An Eye Care International mission in El Salvador may be an experience like no other in your life. An open heart and an open mind are the two most important things to bring with you. Otherwise, we invite you to consider these general topics:
El Salvadorans speak Spanish. We work with in-country volunteers to support both communication and trust, so don't worry if you don't! If Spanish is a second language for you, you’ll notice dialects , idioms, and slang much like we have in American English. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, one of the most enriching things you can do is find new friends in the Eye Care group who are.
Food and Water
Reaching underserved people means setting up in towns and villages across the countryside, in mountains, and along the shore. People are largely poor and their water is not treated like our own. Their diet is a necessarily creative use of proteins and carbohydrates that are filling, inexpensive, and provide the most basic nutritional building blocks. Beans, rice, and corn are staples and our hosts in El Salvador cook regularly with them. Chicken, eggs, beef, and fish are also commonly served. You may need to bring some kinds of foods with you if you have a specialized diet, or go to a grocery store in town. Drinking bottled water and eating only fruits and vegetables washed in purified water, that you’ve peeled, or that have been cooked is critical to preventing water-borne illnesses.
It can be hot when you’re so close to the Equator and you’ll probably be on your feet a lot. Loose-fitting clothing, sunscreen, and your most comfortable supportive shoes are necessities. Handwashing, air drying, and re-wearing clothing reduces the volume of clothing you need to pack. While nights can be cool to cold at higher elevations, heat persists through the night closer to sea level in El Salvador. Air conditioning in sleeping quarters is not standard.
Mission accommodations can be described as clean and spartan. You may be bunking with someone you hadn’t met before. You’ll have a mattress on a frame with linens and a pillow, a shared bathroom in your room or nearby, and plenty of bottled water to drink and for brushing your teeth. Bring your own toiletries or purchase them there with the understanding that your favorite brands are not likely sold there.
Windows may or may not have screens on them. By and large, doors are not weather sealed like so many North American homes. This means that living things you do not have in your own home might find their way into your room during the mission. A good flip flop, magazine, or bug spray can be helpful.
Speaking of insects and such: please bring your own epi-pen or other medications needed for severe reactions to foods or critter bites of any kind. We recommend that the prescriptions you bring with you are kept inside the dispensing pharmacy’s packaging with your own name on it.
Your volunteer form will ask that you share health conditions. Only Eye Care clinicians will see those conditions, which we request so that we may assist with important information if you become ill or injured and need treatment.
Never walk alone while in-country. Leave flashy jewelry at home. You’ll want to keep your money, credit cards, cell phone, and passport with you always. El Salvadorans use US dollars and pay for most things with cash. The markets and street vendors you’ll encounter are likely not equipped with credit card POS systems.
We invite you to sit with this thought for a moment: Our patients and their families, impoverished and underserved, give their trust to complete strangers who speak another language to provide quality, sometimes invasive, eye care without charge.
That leaves responsibility for humility, humanity, and integrity on each volunteer’s shoulders.