During the last weekend of September I organized a three-day workshop for 12 park rangers from 4 different national parks all over eastern El Salvador in order to better train the park guards to facilitate fun, interactive, youth-friendly environmental education activities.
Very often groups of students come to these national parks or the guards are invited to nearby schools, but in El Salvador it is very rare that they are well-trained to teach environmental stewardship and awareness in an effective fashion. El Salvador is already the second-most environmentally-degraded country in the entire Western Hemisphere (you got us there, Haiti), so a greater awareness and level of education in the youth of the country is undoubtedly important.
Over the last few years Peace Corps has developed a curriculum of 12 educational lesson plans meant to make teaching environmental education much easier, simpler, and more effective. The curriculum is approved by the Salvadoran Ministry of Education and with part of the funding for my project, I was able to print out the curriculum in the form of a book for each park guard to have at the end of the training.
On the first day, 3 other Volunteers and I presented 3 of the lessons from the curriculum to give the park guards a better idea of what the philosophy behind the lesson plans was like. The second day we helped the park guards split into groups and prepare lessons of their own to be presented in a nearby school on the final day of the workshop of a concluding activity. The many lesson plans cover topics such as composting, recycling, extinction, the water cycle, photosynthesis, animal and plant diversity, etc.
We also found some time on the second day to visit a favorite place of mine in El Salvador, conveniently located nearby, called Llano del Muerto (Deadman's Plains). Despite the creepy name, the cool temperatures, gorgeous views, and impressive waterfalls are always worth a visit. We also fit in an "environmental scavenger hunt" for the park guards to participate in, giving them another example for an activity they could replicate with youth in their own respective protected areas.
Below is the complete group of 12 park guards and 4 Peace Corps Volunteers (including me) who completed the workshop. I took the lead role soliciting funding (from USAID) for the training and organizing all the details while the other Volunteers invited park rangers whom all work in areas near their communities.
Above and below are photos from the final portion of the training, when the 12 park rangers split into 4 groups and traveled to a nearby school to actually deliver one of the lessons from the curriculum themselves. It was extremely successful and not only gave the park guards much more confidence returning to their own communities, but also entertained and educated some local students.
Above, all the park rangers with their diplomas after completing the workshop.
And in between all the work, I also had a chance to sneak off to play some paint ball. I had seen a sign advertising paint ball on the side of a highway I often pass on bus, but had never seen anyone entering, leaving, or otherwise even mentioning the place. However, after too many months of curiousity, I finally just decided to get off the bus with a friend of mine and see what it was all about. Turns out we had the place completely to ourselves and they only charged us $5 to play for essentially as long as we liked. The place might not have met all the safety standards required in the States, but that (or the couple of dark-purple welts I came home with) certainly aren't going to stop me going back the next time I have a free afternoon.
After the environmental education workshop with park rangers, I also applied for and received funding for a youth leadership camp for teenage girls. 6 Volunteers from across eastern El Salvador were able to bring 3 to 5 girls from their communities who they thought would most benefit from the camp, which took place over an entire weekend in early October. I organized, and with the help of the other Volunteers, ran trainings on sexual health, family planning, educational and career opportunities, art and creativity, and small business/entrepreneurship basics. Above, another Volunteer and I are facilitating a discussion on sexually-transmitted diseases and safe sex practices.
Above, another Volunteer facilitates a version of the always popular board game, Life, which we re-created to better address the issues facing youth in El Salvador and give the girls a chance to make hypothetical life decisions in the game and see how they later turned out.
I've also been busy over the last month supporting a group of women who I spent most of August and September training to work as health promoters specializing in HIV/AIDS education and awareness. After finishing the training, the project has gotten a lot more rewarding, as I have been traveling to different communities all over eastern El Salvador and supporting the women I trained as they teach other women's groups about the common myths and perceptions, basic facts, and prevention techniques of HIV/AIDS.
On the way out to one of the most remote communities where I facilitated an HIV/AIDS workshop we passed this huge memorial in memory of the massacre in the nearby community of El Mezote that occurred during the Salvadoran Civil War. It remains the most heartbreaking story from a war that spanned 3 decades and had no shortage of travesty or human rights violations. Although the main memorial to the massacre is located in the central park of the community of El Mezote and I have visited it multiple times, this memorial, very recently completed, is way out there on a road I can't assume more than 3 or 4 cars pass a day. Apparently built by a German monk who came to the area a few years ago and was taken aback by the history of El Mezote, I don't completely understand why it was built where it was, but was nonetheless impressed.
I also particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Gandhi, pictured above, in the monument, who I highly doubt many Salvadorans, especially in this area of the country, could identify or would know anything about. But hey...its Gandhi!
Above, a the view from the back of memorial site out into Honduras. Below, 3 of the women I trained to facilitate HIV/AIDS trainings and I resting and admiring the monument on our way back from one of the workshops.