El Salvador Schools
One of my friends from the Army had a special assignment working with the US Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador during the deadliest time in the country’s history since 1983. At the time, El Salvador had the highest homicide rate in the world. My friend, we’ll call “F”, was the operations liaison officer for both military and humanitarian operations. Needless to say, he was busy.
In the winter of 2017 I visited F in El Salvador for the second time in a year. As dangerous as it seemed, I was eager to photograph this exciting country again. I felt confident because I was with battle buddy from Iraq, and also because F speaks Spanish fluently and blends in with the culture. Even though I stuck out like a sore thumb, I was in good hands.
While I was in town, he had an assignment in a nearby suburb called Apopa. His job was to assess the structural conditions of two schools that the U.S. government built a few years prior, as well as speak to the teachers and learn about their current needs and concerns. These schools were constructed to shield local children from the growing gang violence in the area. Deadly street gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 have been known to recruit children as young as nine years old, so these schools definitely help protect their future.
Apopa’s gang activity is extremely high and we needed extra security for this particular assessment. Four “white shirts” escorted us into the city and followed us in the schools. These were the elite units of the San Salvador police- they didn’t mess around. I won’t lie, driving in Apopa felt a bit like going into the lion’s den.
While F did his assessment, I explored the grounds with camera in hand. At first the kids didn’t know what to think. Who’s this gringo wandering around with a camera? But eventually they warmed up to me and smiles were everywhere. I met some of the teachers and cooks, samples their delicious pupusas, and watched a short recess soccer game.
It was amazing.
After an hour at the first school, it was time to leave and head towards school number two. This school had 832 children and a larger property. There was a bigger soccer field, more classrooms, and even a few dogs that I had to take photos of. If you know me, you know I can’t resist a slum dog.
Visiting these schools was a real eye opener. It made me realize how good we have it back in America, and it also made me feel proud that we’re helping this country when they desperately need it. Today in 2019, El Salvador’s homicide rate has almost been cut in half since the hight of the violence in 2015. Even though the murder rate has decreased dramatically, the country still has a long fight ahead of them when it comes to cleaning up the streets.
But don’t worry, almost none of the violence is aimed towards tourists, so it’s relatively safe for foreigners to visit. In fact I highly recommend you visiting; it’s a beautiful country.