NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Catie Johnston speaks of her home away from home. A village in El Salvador so tiny that.
It doesn't even pull up on a map. Google maps doesn't know about it," said Johnston.
But this 24-year-old social worker is learning as much as she can about life in the smallest country in Central America. She's lived there for almost a year with a host family.
"This is Marcello. He's my younger host brother," said Johnston.
The St Edwards University graduate set out to volunteer with an organization called U.S.– El Salvador Sister Cities. Austin is a participant. Johnston quickly learned a post civil war lifestyle is much different than the comfort of her family's Nacogdoches home.
"Sometimes I would wake up and there would be scorpion scurrying across the floor or a snake slithering across the floor. Bats flying over my head," said Johnston.
A poor, but very gracious host family helped the young woman make it through that first night. Within weeks Johnston learned less can be more. Harvesting millet is a good place to start.
"They're all farmers. So the main things they grow are corn, millet and sesame. They cook over an open fire. They have a community corn mill. That's one of the things that the people in Austin supported for the community. They bought this mill," said Johnston.
Johnston's contribution was establishing an internet café. The village is starving for information.
"So now these kids have computers and they can learn computer skills and how to navigate the internet and that will open the world to them in a lot of ways," said Johnston.
Johnston's work in El Salvador has a direct connection with her interest to obtain dignity for immigrants here in the U.S.
" It's important if I'm going to be working with that population to go spend some time in one of the countries where a lot of them are coming from and to understand this is the situation that makes people have to come, that forces people to immigrate to the United States," said Johnston.
Johnston shares the reality of poverty on her blog in way that can be disturbing, but also extremely inspiring.
"We have to become uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to know that there's a country where people only eat beans and rice all year and their kids are malnourished, but we have to be willing to be uncomfortable and look for ways that we can be a part of changing things, " said Johnston.
So Johnston has signed on for another two years as a paid staffer. Her goal is to help make El Salvador a better, safer place. That way the people she's learned to love and respect don't have to come to the United States to have a future.
You can read more about Catie Johnston's experiences in El Salvador by going to her blog 'Austin El Salvador at wordpress.com.