War, Peace, and the Pursuit of Justice in El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest Spanish-speaking nation in the Western Hemisphere. El Salvador, which is Spanish for 'The Savior' - or Jesus Christ - sits on the West Coast of Central America, bordered by Guatemala and Honduras. A country about the size of Massachusetts, El Salvador is both the most densely populated state in Central America, with a population of 6.7million, and the most industrialized (and therefore also very polluted).

From 1980 until 1992 there was bitter civil war between the small wealthy elite dominating the government and economy (and backed by strong international support) and the disenchanted majority of the population who live in poverty. Over 75,000 people lost their lives, and those who lived were exposed to appalling crimes. Finally peace accords were signed in 1992. Twenty years later the country is still struggling to build a real and lasting peace. While the war has ended, most Salvadorans continue to experience violence through escalating human rights abuses, threats to democracy, violence by gangs growing at alarming rates, lack of economic opportunity and environmental devastation. 

Some startling facts about El Salvador:

  • El Salvador is the fourth poorest nation in Latin America
  • 50% of the Salvadoran population lives in poverty.
  • 90% of the country’s natural water is contaminated.
  • 1/3 of the Salvadoran population lives on less than $1 per day
  • Less than 50% of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade (education is NOT free!)
  • Half of the six million Salvadorans are unemployed.
  • The largest source of income for El Salvador is money sent home from Salvadoran relatives who have left the country.

This Central American country has been ravaged by war and natural disasters but the spirit of the people is strong. Canisius students will learn directly from the people about their struggle through the brutal civil war, the Catholic church’s role in the struggle, the search for justice and peace following the war and the current situation in El Salvador today. This two-week trip focuses on witnessing to the reality of people’s lives in El Salvador including visiting museums and massacre sites, talking to political leaders, supporting grassroots business initiatives, taking a horseback ride into the mountains with an ex-guerilla, and doing an overnight home stay in a very rural community. Canisius students can expect this to be primarily an immersion experience that focuses on being with and learning from the people of El Salvador with just a small service component.

This is a great experience for people interested in exploring the complexities of social justice, international politics and Catholic studies. Because of the heavy nature of the subject matter and rural setting of much of the trip this is an intense experience and requires a mature applicant. This trip typically runs for two weeks at the end of May.

Applications are available in the Campus Ministry office (OM 207) or can be downloaded here (.pdf). Applications are due on or before Wednesday, October 14, 2015.

For further information, contact Lu Firestone at x2422 or