Peace Corps/El Salvador, which began in 1962, was one of the agency's earliest efforts. Since then more than 1,500 Volunteers have served there. The program was closed in 1980 because of civil war and reopened in 1993, after the war had officially ended.
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers coordinate with local municipalities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community groups to develop better water systems, make health and sanitation improvements, provide environmental education, and assist municipal development projects. In the aftermath of earthquakes, Volunteers played a key role in providing damage assessments, which helped the government and local NGOs facilitate the distribution of resources to the most affected communities.
Just as important as the Volunteer's primary job is the cultural exchange that occurs with the Salvadoran people. Volunteers live together with Salvadorans and teach each other about their histories, languages, and cultures.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in El Salvador
The Peace Corps was invited to El Salvador and sent its first Volunteers in 1963. Over the next 15 years, more than 1,500 Volunteers worked in 15 to 20 different sectors, serving primarily as counterparts to government agencies and offices. In 1979, the increasing violence prior to the civil war led the Peace Corps to close its offices. The destruction of economic and social infrastructure during the war set El Salvador back to 1950s levels in most economic and social indicators. The 1986 earthquake destroyed much of what the war did not, especially in San Salvador. Moreover, widespread migration led to the breakdown of many social and family institutions and particularly affected youth and the environment.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyles
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed their pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process, and the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you might ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages but will usually be within 1 hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites will require a 6- to 10-hour bus ride from the capital.
Main article: Training in El Salvador
Training is an essential part of your Peace Corps service. Our goal is to give you enough skills and information to allow you to live and work effectively in El Salvador. In doing that, we plan to build upon the experiences and expertise you bring with you to the Peace Corps. We anticipate that you will approach your training with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to become involved. Peace Corps trainees officially become Peace Corps Volunteers after successful completion of training.
The 10-week training provides you the opportunity to learn new skills and practice them as they apply to El Salvador. You will receive training and orientation in components of language, cross-cultural communication, area studies, development issues, health and personal safety, and technical skills pertinent to your assignment. The skills you learn will serve as a foundation upon which you will build your experience and work together as a group. And you will have the chance to experience local culture and customs on your own during your stay with a host family and on various site visits.
During the first few days in-country, you will participate in an arrival orientation at the training center in San Vicente. After this initial period, you will move in with your host family in a community in or around San Vicente. You will live with one host family for the duration of your pre-service training.
The host family experience will help you bring some of the topics covered in training to life, and it will give you a chance to practice your new language skills and directly observe and participate in Salvadoran culture. You will be expected to take part in the meals and daily activities of your host family. If you invest yourself in this experience, it will prove to be a rich and positive one. You will be assisted and guided in your cultural adaptation and skills acquisition by members of the training staff. All staff members will work with you—individually as well as in groups—to help you adapt to the new culture and prepare yourself for your eventual assignment.
Your Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health Care and Safety in El Salvador
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. As a rule of thumb, good healthcare comes from good health maintenance. The Peace Corps in El Salvador maintains a full-time medical officer who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in El Salvador at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to either a medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues in El Salvador
In El Salvador, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.
Outside of El Salvador’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. Typical cultural beliefs held may be as narrow as the perception that all Americans are rich and have blonde hair and blue eyes. The people of El Salvador are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. We will ask you to be supportive of one another.
In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in El Salvador, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises with who you are as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limits. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
- Possible issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Frequently Asked questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in El Salvador
- How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to El Salvador?
- What is the electric current in El Salvador?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for El Salvador friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- Can I call home from El Salvador?
- Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
- Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Main article: Packing List for El Salvador
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in El Salvador and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You can always have things sent to you later. You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in El Salvador.
- General Clothing
- Needed Items
- Useful Items
- Work Supplies
- Medicines & Related Items
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
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Contributions to the El Salvador Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in El Salvador. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.
- Volunteers who served in El Salvador
- Friends of El Salvador
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports
- List of resources for El Salvador