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 1980, 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.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in El Salvador
The government of El Salvador invited the Peace Corps to return to El Salvador in 1993. The first Volunteers arrived later that year. They were asked to increase the capacity of local people in several priority areas identified by the government and later affirmed by civil society in the Plan de Nación, or National Plan, presented in 2000. The National Plan is a blueprint for national development, and Peace Corps programming is consistent with its priorities. The role of Peace Corps Volunteers remains to build capacity in local people and institutions.
Currently, approximately 120 Volunteers serve in four primary project areas: agroforestry and environmental education, municipal development, rural health and sanitation and youth development.
Agroforestry and Environmental Education Volunteers educate farmers about sustainable soil conservation and integrated pest management practices that incorporate environmentally friendly applications, diminish the use of chemicals, and improve soil fertility. They also teach the youth, farmers and organizations of their communities to preserve, protect, and enhance the environment in which they live.
Rural health and sanitation Volunteers work with community groups and international organizations to increase access to potable water and improve sanitation for rural residents. Volunteers also educate people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and other health-related subjects.
Municipal development Volunteers work with local governments to improve service delivery to citizens and to increase citizen participation. Volunteers assigned to municipalities assist in meeting the public service demands of the communities, while helping communities to articulate their needs to their municipal representatives. Volunteers have also begun to introduce their communities to disaster planning and mitigation techniques to better prepare them for crisis situations arising from natural disasters.
Youth development Volunteers collaborate with youth leaders, parents, teachers and local institutions as part of an integreated approach to address issues of youth development.
Volunteers promote activities for youth to expand their critical thinking ability and foster their capacity to make sound decisions and to demonstrate moral, social, emotional, physical and cognitive competence. The program is designed to address challenges youth face both in the home and at work to help them develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become active, contributing members of their communities.
Volunteers in all projects are also involved in cross-cutting themes including gender awareness, HIV/AIDS education, environmental education and information technology. In addition, Volunteers undertake a myriad of secondary projects in the communities where they live and work. In all of these projects and activities, Volunteer’s counterparts are government and non-governmental organizations and people from the community. As always, the Peace Corps’ efforts are focused on the less fortunate.