Ten British young people have arrived in El Salvador to take part in a new faith-supported volunteering scheme offered by the agency Progressio.
ICS Empower is part of International Citizen Service (ICS), a UK government funded volunteering opportunity for young people aged 18-22 and for people over 22 with skills.
Lily Bland, aged 18, from Bristol, wrote home saying: "After a five am wake up call, two long plane journeys and an armed police escorted coach ride - I'm here in Suchitoto, El Salvador!"
Over the next 10 weeks, she and the rest of the team will work with local Salvadoreans on a variety of environmental and community health projects and will gain an understanding of life for ordinary people in El Salvador, one of the world's most unequal countries.
Despite the tropical heat that "felt like a sauna" as the volunteers stepped off the plane, this is no holiday and volunteers will be busy, as Lily describes: "The meeting with all the partners and Progressio family over lunch today felt very welcoming, despite the language barrier. I found out my projects include; working in a bakery for a week near Santa Ana, working on ecological projects, making bird food, cleaning and painting a health clinic, shadowing a female medical team, working with teenage mums near Suchitoto and doing sexual health awareness-raising."
The experience promises to be challenging, inspiring and an authentic insight into Progressio's work overseas. The scheme includes intensive training that will equip participants with new knowledge and skills to inform further social action in the UK once their placement overseas is over.
"I'm looking forward to the experiences, though I can recognise the challenges ahead. We discovered that next weekend we're staying with a host family in a mountain community so I'm hoping my four hours a day of Spanish that we're doing this week will come in handy", says Lily.
The volunteers, who themselves come from a variety of belief backgrounds, will also have the opportunity to reflect on how people of different faiths can work together for social justice.
A total of 34 ICS Empower volunteers travelled this weekend as the scheme also hosts placements in Malawi and Peru.
Dion Corbett, aged 19, from Dumfries, will be blogging about her experiences in Peru. On her departure she wrote, "This unique opportunity will allow me to meet other British volunteers as well as many Peruvians and work alongside established programmes. People powered development. That is the aim and I hope to help empower the local community through the education of children in schools right through to promoting environmental awareness in this desert area."
* For more information on how the ICS Empower volunteers are getting on over the next few months or apply to volunteer for placements in January 2012 via: www.progressio.org.uk/empower.