I saw a presentation by the founder and the executive director of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation where they talked about a recent project in Brazil. I immediately identified with the mission, and the very next trip happened to be in my home state. After that experience, I was addicted, and decided to join them in El Salvador. I also lived in South America and enjoy traveling around Latin America and speaking Spanish.
Why did you choose the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation?
It weds two of my biggest passions: the environment and access to fresh food. In addition, it targets low-income and poverty stricken communities, giving them a hand-up instead of a hand-out by teaching them to grow their own food long-term. Plus, it offers an additional source of income! It seemed everything was being addressed all at once in a simple, fun, beautiful way.
What was your favorite part about El Salvador?
El Salvador has many challenges, and for that reason, tourism has ceased almost completely. In spite of the internal struggles and environmental disasters, the people were SO friendly and welcoming. My favorite moments came in individual conversations with locals, learning about their every day struggles and triumphs, and sharing laughs and hugs that I will remember forever. We also spent time in the nurseries were the trees were growing, and learned a lot about arboriculture and organic growing techniques.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I cannot imagine another program that offers such a unique insight into people's everyday lives. We were not tourists, we were part of the community. We felt like neighbors coming together to achieve a common purpose. This is a one-of-a-kind experience, and I made friendships I still maintain today!
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
You work side-by-side with Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF) staff, as well as their local partners in the country. By the end, we felt like one big family. I felt very comfortable asking for anything I needed.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I would have liked to travel across the border to a neighboring country, such as Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua. Travel between these countries is easy and fairly short, and they are also in need of fruit trees and educational programming.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Breakfast together with the staff and volunteers at hotel and depart together for drive to the first planting location.
First Planting: Typically we started with a school planting, where the FTPF staff did a brief introduction of all of us, why we were there, and what we are wanted to accomplish. Next we head out to the orchard site to do a demo planting, then break up into groups to plant the trees with the students and teachers. It is so fun! Even for those who don't know Spanish, you get to interact and play with the kids while planting a tree that will be there for decades!
Afternoon: Lunch as a group at a local restaurant, usually consisting of yummy local dishes like pupusas (look these up, they are so good!), rice, beans, salads, fresh juices, and other local favorites.
Second Planting: Usually at a farmer's cooperative, which started with a similar introduction, but then followed with a question-and-answer session with the staff taking time to address individual farmer's or community's needs. Then off into the field to plant the trees in groups.
Evening: After the drive back to the hotel and some time to shower and rest up, the group would reconvene for dinner. We either ate a meal we had ordered that morning prepared by the hotel or we headed out into the city to explore local restaurants. We even had ice cream one night! After that, we all would sit around and just hang out, going over the day's activities and getting to know one another better.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hanging with the other volunteers and staff! We also spent a day exploring local ancient ruin sites, which was super fun and interesting.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Comfortable, clean, and safe. Also, very friendly. It was a guesthouse which really felt like a home, and the proprietor would make us delicious breakfasts and dinners, even joining us to have a few meals and share some history of El Salvador.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
You will get dirty and sweaty! You are outside planting trees for the majority of the day, with two plantings per day. It is a whirlwind of activity, and definitely takes an adventurous spirit. Flexibility and humor go a long way.
How has your time abroad impacted your life?
Well, it is years later and I am still planting trees with FTPF, which is a pretty big impact for a little one week trip to Central America in 2014!
Would you recommend FTPF to others? Why?
Of course. You will never have an experience like this one. Planting trees next to farmers, wives, children, elders, government officials in their own homes, while sharing experiences, meals, laughs, sweat, and hard work that crosses across cultural and language barriers to result in a truly beautiful journey.
Elizabeth has a bachelor’s degree in art history and classics, and experience working in art museums and the tech world. She has lived in many different places, including South America, San Francisco, and Hawaii, and she travels several times a year. Elizabeth enjoys camping, hiking, learning new languages, art, and playing cards with new friends.