Land of Volcanoes

El Salvador is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the most geographically active land in the world! The Ring of Fire is home to a huge percentage of the world’s volcanoes, and almost all of the world’s earthquakes.

El Salvador itself is home to 22 active and extinct volcanoes, the largest of which are now lakes. This country may be small, but it certainly doesn’t lack beautiful scenery. The volcanoes are impressive and majestic to see from afar, or for the brave, up close!



From our front yard at Love & Hope, we are able to peak over the wall to see the top of the San Salvador volcano, also called Volcan Quezaltepec  (the volcanoes have a Spanish and indigenous name). The San Salvador volcano is quite impressive and it can be admired from almost every spot in the city. It last erupted in 1917, and tourists can now drive to the crater to visit one of El Salvador’s national parks. In many images of the San Salvador volcano, one can see that it has a higher peak and a second, flattened out peak. That flattened out hump is actually a giant crater! Some of us have climbed into it, all the way to the bottom.


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Recently several of our kids climbed to the top of the Santa Ana volcano, or Volcan Ilamatepec. Santa Ana last erupted quite recently, in 2005. In the middle the crater at the top of the volcano is a bubbling, sulfurous, aqua colored lake. It is quite the spectacle (but safe to climb!).

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Last year, around Christmas, the big news in El Salvador was the San Miguel Volcano, or Volcan Chaparrastique. It erupted in December, 2013 and was quite the sight! Many of the people living around the volcano had to evacuate the area.

Photo credit: La Prensa Grafica
Photo credit: La Prensa Grafica

When we say geographically active, we are not only referring to volcanoes, we are also talking about earthquakes. The last major earthquakes occurred in 2001, a pair of them in January and February caused major damage and over 1000 deaths. Thankfully, there have been no serious earthquakes since, but we frequently feel tremors, some that send us running out the door just in case. According to Earthquake Track, El Salvador has experienced 124 earthquakes this year, but that doesn’t mean we’ve felt all of them!

A few weeks ago, we experienced the largest earthquake this year, which measured in at a magnitude of 7.3! It happened at almost 10:00 pm, so many people said they didn’t feel it, but our house sure did. It wasn’t a very violent earthquake, but it was long, and sent the Love & Hope kids running to the driveway. It rattled (literally) everyone’s nerves a bit. Thankfully, the quake didn’t cause much damage in El Salvador, but there were tsunami warnings on the coast! We were surprised that the quake made international news; we woke up the next morning to text and Facebook messages from the States making sure all of us at Love & Hope were safe.

Recently, our staff formed evacuation, fire and first-aid brigades. It sounds unbelievable, but having a plan of action in case of a volcanic eruption or earthquake is necessary in El Salvador! The three brigades of staff members have been working to plan out our strategies for evacuation, practice drills and other precautions.

El Salvador certainly doesn’t lack an interesting landscape. We see and feel it every single day! Salvadorans are proud of their unique country, and much of their culture and folklore has been majorly influenced by the land. El Salvador is known as the “Land of Volcanoes,” and for a good reason!

5984587879_cd7e612bb2_zPhoto credits: Justin Klubnik, Mandy Sidorski and Esther Lee

Karate Class

Every Tuesday evening and Saturday morning, our friend Jose, better known as the “Senor de Karate,” comes to Love & Hope Children’s Home to teach us karate and self-defense. The classes are provided by our friends at PGS. It is a great family activity and even the adults participate.


Jose usually starts off with a warm-up and stretches. He talks us through everything, explaining the benefits of each exercise.



We also practice kicks and punches. Jose, who is very, very experienced in martial arts, demonstrates each kick or punch, then says, “Like that!” He has just kicked his leg (literally) above his head, so his instructions to try it are usually met with a little timidity, doubtful faces and comments of, “There is no way that I’ll be able to do that!” But everyone does their best to try and Jose circulates to correct our form as we practice.



Eliseo and Chamba usually help “lead” the class. They like standing up front with Jose, counting off exercises or kicks with him. Sometimes these two cuties even feel entitled to offer the rest of us a little advice!


Jose has also taught us self-defense. This seems to be the kids’ favorite, as after class and the next day they always want to demonstrate how they can take you down. “Grab my arm here!” “Wrap your arms around my waist!” We adults like to think twice before indulging them in this request, because it will result with us on the ground.


Karate is a great sport for learning discipline and control. Jose is a wonderful example for our children! We really appreciate his willingness to teach us karate every week. Thank you to PGS and to Jose!

Horseback Riding

Every Tuesday afternoon, about six of our children come home from school very excited to go to horseback riding lessons. Love & Hope Children’s Home is blessed to receive these lessons for free from our good friend, Whitney.



Whitney, a “missionary kid” in El Salvador for many years, attended college in the United States where she studied therapeutic horsemanship. She later returned to El Salvador to fulfill her dream of having a therapeutic riding center for the benefit and use of children’s homes. Her center is located in the outskirts of San Salvador on what we refer to as the “finca,” or farm- property that belongs to another children’s home, La Casa de Mi Padre.


The Love & Hope kids have been learning to ride horses with Whitney for almost four years! We have seen all of them accomplish huge feats, and the “regulars,” who ride every week, are now able to control the horses on their own. Several of the kids have also overcome sizable fears about the horses. We’ve seen it as a great way for them to gain confidence and independence (there is nothing like being able to control a giant animal by yourself)! Whitney says, “I have watched your kids grow and improve over the years, even the ones who no longer come. Most came out for the first time pretty scared of the horses and didn’t have much confidence in themselves. I still see their insecurities, but they are improving. They are more confident riders and have learned to handle the horses almost independently; in Raquel’s case, she is completely independent. Eliseo and Irene are also very good riders. The horses have helped their confidence a lot. I think they humble Irene sometimes.”

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Whitney has the kids do exercises while on horseback: touch the ears, touch the tail, turn around, rotate your arms, hug the horse, etc. The purpose of the exercises is to help the kids stretch and gain balance: “The horse is a good tool to challenge balance and to build strength because of its constant movement. We play games to work on their confidence which in turn helps their control of the horse.”


Horses, as with many animals, are also great for emotional therapy. Whitney says, “horses are like mirrors for our emotions. When we are sad they act sad. When we are mad they act mad. A good example of this was this week with Raquel. She came out frustrated, but acting like she was fine. As soon as she got on Serena (the horse), Serena started acting mad and not listening. I told Raquel to relax and calm down and when she did Serena changed her behavior as well. I think Raquel has captured the idea of using the horses to help her deal with her emotions and to relieve stress.”


The “finca” is also a fun place for the kids to explore. They run up the dirt road to the stables and help feed the horses. The farm is full of orange and lime trees, mango trees, zapote trees, and coffee. The kids might enjoy picking fruit (with Whitney’s permission, of course) just as much as they enjoy the horses. They often return home with a load of freshly picked produce.

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Horseback riding has been a huge blessing for our kids. We love that several of them form a little horseback riding clique that goes enthusiastically every week for a lesson. The horses have benefited our children physically and emotionally, even if they don’t realize it. It certainly has been a unique opportunity for our children that most children in El Salvador (or the world) will never experience. We are so thankful to Whitney for offering our kids such a wonderful experience.


If you would like to know more about Whitney’s work in El Salvador and the Serenity Therapeutic Riding Center, visit her Facebook page here.