When Aleksandra Wojtalewicz wrote a research paper on El Salvador and its prospects for democracy, little did she know that she’d soon be getting a firsthand look.
An international relations graduate, Wojtalewicz ’10 heard about an El Salvador immersion trip through USD’s University Ministry. Hosted by Christians for Peace in El Salvador and open only to graduate students, a group made up of nine students — along with Brenna Hughes, program director for Community Service-Learning and Maria Torretto-Gaughan, associate minister for Graduate and Law Student Ministry — traveled there Jan. 9-20.
In her paper, Wojtalewicz noted that in researching the country’s history, the outlook moving forward looked grim. “Prospects for democracy were very minimal,” she said. But in spite of ongoing violence and continuing challenges for developing countries in Latin America, she isn’t without optimism. “There is a new government and there’s hope.”
While Wojtalewicz (pictured) admitted initial hesitation, her desire to see the country was too great to resist. “When I researched El Salvador, particularly the crime and the concentration of wealth there, I thought this wasn’t the safest country to go to, but something inside of me said, ‘Go for it. It’s something at USD that I’ll always remember.’”
The 23-year-old student says that she and her fellow travelers — which included nursing, counseling, pastoral care and teaching students — came back with unique adventures, memories and stories they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives.
“The trip lived up to everything I’d hoped and more,” Wojtalewicz said. “It was realistic, that here we were in one of the most dangerous countries, but what we did and what we saw, every day it built on what we learned. Everything had a purpose.”
Speakers included professors, social workers, educators, politicians and clergy. The group met and bonded with college students at the University of Central America and absorbed local culture, such as a trip to the Art Center for Peace in Suchitoto and a visit to the crypt where Archbishop Oscar Romero is buried. The group also traveled to a remote village in Guarjila, located near the Honduras border, where they stayed in pairs with host families.
“It was one of the villages that suffered greatly during the (civil) war. A big massacre occurred there in the 1980s,” Wojtalewicz said. Being among the hard-working, generous people there was her favorite part of the trip. “The village was everything in one. We learned the history of the country and the culture, learned about the war and its effects on the people. Staying with the families and gaining insight into their lives, even for a short time, was very powerful.”
Wojtalewicz, who has an undergraduate degree in journalism, said the trip reinforces her desire to be a journalist, perhaps a foreign correspondent. “I think my God-given talent is writing. If I can use that for something, if writing people’s stories is a way that I can contribute and shine a light on what’s going on, that’s what I want to do. That’s my calling.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photo courtesy of Aleksandra Wojtalewicz and USD’s El Salvador Immersion Trip Group