El Salvador St. Elizabeth's/St. Peter's Jan 2016
January 28th, Day 1
- Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS), San Salvador
- Ricardo Poma School, Tonacatepeque
- Romero Community, near Tonacatepeque
First stop - CIS has instituted and coordinates a variety of successful and impactful programs. Kerm Fendler's report provides excellent detail of this amazing organization, its programs and its reach. We also made contributions of supplies (also in his report.) Leslie Schuld is the Director.
Also at CIS Zulma and Nixon joined our delegation and were with us on all of our excursions.
Stop two - Ricardo Poma Catholic School, Tonacatepeque
The school compound is an oasis amid rusty tin houses, streets full of trash and rusted out vehicles, undernourished wild animals, and street vendors. The uniformed students are responsible for the beautiful appearance of the campus.
Stop 3 - Romero Community (on the outskirts of Tonacatepeque)
New houses are being built to replace huts made of corrugated tin with no plumbing or heating. The new homes are approximately 600 square feet and include a living room, two bedrooms, an outdoor kitchen, and an outdoor bathroom. The houses have metal ceilings, tiled floors, and are wired for electricity, something these families have lacked for the last 10 years. Each family is proud to own one. About 35 were under construction and eventually the community will have 75. The three-car garage may be missing, but each is a home for a tight-knit, resourceful and caring family. In addition, solidarity was a more than a concept, it was a living belief.
We delivered gifts we had brought with us, including laptop computers, LED indoor bulbs, LED outdoor bulbs, an electric drill, concrete drill bits, and leather electrician’s belts.
January 29th, Day 2
- Work day in the new Romero Community
- Visit the present community and homes on hillside
Walking tour of the present community.
Before returning to San Salvador, we presented gifts to the Board, including: cash, to be used for establishing Internet service and to purchase paint for the perimeter fence; donations from parishioners at St. Mary’s, which is Fr. Bruce’s parish in Kansas City; cash that Fr. Waris raised to start a women’s coop; nightgowns donated by Fr. Waris’ sister; both adult and children’s clothes that Fr. Bruce collected at St. Mary’s; shoes; and St. Elizabeth’s t-shirts, which Carrie Madden collected from St. Elizabeth’s parishioners. The Board members present thanked us profusely and told us we are always welcome at the Romero Community.
January 30th, Day 3
- Palo Grande (Palo Grande is a canton of Suchitoto, a municipality in a mountainous region of El Salvador located in the Department of Cuscatlán)
Before the war, there were 500 homes in Palo Grande; now there are only 82. Those families who returned after the war found everything burned to the ground. Nothing was left, homes, church, and village.
Not to be factual or a documentary, but a few things regarding the civil war were shared with us. Because of the area was mountainous, the rebels destroyed bridges to restrict access by government armed forces. In response, the government used US provided bombardment.
Palo Grande Community Center
St. Elizabeth’s helps support the Scholarship and Youth Formation program in Palo Grande and Suchitoto., as well as the Community Center.
Back in Suchitoto, we had lunch at Pajaro Flor, a restaurant owned and operated by the Women's’ Economic Initiative.
January 31st, Day 4
- Romero Community (third and final visit)
- Boqueron Park and San Salvador Volcano
We gathered for Mass at an altar under the two decorated tents. Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Waris and Fr. Bruce with a choir of children from the community, who were dressed in their school clothes (white shirts, blue pants). This was an amazing scene in a desolate rural village in El Salvador where people live in poverty alongside a group of Americans accustomed to many conveniences. We prayed, sang, and embraced one another at the sign of peace, both in Spanish and in English. It was an uplifting and special gift bestowed on us.
Boqueron Park and San Salvador Volcano
Following Mass and lunch, we spent a half day of recreation with the Romero Community scholarship students at Boqueron Park and the San Salvador Volcano.
On leaving the park, our driver, Nixon, had no place to turn around on the narrow road filled with a solid line of cars behind the van. Nixon, with help from Raul and Ivan, drove in reverse for 20 minutes down the side of the mountain until he found a place to turn around. Unforgettable.
February 1, Day 5
- Chapel at Divine Providence Cancer Hospital
- Home of Archbishop Oscar Romero
- University of Central America in San Salvador, a Jesuit University
After being exposed to the sacrifices and rewards of creating a new mountain village, we came up close to martyrdom, gang and street violence, and courageous individuals facing daily challenges to have rich, meaningful lives in a crowded city.
Chapel at Divine Providence Cancer Hospital
Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed here while celebrating Mass.
Mejicanos, a hilly municipality on the northern edge of San Salvador, is home to San Francisco de Assisi, a Catholic Parish that is supported by St. Peter’s Parish in Kansas City. Mejicanos is densely populated. Most inhabitants live in concrete block homes with sheet metal roofs. The streets are cobblestone and the bus could not pass in some places. Gangs are prominent in Mejicanos creating dangerous living conditions for the majority of the municipality’s residents. We were in the homes of two victims of gang violence.
Next we went to Claudia's, a scholarship student attending the University of El Salvador. We were greeted by Claudia, her mom, and Mary, Claudia’s friend, who is also a scholarship student attending the Technological University. Claudia’s home was in a small apartment complex. It was relatively new and had been built with money raised by St. Peter's.
Visiting Hector's home required us to descend and climb steep hills on foot. He had been a victim of a gang shooting. One bullet could not be removed, yet, he makes the climbs on a daily basis.
Our last stop was at Diana's. She gathered our entire group in her small home and shared her paintings and introduced her family. Sadly, her brother had been lost to gun violence.
Day 6, February 2nd
- La Colorada
We started the day at CIS, dropping off donated luggage and picking up CIS employees traveling with us. Here is a photograph of the CIS location in San Salvador.
The trip to the Tasajera island was long, a 90-minute ride in the van, followed by a 45-minute ride in a boat propelled by two outboard motors. In addition, it was hotter than in the other places we visited. Furthermore, it was the only time we traveled to the coast of El Salvador.
In the long but flat walking route to La Colorada we passed interesting, first-hand (non-tourist) views of a fishing community.
After a short trek inland, we reached the women’s cooperative called “La Colorada”, which is sponsored by CIS. It houses sewing machines where local women create colorful and ornate carry bags. They have experienced the risks and rewards of operating an enterprise from which they sell products on both the island and the mainland.
Adjacent to where we were seated for lunch was an elderly gentleman with a machete making furniture from bamboo. While it was fascinating and entertaining to observe him ply his trade, his friendliness endeared him as a memorable moment in our trip.
Our cruise culminated with our return trip to the mainland.