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He almost died in El Salvador's civil war. He also may have changed the course of the country.


Al Saade was in middle school when El Salvador’s civil war came knocking on his classroom door. It was the military. They suspected Al’s teacher was sympathetic to the guerrilla forces, which more or less amounted to a death sentence.


“The first thing that they did was shoot my teacher,” Saade said. “The kids they were screaming. There were guns shooting. I believe 12 kids were killed in my classroom that day.”


The scene was just one bloody sequence in El Salvador’s long-standing civil war — a war in which the smallest misstep could lead to death, one that set the stage for the crime and corruption that plagued the country for decades after. 


Al said he had given up on El Salvador altogether by the time he fled for the United States and ended up in Seattle. Politicians were always offering change that never came. For years, his home country struggled. 


Then came a young mayor who promised to fix everything. He was running for El Salvador's president, and for once, Al said he felt hopeful. But Al also wanted to do more than just cast a single ballot, so he started a small movement that may have helped change the direction of the country in the biggest possible way. 


Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect last name for Al, as well as an incorrect year of school in the story he recalled. The information has since been updated.