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Reflections of a Life Changing Experience

Reflections of a Life Changing Experience

  • Posted on: 22 July 2010
  • By: Clodagh

Written by Konchok Lama, from Nepal, graduate of CRLS, class of 2010

For twelve students of CRLS and the three chaperones, the City Links/Sister City Youth Delegation was a great opportunity to learn the simplicity, success and struggles of El Salvador in the Cambridge Sister City - San Jose Las Flores and other municipalities. We spent ten packed days primarily in San Jose Las Flores-Chalatenango, with brief visits to San Vicente, Perquin-Morazán, and San Salvador. Each municipality gave us a new experience historically, socially, and emotionally due to regional variations and other factors. These new experiences gave us mental flexibility and a rare opportunity to have a cross-cultural exchange with the people of El Salvador. Even though our trip duration was a just ten days (June18- June 28), we were able to dig deep into their way of life, their struggles and their successes. Our goals—to learn first-hand about the development of an organized community, to offer community service – especially in the school, and to make lasting friendships with our youth counterparts in Las Flores--were achieved. Surprisingly, we never realized how our time ticked on to “Departure Date” until our flight AA926 took off back to Miami on June 28. Let me explain these experiences, and lessons that I earned from this trip as one of the youth delegates.

From day one to day seven, we spent our days in San Jose Las Flores, an organized, well-accommodated rural community in El Salvador. Once depopulated due to the scorched earth policies of the U.S. funded Salvadoran Army during the civil war of the 1980s, it was later repopulated in 1986 with support from the church and international solidarity. It was just after the “Repopulation” that Cambridge was asked to show their solidarity and compassion to the people of San Jose Las Flores by becoming “sister cities”, and thus the Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City project was born. This local/international project has sponsored more than 20 delegations to El Salvador in the past 23 years. And this year Cambridge Community Services City Links Program and the Sister City project joined together in a new initiative: the “All Youth” delegation to our Sister City.

A day after our arrival, the entire community of San Jose Las Flores celebrated the 24th anniversary of the Repopulation. We were invited to the community church for an official function where we heard a frame-to-frame narration on their struggles and success. The well-illustrated slide show, narrated by one of the founding members of the community, drew a fine demarcation line between the struggles and successes of the people of San Jose Las Flores both during the war years and after the Peace Accords of 1992. After mass was celebrated, the entire village and invited friends from the surrounding areas celebrated with a lunch of beef stew while young people put on a show of folkloric dance in main town square.

As days went by, we were enthralled to notice their community health center, community cooperatives, and the schools built for the welfare of all the villagers through their organized and collective efforts. It established strong evidence that regardless of maturity, this community is educating their children that their elders have gone through various atrocities. Let me illustrate with concrete evidence from our “community service work day” at the school. City Links Director and coordinator of our delegation, Sandra Cañas entered into conversation with Gudiel, a small boy who noticed her when she stopped to read the bulletin board of portraits of the martyrs of El Salvador. Gudiel approached her and dutifully described the people and that many had died during the massacre of the Sumpul River. After explaining the historical fact of the massacre that perplexed Sandra given his young age, he ended up stating, “They suffered a lot. Did you suffer a lot?” to which she replied “I was in the United States during the war”. He wrapped up this conversation with a question, “Did you suffer also in the United States?” With a heavy heart Sandra replied, “Yes I did, but in a different way.” I think such a conversation would not take place in place if the community didn’t give room to their youngsters to learn the true history of their nation besides their mandatory academic courses. It seems that they might have followed that compelling quote from John F Kennedy: “Think what you can do for your country.” However, the truth is that bloodshed and war in El Salvador gave the people of San Jose Las Flores a great sense of community responsibility, trust and respect for each other.

After leaving San Jose Las Flores, we spent one night in their neon city, San Salvador. The next day, we visited the place where the six Jesuit priests were killed due to their activism for social justice (University of Central America UCA), followed by a visit to the chapel where Archbishop Romero was assassinated. This chapel gave us a deeper understanding of a new reality. Then we left for Perquin, Morazán’s’ Museum of the Revolution, and a re-constructed guerrilla camp to learn the history of the Salvadoran Civil War. After we finished immersing ourselves in a pool of history and the guerrilla’s hiding places (tatu), we drove to San Vicente. This city is home to a great architectural wonder, the San Vicente Tower, and a place where I gained both self-realization and sympathy. We met a five-year-old boy named José who sold us some of his ware – several plastic bags of water. He made us realize how lucky we are and at the same time I was able to grasp the lives of millions of kids like him. If I am not mistaken, for these children an education wouldn’t be taken for granted and living conditions won’t be as luxurious as the one I have in the USA. I can feel their pure motivation, to strive to be smart each passing day to enjoy the fruits of their labor for their tomorrow.

Cambridge youth involved with the youth delegation will share their experiences on Thursday, August 12, 2010 from 6:00pm - 8:00pm at the Cambridge Public Library Lecture Hall at 449 Broadway Street. DONATIONS WELCOME!(Fundraising for San Jose, Las Flores School Computer Lab)

For further info. Contact:
Sandra Cañas: 617-276-5360 or
Rachel Wyon: 617-899-4990 or