La Loma, El Salvador, is a world away from La Salle, Man., in more than just geographic terms.
That’s what Evan Pfrimmer, 16, discovered when he participated in two missions to the Central American country earlier this summer and last year.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about a different country," Pfrimmer said.
"The conditions were a lot worse than I’d thought."
The La Salle teen attends St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, and the charitable missions were supervised by teachers Larry Franz, who also lives in La Salle, and Dennis Kuzenko, who’s connected with a Catholic relief agency in Canada and a non-governmental organization in El Salvador.
While most of the students from St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s Academy who participate in the missions are in Grade 11, Pfrimmer expressed an interest while in Grade 10. He experienced a great degree of culture shock during the students’ first mission, but was ready to work hard during the second.
The project undertaken by the male students was helping residents of La Loma, a small village near the top of a mountain, to expand their chapel. The boys and their leaders faced a 50-minute hike — mainly uphill — to reach La Loma.
One of the biggest surprises for Pfrimmer and his colleagues was how primitive the villagers’ tools are. The teens used pickaxes, shovels and hoes to dig into the hard-packed soil and clear trenches for the chapel’s foundation. They also tied rebar to create forms to hold the new foundation’s concrete.
"It was an eye-opener," Pfrimmer said, adding that it made him aware of all the tools and technology available to Canadian workers to make their work faster and easier.
He was also struck by how happy the villagers were even though they live in poverty, especially compared to North American standards.
He and the other students were invited to climb even higher to a clearing at the top of the mountain which is also the burial site for 11 villagers who were massacred there in the 1980s during the country’s civil war.
He said it’s possible to look out over the surrounding countryside from the clearing, and he was one of six students who planted a Canadian flag at the site to mark their respect for the victims.
While he knows he’s facing a hectic year in Grade 12, Pfrimmer said he’d like to participate in future missions, possibly to Africa.
"I’m definitely now more open to going on different mission trips."