I became acquainted with the school when I came to El Refugio in 2004 as part of a short-term mission trip for the purpose of helping to build a house for a family whose home was damaged by the earthquake of 2001. Our denomination partnered with its counterpart in El Salvador to locate projects in which volunteers could participate with local churches.
Our first activity was to attend the opening ceremonies of a class day featuring drama, song and dance. Children in school uniforms or appropriate costumes kept us laughing, crying, and cheering as our interpreter tried to keep us up on the dialogue. The children, K-6th graders, were the most lovable kids you’d want to know. They’d ask questions about us and where we lived, if we had children their ages, why we came to El Salvador. Language didn’t seem to be a barrier for most of us. I had a little advantage by having some Spanish.
I returned alone later in the year to spend a month teaching English. It was one of the best teaching experiences of my life. The school was struggling financially. I had bought and sent school supplies and donated books to El Salvador from the U.S. The classrooms were dark when the rainy season came. They were often wet as well. The teachers were dedicated as were the parents. There seemed to be so much I wanted to do for the school and the kids.
I came back to stay in 2008. I taught English and did what I could to advise the pastor/principal in ways that would improve the school financially as well as academically while meeting the criteria for the government’s Ministry of Education. Sadly, I was bucking both cultural and personal impediments.
Over the next three school years, the school went from K-6 to K-4 and finally, just a pre-school class of 20 children. It may have been doomed by the world economy having such a devastating effect on a poor economy in this country. But more professional and dedicated management might have kept us afloat a bit longer.
This past Sunday, the church assembly voted by necessity and with much sadness to officially close the school when this school year ends in November. Kind words were said in appreciation of those of us who served in some capacity over the years. Faces were sad and tears were shed in more than one pair of eyes as we faced the inevitable and accepted it.
I looked around the circle of church members and counted the children, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren I had had the honor and privilege of teaching. I thought of my first students, now in their mid to late teens and wondered what the effect of the school and their motivating English teacher had been. I thanked God for the opportunity to do once more what I think I’ve been most successful at among my several careers.