My second year in mission - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Josh Wetmore teaching

Josh teaches math, geography, English and more as part of his ministry.

Year 2 is complete. Well, not technically, I guess. Technically Jan. 10 will be the end of my second year in El Salvador. But it’s a new calendar year, a new school year, and I have just come back from my Christmas vacation in the U.S., so yes, Year 2 is complete.

I’ve definitely written less about my time here during my second year. This isn’t out of laziness (well, maybe a little), but as should happen, my second year has been busier. Both socially and in terms of ministry, my schedule is fuller, leaving less time to write. Also, as I grow more accustomed to my life here, the small parts of my day that felt worth sharing out of their newness are now no longer new and no longer feel worth sharing on such a grand scale.

All of that being said, updates are still important parts of our role as missioners, and so, without diving too deep into the weeds, here’s a recap of my year 2023 in El Salvador.

Students hold up their maps of Africa. Learning the continents has been a focus of our summer enrichment classes.

Working with the public school

After spending all of 2022 working in and with a Catholic kindergarten/community center, I expanded my ministry to include two days a week working at the local public school in Canton El Cedro. The school is grades 1 through 9, and depending on the day, I was doing anything from substitute teaching English, math, or science, to holding small breakout classes for students still struggling to read and write, to coaching soccer.

While the work was teaching, the true goal was to meet more of the students in the community and to gain a better understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of the public school system in rural areas of the country.

The challenges are many, and learning their nature helped me identify some of the biggest needs.

Bringing In third-party help

One major problem in El Salvador and in the schools is alcoholism. According to the World Health Organization, with five years, El Salvador has one of the highest rates of years of life lost to alcohol. Sadly, for some this problem starts early, and during my first few months working in the school, several children were caught bringing alcohol to school or showing up to school drunk. This included students as young as 11 years old.

From talking with the teachers, the school doesn’t have many resources to deal with these issues outside of calling the police. Through the advice of my fellow missioners, I’ve connected the school with a non-profit called Mission to El Salvador that specializes in the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse specifically with youth. A representative of the school and I met with the founders of the organization, and they are set to begin workshops in El Cedro in 2024.


Perhaps the most concerning issue I observed in the school was the number of students in second grade and above who still can’t read and write. The schools don’t have a comprehensive system to help students who fall behind, and while one dedicated third-grade teacher came early and stayed late to help her struggling students, she only had the capacity to do so with her own students.

Profe Carolina teaching literacy to a small group of primary school students.

I began working with second to fifth-grade students in small, 20-minute breakout groups to help them improve but quickly realized that it wasn’t enough. For one, 20 minutes a week isn’t enough, but also, as someone who is still learning Spanish myself, I wasn’t teaching them that well.

Thank God, a woman I know through the Catholic Church in the community volunteered to help. She is a second-grade teacher and just finished a second degree in psychology and offered to spend her Saturday mornings teaching a handful of the students during one-on-one tutoring sessions. Her spots quickly filled up, and the students she worked with all successfully advanced to the next grade for 2024.

This program was so successful that we also hosted a two-week-long literacy class in December (the time of “summer” vacation in El Salvador) to support more students. During this two-week workshop, we were able to serve almost 30 students for a combined 252 hours of learning. We are looking to expand both parts of the program in 2024.

Fútbol fun

Alongside all of my educational work (which includes more than is discussed above), I have had the great pleasure of being able to pursue my passion for sports here as well. Twice a week I play casual pick-up soccer games with a group of men in a small-sided field behind a local church. This group has become a crucial part of my community, as I have leaned on many of them for advice and support in navigating life in a different country.

On Sundays, I play in a much more formal league of full-field 11 v. 11 soccer. These leagues are a vital part of the culture in rural communities, with formal teams that have existed for decades. Most people in the community recognize me as the American who plays in the tournament, and most know my name even if I don’t know theirs. While I try to deemphasize the importance of winning and treat the sport as the game that it is, we have had some success, finishing as league runners-up this December.

I must be doing something right on the field because a number of boys and girls in El Cedro have asked me to train them. It’s difficult to find the time between my teaching schedule and their class schedule, but when we can, it’s a blast to hop on the field with them and share the joys of life outside the classroom.

Josh Wetmore
Josh Wetmore joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in December 2021. He teaches and tutors in the rural community of El Cedro near Zaragoza, El Salvador.