Volume VIII, Number 3: Fall 2000
In this Issue:
After four years since my last visit to Tenancingo, PAB's ninth delegation in July, 2000 was the occasion of my eighth and last trip to El Salvador. Being able to hug old friends and new friends in person was very special to me, and evidently to them, too. My work with PAB will continue, of course, but our hugs will have to be only in the heart. I would highly encourage previous delegates to make return trips.
Comparing the Tenancingo of 1996 with the Tenancingo we found in 2000 is very encouraging, but comparing it with the Tenancingo experienced by PAB's first delegation in 1992 gives me cause for real excitement. Briefly, I'll try to give you a taste of that excitement. The town itself it much cleaner, new and repaired buildings are in evidence, and there are stores now. All but one of the bombed-out hamlets have been repopulated and people are working hard to rebuild their lives and their homes. More hamlets have water and electricity, and since June, the high school has its own new building.
The sad news is that, economically, the people are poorer than they were before the war, partly because of the heavy consumer taxes on everything, and also because of very high unemployment nationwide. I found people as cheerful, industrious and determined as ever, but some are getting dis-couraged and thinking that the only way to provide for their children is to come to the States for awhile.
The good news is that, personally, people are better off than ever because of their community organization, political insight, and gradually in-creasing level of education. These are riches which no one can take from them.
The exciting news we found comes in three related areas. First, the association of Municipal Development of Tenancingo(ADMT) has been legally formed with thirteen incorporated hamlets. We sister with eight of these, and are hoping to find other towns or congregations to sister with the remaining five. This has great potential as they prepare plans with dovetail with municipal planning.
|Sister Anne Malerich participating in the press conference with CRIPDES and sistered communities.|
Secondly, the newly reelected Mayor of Tenancingo has formed the City Council of repre-sentatives of many hamlets and they have drawn up an inclusive and workable Municipal plan. We were present for a town meeting at which each com-munity formally expressed their prioritized needs. These will be dealt with as efficiently as possible, counting on the people themselves to supply labor and what they can.
Thirdly, Padre Joaquín, pastor of Santiago Apostól Parish (St. James the Apostle), explained their amazing parish plan which is geared to be self-sustaining after three years. It is holistic and Gospel based in that it treats the significant aspects of life: evangelization, family, economy and human development. The latter, for example, includes plans for pastoral work with women, farmers, and the agricultural situation, the environment, and health. To begin with, a carefully made census reveals, for example, the number of single moms, and the plan includes social, economic and religious development for them.
At PAB's August meeting, it thrilled me to experience PAB 2000 itself moving ahead in ways I would never have dreamed possible. Come to the meetings yourself on Third Wednesdays, 7:00-9:00PM at the Pastoral Center across from the Cathedral High School in St. Cloud.
One of the cantones we visited was El Sitio. It is situated high in the hills a fair distance from Tenancingo and is accessible by a very steep and heavily rutted road-best navigated by a 4-wheel drive vehicle or by foot. This road, like the road to and from Tenancingo, is in dire disrepair-many requests have been submitted to the government for it to be fixed, but all have been ignored.
Unlike Tenancingo, to which many inhabitants who lived there previously returned after the war to repopulate, El Sitio is a new village populated by inhabitants who were dis-placed from other parts of the country. Many did not know each other previously but have forged relation-ships and have built a new community. The cam-pesinos here are extremely hard working, motivated, sincere, and very hopeful that through their efforts and also help from others that their children's' children will have a better life than they have known.
On our arrival we were greeted by many hugs, handshakes, kisses, and enthusiastic "¡Buenas!" The area where they hold their meetings and where we were housed during our stay was decorated with palm fronds, flowers, and crepe paper ribbons. There was a small table with a framed picture of Monsignor Romero, candles, and a few flowers. Although the people here describe themselves as the "poorest of the poor-campesinos whose existence has been ignored and forgotten by their own government" they are definitely not poor in spirit, generosity, love or hope. They share of themselves profusely-from the very youngest who held our hands and curiously looked at us to the very oldest who held us firmly in their arms and expressed their gratitude for us being there and not forgetting them.
|Some of the many children of El Sitio, posing for the camera.|
We were given a tour of their small village and it seemed like the majority of the inhabitants joined in our walk. We were proudly shown hand planted cornfields, lovingly tended bean and squash plants, zinnias and cosmos (brought by members from an earlier delegation), home sites, and assorted animals. Everyone seemed to want to share a bit of themselves with us.
Later in the evening we gathered for an explanation of what their community's par-ticular needs and goals were. One request forwarded was very easy to fulfill immediately and we achieved instant gratification. The guitar they used to accom-pany the songs had been broken so they took it to the repair shop-but it was being held until they could come up with the money to pay for it. It had been there many months already. The five of us quickly decided to chip in the amount needed to rescue the guitar (not an amount exorbitant to us--but definitely way beyond their means). Smiles, tears, and enthusiastic clapping ensued when we told them we would bail the guitar out of the shop. If only all their problems were so easy to solve!
After this they explained their three-year plan. El Sitio would like a daycare/preschool/kindergarten so their young ones can be cared for and educated while the parents work in the fields or are in town (some distance away) working. Subsistence farming is not enough to survive on and all the families desperately need to work in order to attend to just their very basic needs. They had already bought the land, sought help from another organization which contributed the building materials, but they wanted help from us to obtain the rest of the resources needed to make this dream become a reality.
Everything was explained in great detail. Their organization is exceptional and their planning well thought out and the sincerity of the requests so passionate. These are not simply requests for "handouts"-the hope and desire for effecting structural change is extremely evident. Our herman@s work hard and make do with virtually nothing but they are not always sure of the best route to get where they want to go-that is where "Partners" plays a very valuable role.
The full sense of what being a delegate means and the beauty inherent in the experience definitely was brought home in this village. So many meaningful relationships were forged here-we engaged in so many varied forms of communication, we were so enriched in an abundance of ways, and in turn we learned so much from our sisters and brothers in witnessing their perseverance and hope for the future. "Accompaniment" and "solidarity" the full impact of these words were fleshed out and experienced in El Sitio.
"Remember us after we are gone. Don't forget us.
Conjure up our faces and our words.
Our image will be as a tear in the heart
of those who want to remember us."
--Popol Vuh, Mayan Scriptures
I have never really thought of myself as materialistic. I have a nice apartment, a decent car, and enough conveniences to be comfortable, but I never considered myself to be extravagant. My mind changed fast on my first visit to El Salvador this past July. Practically everywhere I turned I was humbled and had a feeling of being incredibly blessed. On the evening of Saturday, July 15, 2000, that feeling overwhelmed me.
As our delegation was driving into Tenancingo on Wednesday, July 12th, somebody pointed out the land for the new housing development on the edge of town, the Colonia (subdivision), "Gardens of Tenancingo". I didn't think much of it at the time.
On Friday, July 14th, we were meeting with the mayor. There were many people milling about, and some were loading a pick-up with metal sheets, wood beams, and water barrels. We were told there were 110 plots of land in the housing development. The plots were being distributed by a lottery system. Anybody interested in purchasing the land had put his or her name in the lottery drawing. Each day, the mayor had pulled out 20 names, distributed the materials for temporary housing, and then the people whose name was drawn would go pick out their plot of land. The mayor was going to continue picking names until all 110 plots of land were spoken for.
At this point, I was more interested, but still didn't really understand the whole concept of this housing development. The only thing I had to compare it to was housing developments I knew about around St. Cloud. You know what I'm talking about -a developer buys some land, builds several houses, people buy the houses and maybe get some say in the final touches. Believe me, the reality of the housing development in Tenancingo was not like a housing development in St. Cloud!
On Saturday evening, our delegation and about 20 other people walked to the edge of town to the housing development. A few of the people with us had land in the new development, and their temporary houses were in different stages of completion. I found out what the metal sheets and wood beams were for. That is what the temporary houses were made out of. They were smaller than my bedroom. Their whole plot of land was about the size of my two-bedroom apartment. There was no potable water easily accessible. There were two latrines for 110 homes. The road leading to the development was so washed out that nine-year-old boys were standing in the ruts up to their shoulders. Each family had to have somebody living on the property or they would lose it. Sometime in September or October, one person was going to come to teach everybody how to build their permanent home. Sometime in the near future, but nobody knows when for sure, there is supposed to be potable water and electricity.
Rene and Lazaro in the washed-out ruts or gullies at the entrance to the new housing development.
I was shocked! At first, I couldn't believe people were going to live there. Then, I started watching the people. One person couldn't wait to show us her house. They had land! They had never owned land before. Another woman told us their landlords from the apartment they had just moved from needed their house, and therefore, they needed to move out. They were so worried because they had nowhere else to go - no place to live. They were very thankful their name was drawn and they were praising God for providing a place for them to live. Several other people wanted us to come see their house. They were so proud. How could I be anything but happy for them?
I learned an important lesson that night. One I think I knew, but certainly needed to be reminded of. Life is what you make of it. I could have all the material possessions in the world, but if I am not thankful for them, they mean nothing. Everything I have is an added blessing from above.
The temporary "champitas" (little shacks or tents) of the "Gardens of Tenancingo" housing development.
[Editors note: Dave Johnson was a 1999 PAB delegate who just began a two-year stint working with Kate Lorenzen in the Grass Roots and Sistering areas for SHARE in El Salvador.]
I rolled into Tenancingo at 9:30 AM, Saturday August 12th. Approximately half an hour early, I beat my welcoming party to the FMLN Party headquarters by nearly an hour. (The FMLN or Frente Farabundo Marti for National Liberation, was born out guerrilla movement of the 80´s and is the political party that now fights most actively for the rights of the poor majority. It is interesting to note that most sistered communities in El Salvador have strong FMLN ties.)
While I had been in El Salvador for just over a week, the days to follow would officially mark the kick off of my orientation to grass roots organizing through sistering programs. Thirteen months earlier, as a member of Partners Across Borders 8th delegation to Tenancingo, I sat in the back of Romeo Duartes late 70´s, 15 passenger, luggage-laden funky yellow van as we bounced our way along the rocky road to Tenancingo. That July morning, I would not have guessed that I would be making the same trip solo, thirteen months later, as a SHARE Foundation employee.
After a warm welcome from the directiva (community council), I was whisked off to my home for the weekthe house of Amalia Flores de Paz. The remainder of the week I would shadow Amalia as she made her way from canton to canton, many of which are separated by steep, forest-covered hills and can only be reached on foot by crude paths. Amalias job is essentially to support and link the organization of the regions womens groups and community councils through CRIPDES (an NGO).
After chicken soup and toasted tortillas, a little rest, and some street soccer with Lazaro Antonio, Amalias son, it was off to the Colonia (see article, page 3) for what would be the first of many meetings. In this newest suburb of Tenancingo, nearly 110 families are living in champas, one-room homes loosely constructed of sheet metal and tarps, creatively held together by rocks, bamboo and miscellaneous knick-knacks. As the residents await uncertain funding for the more sanitary and dignified housing they certainly deserve, the organizing gets started. Several days earlier a handful of women went champa to champa, inviting their compañeras to a meeting that Saturday afternoon, a womens group meeting, the first of its kind in the Colonia.
The meeting was called with the premise that they would discuss the issue of acquiring potable water, or at the very least, a well. While the meeting didnt produce a well, it did plant the seeds of a could-be-organized community. New neighbors got to know one another, sharing where they were from, discussing children and husbands and their transition to their new digs.
After some opening remarks, Amalia asked the group what issues would they be interested in discussing, in addition to potable water. It quickly became clear that #1 on everyones list were the messy communal latrines. The latrines were a clear case of the "tragedy of the commons": with no one placed in charge, they had become a disconcerting health hazard. A brief window of time organizing together was all that was needed to make everyones life a bit more agreeable. They decided that each family would donate one colon for cleaning supplies and then scheduled which families would clean the latrines when (it was even suggested that the men should have to clean their own!)
The issue of drinking water was also discussed, but the conclusion was that more information needed to be gathered first. The results of the meeting were clearly appreciated and it was overwhelmingly agreed upon that they should continue to meet regularly.
The process of electing a directiva (president, vice-president, secretary, etc.) was painful. Only a modest percentage of the women had been formally educated; few could read and fewer could write. Others said that participation just wasnt possible: too many kids, too much work and not enough time. While this process was not very fun, it was exciting when a humble but confident young woman eagerly accepted the position of presidentmy bet is she is the future superstar of the Colonia. Before the women headed back towards their champas, unceremoniously but with determination, the new directiva agreed to participate in leadership-training programs run by CRIPDES and it was decided that the women would meet again the following week, same time, same place.
The meeting, much like the rest of the week, was a great indicator of the hope and potential inherent in organizing. The meeting was also, much like the rest of the week, a clear indicator of the intimidating obstacles that face the people of El Salvador today. On Monday I made the arduous, not entirely safe, albeit beautiful, hike to Rosario Perrico, where I meet with a motivated and focused directiva. Tuesday morning, Amalia and I made the sweaty hike out to Hacienda Nueva where sadly the majority of the directiva wasnt able to participate in our meeting. While the meeting was a bit of a let-down, the cusuco (armadillo) that Martha from Corral Viejo prepared afterwards for lunch was not. And while I very much dug the tasty tamales I shared with the directiva in Jinuco, I was caught off-guard and disturbed by the abject poverty I encountered on the tour of the town afterwards. I was fired up when I found myself playing shortstop in El Pepeto for a seemingly displaced but fully-equipped Waite Park girls softball team. I was proud to be the courier of a letter and check from the Saint Johns monks to Padre Joaquín Melendez, which will support health and human rights ministry through the parish. And without a doubt, I was inspired by how profoundly sistering has complemented and encouraged community development in Tenancingo.
PAB delegates Dennis Beach and Judy Alessio with representatives of the girls softball team from the canton of El Pepeto. The girls received uniforms from the Waite Park Babe Ruth Little League and gloves, balls and bats purchased with funds donated to PAB.
In light of the many obstacles that face Salvadorans today, modest steps forward must be taken and, when successfully completed, celebrated. Rome wasnt built in a day, and Colonia Nueva wont have potable water tomorrow. However, they will have clean latrines, neighbors will know one another, and soon enough we can hope that there will exist the social infrastructure to fight for drinking water, and whatever else it is they deem it necessary to fight for. This, it seems, is what sistering is all about, modest endeavors that have the potential of creating grand results. The severity of the challenges is at times frightening. but this must be our motivation to continue "la lucha" [the struggle] for the structural change and financial aid necessary to support the economic and social development of the poor majority in El Salvador.
P.S. Approximately, 149 residents of the Tenancingo Municipality put me personally in charge of making sure that you are well aware that you are in their thoughts and prayers!
P.P.S. Did I mention that each evening, shortly after climbing in bed, Amalias 15 ducks made their way into my bedroom, scurried under my bed, just inches from my head, shuffling and squawking the nights away? Even taking into account the ducks, Id give the experience two thumbs up and recommend it to anyone!
The last issue of the newsletter reported that the college students visiting Tenancingo in March had seen that construction had begin on the much-needed new high school (Instituto) building. PAB has been assisting Tenancingo to fight for this building for many years, writing letters to the government, visiting the Ministry of Education with Tenancingo community representatives, lobbying sympathetic legislators, and encouraging Don Tito Perez Cárcamo and our friends there to "keep fighting."
How gratifying it was then to visit Don Tito and the students in their new home. The building of the school was made possible through great sacrifice on the part of the mayor's office, which contributed 100% of its federal funding allocation for the year to the project. This stewardship induced the Ministry of Education to allow the construction to take place on the property of the grade school, which also allows the two schools to share recreation facilities. Furthermore, Don Tito and the mayor were successful in getting the government to take over the payment of the salaries of two full-time teachers and to cover the electricity and water costs.
The new high school (Instituto) building in Tenancingo.
PAB brought a check for $2500 to help equip and secure the new school, but it is clear that more funds would not only be welcome, but used very well. Less than 15% of eligible high-school age children attend the Instituto, in part because they cannot afford the modest cost (less than $50/year) that goes for books, uniforms, instructional materials and other expenses not covered by the meager government budget. Modest scholarship monies could also help a few qualified students go on to university studies. Dawn Schroeder, a July 2000 delegate, hopes to organize a campaign to help raise educational funds, especially scholarship funds. If your community, school or church group would like to help in this project, contact Dawn at 320-983-6810; or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Partners supporters may be wondering why the municipality of Tenancingo decided to go ahead with the housing project without guaranteed funding. Since the delegation's visit in July, we have learned via telephone more about these whys and where-fores. While it may seem unwise for the mayor to send 110 families out to live in tin shacks with no money for permanent construction, there's a reason. He must show that the land is inhabited and that construction of housing is desperately needed-more desperately than by the other community-to apply for funding. The end result will be that the Federal Housing Ministry will assist some of the poor-and take credit for this at the next election!-but will also make them compete with other poor communities for a trickle of handouts. Meanwhile, the heaviest part of the rainy season is in full downpour!
One of the concerns that everyone in Tenancingo, from the mayor's office to party representatives to the person in the plaza, asked us to help with is the paving of the main road from the Pan American Highway to Tenancingo. The first 4 or 5 kilometers of this road is shared with Santa Cruz Michapa, whose mayor is from the PCN party, and they have agreed to make common cause with Tenancingo on this issue. This helps because the PCN is on the conservative side, and they can show that this is not a partisan issue. The 17 kilometers of unpaved road, often scarred with deep ruts, prevents residents of the area from pursuing any worthwhile livelihood.
Please write letters! You can write in English or in Spanish (the Minister attended Georgetown University!) and address your letters to:
Estimado Señor José Angel Quiroz
Ministerio de Obras Publicas
Centro del Gobierno
San Salvador, EL SALVADOR
Ask him to help the people of the Tenancingo area further their own local development. If you are a delegate who has traveled this road, simply relate your experience of the road and of the dedication of the people there. Please send a copy of your letter to: Br. Dennis Beach, OSB, Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, MN 56321. He will bring copies of all letters down to share with the City Council of Tenancingo when visiting with a St. John's/St. Ben's student group in January.
Many thanks to the Mission Office of the Saint Cloud Diocese for their generous donation to the work of PAB! At the August meeting, Roseann Fischer, on behalf of the Mission Office, presented a check for $3000.00 to PAB that is intended to enhance the involvement of people from the diocesan area (Central Minnesota) in the accom-paniment work of PAB. This gift is especially welcome because it recognizes the heart of PAB's mission: We're about a face to face, person to person, community to community kind of justice work, not an anonymous one. The more local people are involved-by attending meetings, helping publicize our work, writing letters, selling crafts, helping with fund-raising, etc.-the better we can really be sisters and brothers to our Salvadoran neighbors.
Roseann suggested some of the funds be ear-marked for bringing up a delegation of folks from Tenancingo to visit us in the Fall of 2001. this way many more local people can become involved than can actually travel to El Salvador themselves. Our challenge is to use this gift like the talents of the gospel, and increase its value many times over in the work it empowers us to accomplish.
The Diocese also offered a donation support the work of the SHARE Foundation, as well as aid to Dave Johnson to help him finance his volunteer work. Many thanks to Roseann and Fr. Bill Vos, to the Mission Office, and to Bishop John Kinney and the diocese for this very affirming gift! ¡Que Dios les bendiga a Ustedes! (May God bless all of you!).
The Mission Office (11 8th Ave. S., St Cloud), has also generously agreed to stock Salvadoran crafts in their mission store. There is an excellent selection of small items that would make perfect gifts-wooden and ceramic crosses, cloth and woven items, necklaces, knick-knacks, etc. Stop by the store. Encourage friends to go. Proceeds from crafts sales return to PAB's funds for projects in Tenancingo. If your school, church or community group would like to sponsor a crafts sale, please contact Bibi Tristani at 685-9850 or Lynn Engman at 253-0756.
Although it hasn't made much news in the States, since last spring there has been concern among members of the grass-roots and the opposition political parties in El Salvador about two U.S military programs that have military personnel on the ground in El Salvador. They are separate and different programs, but both betray an insensitivity to what US military presence-or any military presence-means to people who were hunted by their own military, with US assistance, for over 12 years.
The first program is called "New Horizons" and uses US troops to do "humanitarian projects, such as digging wells, putting up schools, another con-struc-tion projects. The U.S. involvement here, according to Kevin Johnson, an embassy "consultant" the delegation met in July, provides training for troops in how to accomplish a task in a strange area, quickly and efficiently. The US troops cannot use Salvadoran labor, for this would not accomplish their training objective. The US claims that many Salvadoran communities want these projects, but SHARE's Salvadoran partners point out that communities leery of such programs will tend to be those that were most damaged by the US-supported war of the 1980's. Thus, the US policy is to declare that "we're doing good," and if memories of US-manufactured and advised bombs and raids bother organized communities, too bad. Either get over it or lose out on the benefits! Ugly Americanism at its ugliest!
The second program is actually a counter-narcotics program. The US is building an Forward Operating Center at the Salvadoran National Airport, from which they will "monitor airspace and sea lanes" for suspected drug traffic. We were told there would be no US Military personnel stationed permanently in ES; hence, it's not really a base. However, other reports say that Americans will be stationed in the country, just not staying in official military housing. Again, the opposition claims that establishment of a foreign military operating center on Salvadoran soil appears to be a breach of national sovereignty that the government of El Salvador had no right to allow.
Please consider writing your legislators, including candidates for office, asking them to oppose such programs that do not respect the deep wounds felt by the former opposition in El Salvador, who often happen to be the poorest of the poor, and who suffered tremendously from US military aid in the 1980's. If you want more information, check the PAB web site: http://www.osb.org/pab/share/adv0009.html or contact Judy Alessio if you don't have electronic access.
The residents of Nuevo San José El Sitio turn out to wish the delegation farewell on a bright Friday morning. Delegates are, second from left in front, Kate Kamakahi, and fourth, seventh, and ninth from the left in back, Dennis Beach, Anne Malerich, and Dawn Schroeder. Judy Alessio is behind the camera. It's obvious why the community wants a child care center!
Amalia Flores de Paz, Regional Women's promoter; Narcisa Cortez, Sistering promoter and women's committee leader for the canton of Jiñuco, with delegates Dawn Schroeder and Judy Alessio outside Narcisa's temporary "champa" (it was still under construction) at the new housing development.
Partners Across Borders' newsletter is edited by Dennis Beach, OSB. It appears three times a year. Articles or ideas are welcome!
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