While many American 15-year-olds were studying for driver’s tests and trying to earn money while the summer gave them time, Killian McGinnis was more than a thousand miles away from her hometown to help the people of La Chacra, right outside of San Salvador, El Salvador.
During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church sent three members to help protect the people of La Chacra from violent government and societal abuse, according to a 2015 Baltimore Sun article. Spiritual, political and financial support was provided each year as members would travel to the community. In 2012, their partnership was still strong, and Killian’s first trip opened her eyes to new perspectives and opportunities to serve.
McGinnis also visited other environments and communities, including rural areas. As she listened to the stories of the San Isidro community, she was also determined to learn about the projects they were developing on their farmland. McGinnis did not view the trip as a “mission” trip, rather an opportunity to build connections, especially with the youth.
“La Chacra has a huge gang presence and this affects the community in countless ways,” McGinnis told the Baltimore Sun. “In many cases, youth aren’t able to attend school or youth group because they can’t cross gang borderlines.”
For McGinnis, La Chacra was a place of hope. Although adversity reigned throughout much of the land, McGinnis saw a strong sense of community that overshadowed the struggles. The people’s need to support one another in order to survive gave McGinnis a glimpse of community that she wanted to bring back to the United States.
“Here in the U.S., people are so focused on self-improvement and individual success that we forget to care for others; we forget we’re part of a community,” McGinnis said in the article. “It’s hard to form a strong community when no one realizes they’re part of one.”
To help aid in her effort to bring community awareness back to the States, McGinnis brought with her the stories and perspectives of those she met in El Salvador to the immigrant families in Baltimore, Maryland. She began to volunteer at Education-Based Latino Outreach (EBLO) where she tutored immigrant children.
Her work with the immigrant families gave her more stories that both fascinated and troubled her. McGinnis’s new-found perspective inspired her to work with Dumbarton Middle School’s ESL program, where she can listen to the Spanish-speaking immigrants while also helping them be able to listen to their English neighbors.
“I love working with the kids,” McGinnis said in the article. “Although it can be challenging to simultaneously serve as a translator and tutor, it’s so rewarding to know that I can serve as a mentor on some level to them.”
Her work is not common, as only 1 percent of U.S. public school teachers are qualified to instruct ESL students. With 10 percent of U.S. public school students struggling with the English language, many schools are searching for people who are able to tutor, teach, or help the ESL students at their schools.
McGinnis, now 17-years-old, is considered a global activist. She continues to work toward creating valuable connections with people both inside and outside of her community, so that more students can learn English and more stories can be heard.