KODIAK — Hannah Fish has a passion for helping people, and El Salvador was the ideal place to put that empathy into action.
This poor Central American country has been hit hard by civil war, government corruption, poverty, crime and the breakup of the family. Gangs run rampant in large cities such as San Salvador, where Hannah planted herself for five months as an intern for Envision, a program of the Christian Missionary Alliance of which Hannah’s home church, the Kodiak Bible Chapel, is an affiliate.
Hannah learned about the mission in El Salvador from her friend, Hannah Boleen, who also had done an internship there and a team from the Bible Chapel who did a short-term mission trip in the summer of 2017.
“In August of last year there was a sermon preached about the Great Commission and the Holy Spirit prompted me to consider going” to El Salvador, Hannah said.
A student at Corban University in Salem, Oregon where she was working toward a degree in accounting, Hannah spent her last semester fund-raising.
Following training in Colorado Springs, Hannah went to El Salvador in January and was there until the middle of June.
Working at a site called Wired, Hannah taught English-as-Second-Language to students that came to La Fuente, an afterschool program that also provided soccer academy, homework club, math and art classes, lunch, Bible study and other services.
Hannah taught kids who rotated to different classes during the week. “One day I’d have eighth graders, one day ninth graders, so sometimes I would have two or three students, or up to eight.”
The youngest student in Le Fuente was 11; the oldest 21. Most of them were in the 14 to 16-year-old age group.
Hannah often spent mornings in the Envision office helping with finances.
“Shortly after I got there, one of their main employees left unexpectedly. He had been doing all of the finance stuff, so I was able to help them transition through that,” she said.
While in San Salvador, Hannah became familiar with other Envision ministries, including Hungry, which is a church for those –mostly men— who have been deported from the US and are separated from their families. Even though some of them may have been born in El Salvador, it is not considered their country, because they didn’t grow up there.
According to the Envision site “When the deported arrive in El Salvador they have nowhere to start. No family connections, no job, no home, and they may not even speak the (Spanish) language.”
At a women’s Bible study, Hannah met a missionary’s housekeeper who had tried to get into America illegally through coyotes (guides.)
“She ended up getting arrested, separated from her daughter (and sent back to El Salvador.) This is very sad. They just want to provide a better life for their kids.”
Said Hannah, “Going there (El Salvador) and seeing what’s actually happening to real people…has opened my eyes to those kinds of issues that people are going through.”
Many of the children in San Salvador live in very difficult circumstances, she said. The kids who come to Wired live in “really dangerous” areas. Wired staffers, who transported kids to and from the site “sometimes were not allowed to go in” those areas.
El Salvador has endured a brutal civil war and gone through a “ton of natural disasters that wiped out a lot of peoples’ homes, so they’re really recovering from that,” Hannah said.
“It’s a really hard place to live. Sanitation is pretty bad. It’s a sad country. It kind of takes a toll on you sometimes.
“We get bad news from these kids all the time. Their families are falling apart. I found that one boy is homeless. His mom lost their house because she didn’t make payments. A couple girls I knew really well made bad decisions. It’s really heartbreaking. I love them so much and I want them to know that. Some of them don’t even know how to be loved.
“I want them so badly to … come to know Christ, and some of them do know Him,” said Hannah. “But besides that, not to fall under the pressure of joining gangs” and getting into other kinds of trouble.
Most of the Envision staff is Salvadorian and are “really involved in kids’ lives,” said Hannah. “They don’t see them just when they come to the program; they take the kids to dinner. They’re a part of their lives. But Envision doesn’t have enough resources to be able to provide everything for the kids.”
Spending time in El Salvador gave Hannah “a better understanding of what peoples’ lives are like around the world,” she said. “It definitely deepened my compassion for the less fortunate. My heart is burdened, especially for the kids. I got to know some of those kids really, really well.”
One can learn about other countries academically, but “it’s different when you actually go there,” Hannah said.
Hannah said there was somewhat of a language barrier in San Salvador, but she was able to “learn Spanish fairly quickly and to have decent conversations with [students].”
“I wanted them to be able to make decisions, but not make those decisions for them. We know how hard it is for them to make good decisions and to find good influences.”
In LaFuente students have positive influences, Hannah said. “It’s a huge opportunity for them.”
Serving nearly half a year in San Salvador was ultimately a gratifying experience that helped Hannah achieve a long-time goal of helping make a difference in the world.
“I’ve always wanted to go somewhere to be a part of something meaningful like this. I was really thankful for the opportunity to go there. I loved what I was doing there. It was exciting and challenging,” she said.