© 2013 Laura Henson

A Low-grade Disease

About halfway through my Peace Corps service in Mozambique (2008-2010), my dad ran into a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) at his university. While talking about my experience, the RPCV warned my dad that Peace Corps service is “like a low-grade disease that we never get over.” Even at the time I thought that was an appropriate analogy, but its truth rings clearly still here in El Salvador.

The comparisons are never ending, despite that El Salvador is truly unique and this experience is entirely different than service in Mozambique. For one, the time frame and objectives of each program are distinct.

An example:

In Peace Corps training, my home stay mother took time everyday to teach me better Portuguese, how to hand wash my clothes properly, how to clean the floor properly, and how to slowly integrate into Mozambican culture. Here, my home stay mother only aims to understand my imperfect Spanish and washes my dishes again after me (I am still lacking in this department) without a word. The objective is for my group to complete its work rather than for me to learn to live here independently.

Furthermore, though both countries finished horrific civil wars in the early nineties and Salvadorians and Mozambicans alike have every reason to distrust the future, Team El Salvador has found a remarkable group of Salvadorians in one of the most isolated and disaster-afflicted regions in the country: the eight Western communities of the Bay of Jiquilisco.

Thus far, my team has devoted the majority of its time here to helping Asociación Mangle (Mangle) assess a local management plan of sustainable extraction (PLES) of the mangrove system’s natural resources. Mangle helped the communities elaborate PLES in 2010, and the national decree that allows for local management (as opposed to national management) of natural resources expires on April 7th, 2013. Though far from perfect, PLES is the product of local community collaboration, and local citizens up to mid-level government employees want its validity renewed.

After oscillating between empathy and frustration with the short time horizon of many of my Mozambican friends and colleagues throughout Peace Corps service, hearing Salvadorian citizens in community after community state that they created PLES specifically so that their children and grandchildren could also live in and off the mangroves is shockingly refreshing. These Salvadorians have an enormous amount of practical hope for the future.

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