a minor in human rights:

The last three days have been incredible here in El Salvador. The day after coming back from ASAPROSAR and the University of Central America, our team prepared to drive for 5 hours to the department of Morazán. There we would visit El Mozote, the site of the worst massacre of the Salvadoran Civil War, if not of all modern Latin American history.

The drive started slowly through the seemingly endless traffic in the capital city of San Salvador. Gradually we began making our way east and were surrounded by foothills, colorful mountains and looming volcanoes. Needless to say, we stopped to take pictures along the way.

After stopping for lunch at Pollo Campero, the premier fast food chain of Central America, we made it to San Francisco Gotera, the capital city of the department of Morazán. There we met with Father Ventura, the governor of the department (similar to a U.S. state governor). We were enlightened about the issues of Morazán, including its status as the “second poorest department of El Salvador and with 30 percent of the population illiterate.”

The most recent development in Morazán has been the creation of the department’s only center of higher education, a community college that is starting classes in August 2013. This college will give students applicable skills related to artisanal work, government functions, and agriculture in order to keep talent in the department.

Following our meeting, some of the senior citizens of San Francisco Gotera performed some Salvadoran salsa music, causing even some of our own group members to start dancing!

Later that evening we made our way to Perquín, a small town nestled in the mountains of northern Morazán just three miles from the Honduran border. There we stayed in El Ocotal, a hotel made up of wood cabins. After a long day of travel and learning, we enjoyed the vast stars of the untainted sky while relaxing in the hammocks on the cabin porches.

The next day we had the chance to meet with Father Rogelio Ponselle, a Belgian priest who played a crucial role in the Salvadoran Civil War and was subsequently threatened by the Salvadoran government. He explained the ideas of the Base Christian Communities, a concept developed by the Latin American Catholic Church following Vatican II. Though our time was short, it was amazing to meet with someone whom we had read about in our readings.

Later that morning we traveled to El Mozote, where we met up with Governor Ventura and spent the rest of the morning absorbing the history, emotion, and passion of the site. Everyone in the group paused and could feel the sadness of the place, but we all embraced the fact that what happened in El Mozote must not be forgotten.

We made our way to a new monument just outside of El Mozote, where tall statues of social change advocates such as Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, San Francisco of Asis, and Jesus Christ stand. The monument is called the Monument of Peace and Reconciliation. The site stands as a beacon of hope for El Mozote, Morazán, El Salvador, and the world.

After leaving El Mozote we began our long journey back to San Salvador. The Lieutenant Governor of Morazán even rode back with us! How many U.S. State Governors/Lieutenant Governors would be this open with their constituents? By the end of the day, we made it back to our hotel, tired and grateful for all we had seen and heard.

Today was the last full day of our time here in El Salvador. After visiting many nonprofit organizations, cultural sites, historical places, and people, we were ready for a day of reflection with our fellow teammates.

This morning we visited an authentic market in San Salvador, where we had the opportunity to buy some souvenirs. Later, we made it out to Suchitoto, a town first populated nearly 500 years ago that overlooks the vast Lake of Suchitlán. There we visited a museum called the Art Centre for Peace, which houses art of the Suchitoto region, the Salvadoran Civil War, and peace advocates. Not only were the pieces beautiful, but they also manifested a visual representation of the Salvadoran Civil War that I had not yet experienced.

After briefly visiting the historic plaza, we made our way to Playa San Blas, a beautiful beach on El Salvador’s Pacific Coast. The warm, salty breeze complemented the beautiful sunset that permeated the horizon. Only Patrick and I really tried to ride the waves, though Patrick definitely outlasted me.

We returned to San Salvador, cleaned up, and went out to dinner at La Pampa, a nice Argentine restaurant, with everyone in our group. Words cannot express how thankful we were for our bus driver, Miguel; our guide, Edwin; and our amazing professor, Dr. Recinos. With full stomachs, happy hearts, and overwhelming gratefulness, we concluded our time in El Salvador.