Imagine flying south for the winter. You leave the sub-zero temperatures of Maine for someplace warm, tropical and exotic — maybe you have booked yourself on an eco-tour. When you deplane at your destination the humidity in the air hits you like a brick wall. You see a man standing in the airport holding a sign with your name on it. He escorts you to the tour company’s shuttle and you embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

Vinalhaven’s Hope Jackson (WWF Dec. 2005) left in February for such an adventure, her third so far, only she isn’t on an eco-tour. Jackson is spending two months living and working in El Salvador. The man picking her up at the airport was not driving a tour company shuttle, but a beat-up old Suburban which serves as a village ambulance. The narrow mountain roads will not lead her to a resort or a wildlife refuge, but to the village of Los Talpetates where she will live while working in a women’s health clinic and teaching English.

“The village is dry and dusty this time of year,” said Jackson, “but in rainy season the roads turn into rivers and at times you can’t leave the village at all. I live in a cement sided one-room house with metal roofing. It’s much too hot to be inside in the daytime,” she explained. “I have a bed and a table, cement flooring, and a cement bath-tub shaped place that holds water for bathing and a cement slab for hand washing clothes.”

Jackson first visited Talpetates in 2005. She had been taking an alternative medicine course at Friends World University in Costa Rica (through Long Island University), and chose to go to El Salvador for four months for an internship in midwifery. During those four months Jackson became tied to Talpetates and its people by her heartstrings.

The women’s health clinic in Talpetates is the only non-government-run clinic in all of El Salvador, and while it is considered a women’s health clinic, those who work there serve the medical needs of the entire community. Three women, none of whom have had any formal medical training, staff the clinic. According to Jackson, the most common procedure in the clinic is the birthing of babies. Jackson has helped in the delivery of several babies at the clinic, including one during the first week of her current stay. “The birth went beautifully,” she said, “if not all that joyous. The mother wasn’t quite as excited since this was child number 5 of probably what will be 10 or more.” Jackson said she and her friend Bethany Caruso, who is spending a month working in Los Talpetates, made up for it with their own excitement. “It was Bethany’s first birth experience and I was able to be very involved and catch the baby, which was wonderful.”

In planning her trip this year Jackson wanted to bring something for the children of Talpetates. She decided on shoes, since many children there don’t have shoes, and they are required for children to attend school. In addition, “having shoes to wear helps the children to stay healthy, guarding them from parasites, insects and cuts,” she said. Jackson solicited help from the third, fourth and fifth graders of Vinalhaven School, asking them to donate their outgrown shoes. She was pleased to have collected 60 pairs to take along.

During her 2005 visit to Talpetates, Jackson lived with the Mira family. The matriarch of the family, Josefa Mira, is 70 years old, mother to 14 and grandmother to 50. She is also a midwife at the clinic. While immersed in the life of this large family, Jackson and her travel partner Ben Dorr learned that education in El Salvador is free until ninth grade. At that point, many children stop going to school because the expense is too high. By the time they left Talpetates that year, Jackson and Dorr had committed themselves to sending six of the Mira grandchildren to high school and college, a commitment that will span 15 years and $35,000. Thus began the El Salvador Education Project.

When they got home, Jackson and Dorr set to work soliciting donations to their cause, setting up a website ( and getting the word out through public talks and fliers. While high school tuition for each child is only $9-$12 per month, extra expenses such as uniforms, books, meals and field trips drive up the cost. In addition, some of the Mira children live far enough from their schools that they must rent rooms during the week and come home only on weekends. All said, total costs reach about $100/month for each child. Currently two of the six children being sponsored by this project have started high school. A third will begin next January.

“I am extremely proud of the work I do with the education project,” Jackson explained. “I am especially committed to helping them because I know how much they value education and what pride they now feel having the opportunity to send their children to high school. I know how hard Josefa has worked through her life to provide for her family, as well as the rest of the village. I know that they will never take the work I am doing for granted; they deserve this more than anyone else I know.” In addition, Jackson sees the project as a way to keep her sanity in this developing country. “I often tell people that I do it for myself as much as for the children; heading the project and feeling like I am making a positive change is what keeps me from being completely overwhelmed by the struggles and poverty I experience in El Salvador.”

As of last July, there is an additional draw to El Salvador for Jackson. Sara Mira, Josefa’s youngest daughter, gave birth to a daughter who she named Esperanza, the Spanish word for hope, after Jackson. A fitting honor for a woman who has given hope to so many.