Twelve years of civil war, two military occupations and a 1986 earthquake nearly destroyed the University of El Salvador.
Now, a little more than a year after the war, 12 professors from the school's departments of medical technology, dentistry and pharmacy are at Johns Hopkins University searching for ideas and contacts to rebuild their university.
"The earthquake and the war destroyed about 70 percent of our facilities," Dr. Mayo Cuenca, the University of El Salvador Dental School's head planner, said yesterday through an interpreter. "The professors had to go outside the university, into the streets, to teach.
"But the university has refused to die."
The group -- which has already spent four weeks at DePaul University in Chicago and a week at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. -- arrived in Baltimore Saturday afternoon for a final series of lectures on curriculum development, health care reform and team building.
Group members, who return to El Salvador Friday, will also tour the University of Maryland's schools of dentistry, pharmacy and nursing. A second group of 18 professors will participate in another six-week program beginning May 1, they said.
Both tours are sponsored by a grant from US AID, a major source of funding for American exchange programs, through Development Associates in Virginia.
"The object of our visit is to strengthen relations with the University of El Salvador and other universities of the United States," said Dr. Benjamin Lopez Guillen, dean of the Salvadoran dental school.
"Particularly, we are interested in learning some strategies and concepts for academic development," he said. "We believe that in this area of planning, we have a lot to learn."
A network of American universities and professors interested in exchanging students, information and equipment with El Salvador's only public college has also been developed during this trip, he said.
The university, which educates many of El Salvador's young people for a small tuition, is sponsored by the government.
However, its budget is tight -- professors and administrators are paid less than those at private universities, which have higher tuition fees but lower educational standards, group members said.
Many of El Salvador's other schools of higher learning are universities in name only, Dr. Guillen added.
The professors said they not only want to teach their students but help them become problem-solvers and leaders in their communities.
"We have a very important role in the transition from war to peace," said Maria Isabel de Rodas of the pharmacy department.