“They’re alone with their thoughts in the night, wondering
about the rumblings
from the volcano. They’re all awake, but they think they’re dreaming.”
--Manlio Argueta, A Place Called Milagro de la Paz (novel)
Volume X, Number 2: Fall 2002
In this Issue:
The line of women waiting to get in was long...and getting longer by the minute. There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air. The motions of the organizers were quick and decisive as they rushed about making last minute preparations.
We only had to stand in that out-stretched line underneath the hot sun for about 10 minutes before being ushered inside to the very first and second rows. We were honored guests at the most important event happening in the municipality of Tenancingo on that day. The new “Asociación de Mujeres Solidarias de Tenancingo” or “Tenancingo Women’s Solidarity Association” was being formalized--the constitution was being adopted and the executive officers were being voted upon. Before going to the event, several people told our group that this would be an important, "big" occasion. They were right. People had come from all over the municipality to be a part of this grand happening--an affair that turned out to be a wonderful mix of both business and celebration.
|Dancers entertain at the new women’s association meeting.|
I was struck by the manner in which the official business was conducted. The constitution was read in its entirety to everyone present. My guess was that the information was being passed on orally, probably because of the high illiteracy rate among people, especially women. I couldn’t help but compare this process to the U.S. where the constitution would most likely have been printed out for everyone to read and then be voted upon, perhaps even through the internet. Additionally, when it came time to vote, those women who were contending for an officer’s position came to the front of the room each holding up a colored piece of paper before them. The voters then voted for their choices of people (each voted for three) by color versus name. Again, it seemed to be a way for a culture to successfully work with its high rate of illiteracy. PAB delegates Jen Affeldt and Dennis Beach were invited to serve on the committee overseeing the election. In the end, Amalia Flores de Paz, a long-time community organizer, was voted in as President, while the two runners up took the offices of vice-president, treasurer and seats on the directive council of the new association.
meeting had an official agenda to complete, the gathering was steeped in an
atmosphere of celebration and success. There was much singing and dancing
intermixed amongst the official tasks. The dancers, a group of eight youth,
surprised us when they took our hands and asked us to partner with them during a
dance. People laughed and shouted and clapped their hands at the sight of us
attempting to dance the right rhythm and steps! We must have done an okay job
because as we were sitting back down, the emcee quipped, “And who said North
Americans can’t dance!”
As part of the ceremonies, PAB received a plaque thanking PAB for our support of women’s development. All in all, it was an exciting occasion for us to attend. And it was inspiring for us to bear witness to the success of so many women of Tenancingo!
It is said that to form an opinion of a person, one must first walk a mile in that person's shoes. After our ten day trip, I have formed a saying of my own: to get a true picture of El Salvador, one must walk alongside the Salvadorans. I had read stories of the bloody war in newspapers and seen images of Romero in movies, but it wasn’t until I conversed and visited museums with the people of Tenancingo that I began to understand the gravity and significance of their history.
Our delegation spent four days in Tenancingo meeting with the directives of the various communities and talking casually with children and adults we met. Whether expressing needs or sharing stories, the people of the Tenancingo area revealed themselves to be well organized, devoted, humble, and very gracious. We glimpsed the processes that lead to progress for women’s organizations. We saw the new housing developments that stand as a result of hard work following war and earthquakes. We experienced genuine sharing and hospitality in each place we visited. Our group was warmly welcomed upon arrival and when it came time to leave, we knew that our time in the communities was greatly appreciated.
Shortly after our return to San Salvador, we were reunited with ten of our new friends. SHARE had planned a meeting with our delegation and another from Visitation Parish in Kansas City, sistered with the the urban parish of María Madre de los Pobres. This changed our focus from the sister city to El Salvador as a whole. With blended groups of gringos and Salvadorans, we discussed the meaning of various items, from corn and an FMLN hat to soil and a pair of boxer shorts. I learned that objects I may take for granted hold great significance for El Salvador. The letters FMLN (Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) “represent the past and also the heroes of tomorrow.” The corn and land are symbols of life and struggle. “God gave us land that we may administrate it, not exploit it and others on it.” The underwear not only brought up the subject of sweatshops, but also led to comments on the ever-present culture of machismo.
|Salvadorans participating at the "dynamica" and workshop in San Salvador.|
In the afternoon, the entire group visited the UCA, the Jesuit university and scene of the brutal murders of six priests. First, we had a guided tour of the museum for the martyrs of El Salvador. More impressive than the exhibits themselves were the reactions of the Salvadorans upon seeing them. They surged toward the glass when the guide drew attention to a portrait of Romero which was shot up in the raids. They were respectfully silent as they viewed the clothing the six priests had been wearing the day they were slain. They lingered on the details of each display and I was so aware not only of the events, but also of the impact that the events had on the people of El Salvador. Later we had a chance to page through albums of photos taken the day of the murders. After seeing a couple of the bloody images, I had to look away; however, Consuelo, Marcelo, Raquel, and Fidel looked carefully at each one. I was struck with a difference between us. I turned my head and tried to spare myself from the truth of what happened. The people of El Salvador, who have lived through the days of the war and have worked to recover from it, were comforted that there was proof; that the brutality and gross violation of human rights was documented.
My experiences that day with the people of Tenancingo will never be forgotten. Side by side with the natives of El Salvador the newspaper articles, movie images, and museum exhibits were translated from mere objects into a vivid understanding of the violent history of the country, the integrity of the people, and the importance of solidarity among all of us.
Six people from the Saint Cloud area visited El Salvador and Tenancingo this past July 16-26, the tenth PAB delegation to visit in the past eleven years. Brother Dennis Beach, OSB, of Saint John’s Abbey led the delegation, his fifth. Jen Affeldt, Spanish teacher at Saint Cloud Tech High School joined the delegation and served as chief translator. Thanks to Jen and thanks also to the Spanish Club at Tech for their generous donation to the cause of education in Tenancingo!
Delegation up a tree! The 2002 PAB delegation taks a perch in a huge guanacaste tree in the city of Tecoluca. Left to right: Nicole, Dennis (peeking past Nicole’s shoulder) Carla, Dirck (seated on ladder), Dave Johnson (1999 PAB delegate and SHARE Grass Roots/Sistering Team) Jen, and Malarie. Tecoluca, the site of this picture, was virtually destroyed in the 2001 earthquake. Delegates visited the municipality to view first-hand a success story for effective local organizing
The other four delegates were: Carla Durand of Cold Spring. Carla is the Social Justice coordinator for Campus Ministry at the College of Saint Benedict, and PAB thanks CSB for their generosity in partially funding Carla’s trip. This helped make it possible for Carla’s soon-to-be-step-daughter, Malarie Demarais, to join the delegation! Malarie, 15, is entering her sophomore year at Rocori High School. Also participating were Dirck Curry, a physician at the VA hospital and Divinity/Deaconate student at St. John’s School of Theology, and Nicole Curry, Dirck’s older daughter. Nicole is 16 and a student at Sartell High School. With them we also thank the parish community of St. Francis Xavier in Sartell for their generous support of the 10th PAB delegation. St. Francis helped collect school, medical, and sewing supplies to take to Tenancingo, and hosted the packing party in July. Dirck’s daughters’ soccer team also donated soccer equipment for youth in Tenancingo. Great job to all who helped and participated! Hope to see you with us next summer!
When I went on this trip I encountered a lot of things I never thought I would see. For instance the kids in El Salvador were such a huge influence in my trip. They never looked at what they didn’t have, and I always saw them with their open hearts and their learning minds. They were always cheerful and playing like there wasn’t a worry in the world. They touched my heart and now I hope when you read what I write that they will touch yours also!
(I wrote this to express what my feelings were about the delegation I was on this past summer. Malarie)
Educational institutions in Tenancingo are making great strides at many levels. Although the delegation had a very short time to visit the schools, we received impressive reports and saw the results of careful planning in many places. primary among these are the grade school and high school in Tenancingo itself, but we saw that two of the smallest communities had been able to start new initiatives: Irioma opened a pre-school and first-grade program that will expand and allow younger children to begin their education without having to make the breathtaking (figuratively and literally) hike down to Rosario Tablón. Nuevo San José El Sitio opened a pre-school and child care facility that the community has been organizing to promote for some two years. And the Canton of El Pepeto was preparing to move its small grade school into a new facility (opening the week after we visited).
None of these wonderful accomplishments are really finished projects. Both schools in Tenancingo itself gave the delegation proposals for funding of new projects, and consideration and development of these requests will take place over the next several months.. Following are some highlights of both their accomplishments and plans.
The partitions and tables in the computer lab constructed with last year’s PAB donation at the Tenancingo High School.
At the Instituto Nacional, (the high school), Professor Verónica Elizabeth Mejía de De Paz has taken over as director, since Don Tito Peréz, who suffered a debilitating stroke last year, is not able to continue. Doña Veronica and another new professor, Pedro Benigno Peña Díaz, oversaw the expenditure of funds donated by PAB last year and presented an outstanding report of their work. They said they were very nervous because the knew Don Tito had worked very closely with us and had earned our trust and they wanted to prove themselves worthy of the same. Without a doubt, they impressed the delegation quite a bit! With the nearly $1200 given last year, they assisted three needy students with tuition, constructed and installed partitions and new tables for the computing /typing lab, and reserved $350 for the construction of a retaining wall to contain soil erosion (to be completed after the rains stop in October).
The next priorities they see include continued tuition assistance, repair or replacement of typewriters and computers, purchase of recording boom-boxes for language instruction, and, most importantly, the construction of a multi-use space that can house additional classrooms as well as all-school assemblies. Next January (2003), a new 3rd year program for students on the technical track will be launched, and the two classrooms the school has currently are already used. There are 45 first-year students in one classroom and projected to be as many next year. 25 students are now in the second year, many of whom would like to continue to the third year. In addition, some former graduates could come back to do the previously unavailable third year technical studies. While PAB probably cannot and should not finance the complete project of building expansion (this is the Ministry of Education’s responsibility), it’s nice to know the school has strong and visionary leadership.
The Tenancingo Elementary School also presented plans it has elaborated, in which it listed the following priorities for future development:
Reconstruction and enclosure of the “septic tanks”;
Development of the Computer Center and typewriters;
Equipping the student library;
Construction of a kitchen;
Remodeling of the auditorium;
Enclosing the sports courts.
Again, such projects cannot all be taken on completely by PAB, but it certainly is possible for us to select from the list a priority we would like to support and do some fund-raising and organizing around it. In fact, since both schools and the grassroots municipal development council have mentioned the need for typewriters and the desire to make some further inroads into the computer age, donations of used but still serviceable computer equipment would be a great project for folks to organize around.
Since the high school already has PC-style
computers, it would be best to stay with these. It is also best not to have
something too old, as Spanish-language software will have to be installed on it,
and the older a machine is, the quicker it will be completely obsolete. Right
now it looks like the schools could use PC-style machines that could run Windows
98 software. Fund-raising could help upgrade some donated machines as well as
pay for transportation. Local businesses and schools might be willing to donate
machines being replaced by newer models.
In other areas, San José El Sitio is trying to finance a lunch program for their pre-school and day-care center. They say it will cost between $3-4 a day, and it seems this will provide food for all 25 children in their care! Since other organizations helped them with funds to build the center, they are out of options for assistance and are turning to PAB for help.
These are just some ideas. If anyone is interested in working on these projects, contact Br. Dennis Beach by e-mail: <email@example.com>. While I will be on sabbatical in Chicago all year, I can put those interested in touch with one another and let them work on the project. Let’s DO it!
Many people wonder just what we’re talking about when we talk in PAB about the “community” of Tenancingo. It’s a good question and like many good questions, does not have a simple answer. Here’s a little background on the relevant political geography.
Municipality: This is the official, legal designation for any city or town that has a mayor’s office and that operates as a kind of regional center. Some municipalities cover many square miles in which are scattered many different villages and communities. The municipality is the official jurisdiction for things like national elections and federal aid. Tenancingo is thus an official “municipality” encompassing many communities, as well as the town center (in Spanish, the casco urbano or “urban skull” of the municipality!) in this way, a municipality is almost like a mini-county.
Canton: A small village or hamlet that is part of a larger municipality. Rarely are these contiguous to town, and many are a good hike or even bus ride plus hike away. There are officially 13 cantones plus the “town center” and the new “colonia” that form the Municipality of Tenancingo. Rosario Perico, El Pepeto, Jiñuco, and Corral Viejo are among the cantones that PAB has as “sisters.” The largest, Corral Viejo, Jiñuco, and El Pepeto, number between 40 and 75 families.
Caserio: an even smaller hamlet that is a sub-division of a canton. Since mayor’s offices coordinate their activities and projects through the cantones of the municipality, caserios usually must work through the local canton, although some have developed a good deal of independence in organization and planning. Nueva San José El Sito and Irioma are caserios belonging to the cantones of Jiñuco and Rosario Tablón, respectively. We are unsure whether Hacienda Nueva is classified as a canton in itself or if it is a caserio attached also to Jiñuco.
Colonia: While a dictionary would tell you that a colonia is a “colony” and be right, the word most often refers to any residential area, what we usually call a sub-division or housing development. The new and only colonia in Tenancingo is “Tenancingo Gardens” (see article).
Cantones, Caserios and Colonias and some Parishes can all legitimately be referred to as “Communities.”
Department: Officially, the “Departments” of El Salvador are the regions into which the country as a whole is divided. There are 14 of them, and they have varying numbers of legislators elected depending on their population. In this way, they are like our “states” but keep in mind that all of El Salvador is the size of Massachusetts. Thus, in size, they may be more like mega-counties, with municipalities forming the mini-counties within them.
This was the way PAB delegates saw the new housing development in July of 2000, when applicants were first issued temporary building materials by the mayor’s office. To apply for federal housing assistance, the mayor’s office needed to demonstrate need, and having people living in tin shacks is the accepted demonstration.
Here are the houses in the “Gardens of Tenancingo” in July of 2002, nearly completed thanks to persistence on the part of the mayor’s office and the people’s undaunted spirit. While the “gardens” have yet to appear, the “colonia” or housing development is there!
The Assembly of the Gardens of Tenancingo present PAB with a plaque for our help, using the sound system we financed for them last year to do the presentation!
Tenancingo faithful once again have a temple in which to worship God on Sundays and from which to coordinate their ministry to all the people of God in town and the surrounding communities. While the earthquake of January, 2001, left most of the buildings located in the Tenancingo area intact (there was damage to some homes), the February encore left the colonial church building in the center of town damaged beyond the safety threshold for continued use.
Tenancingo's "provisional" church in use on Palm Sunday, March 24, 2002. All the labor to build the church was contributed by parishioners and supporters.
Although the damage to the old church is officially repairable, such work was not among the priorities facing the country after the devastating earthquakes, which left nearly one million people temporarily homeless. under the leadership of Padre Joaquín Melendez, the pastor since late 1997, the parish undertook a study of the possibilities of repairing the structure, while they continued to have weekly services in the inadequate parish hall, designed for meetings of at most 100 people. However, this study showed that simply preliminary work for repairs would consume far more than what they could hope to raise. So instead, they set about looking at the possibility of a “provisional” structure. The land across the main street from the church and adjacent to the rectory had once housed a convent, abandoned before the war and destroyed during it. On this plot the people designed and built a cinder-block structure capable of holding even a second floor, should this ever become desirable. The overall budget for the building, about $22,000.00, was still not attainable, but they began where they could, with a few donations and the volunteer labor of countless hands. Madre Yvonne, a Belgian religious sister who has been working in the town since the wartime, donated the seed-money, and people came forward with their mite here, their mite there.
In the end, the people of Tenancingo squeezed from their tortilla-and-bean savings enough money for basic materials, and with their contributed labor, they raised a provisional structure which was inaugurated on Palm Sunday (March 24), 2002, the 22nd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero. The accompanying picture, taken that Sunday, came with a report to Br. Dennis Beach, who forwarded it to Rosanne Fischer and Fr. Bill Vos of the Mission Office of the Docese of Saint Cloud. Back in Jul of 2001, after the initial evaluations of damage were in, Rosanne and Bill had convinced the diocesan council to set aside some funds to assist rebuilding Tenancingo’s church, if a plan and a budget could be worked out.
Luckily, Dennis’s return from Nicaragua and Costa Rica came just before Rosanne was scheduled to leave on a visit to mission sites supported by the diocese, and, inspired by the dedication and faith of the people of Tenancingo. wheels turned quickly. St. Cloud Mission Office donated the $5,500.00 remaining to be raised so that doors, windows, and other hardware necessary to secure the building could be installed, ad Rosanne brought the check down to an unsuspecting Padre Joaquin in early June.
Although the basic structure had been finished, the lack of security prevented it from being used except on special occasions, like Holy Week. When the PAB delegation met with Padre Joaquín a few weeks later, in July, he said that the faith of Saint Cloud was a real inspiration to all of them there. We said that whatever inspiration we gave was merely a reflection of the faith they inspired in us. It is a true lesson in gospel solidarity: people of faith come together, and everyone’s faith grows by leaps and bounds! And the kingdom of God grows wider, happier, more confirmed in its vision of justice!
SHARE, the foundation that makes much of Partners Across Borders’ work possible, adopted a new 5 year plan at a January Board meeting. The is considered the “road map” to help SHARE walk with the Salvadoran people in support of its mission: “To serve and support the empowerment of poor historically marginalized Salvadoran communities in their struggle to meet their immediate needs, as well as to build sustainable long-term solutions to the problems of poverty, underdevelopment, and social injustice.”
This mission is an ambitious one, and the work of the plan is to map out how SHARE, with PAB and other US sister parishes and supporters accompanying them, can best fulfill this mission. Those means SHARE judged to be most important were the following: “empowering civil society, especially women, and strengthening sustainable development alternatives.” Of course, this is still only the broad outlines of the plan, which will develop many components as it is implemented over the next five years. But no matter what concrete plans take shape, they will be guided by these focusing themes: Women’s Development, Citizen Participation, and Leadership Development.
What the plan attempts to do is focus on what might be called “human capital,” that is the poor and traditionally marginalized people themselves, empowering them to take charge of their own future, however that evolves. They are the ones, especially the young, who will face this future and build their lives in it, and they are the ones who should be empowered to do so with confidence and sufficient support to be successful.
One ramification of this plan is that SHARE is no longer working with community-based projects such as corn grinders, land purchase, or sewing projects. Instead, projects will have a regional focus, to help develop better networking and common opportunities in the countryside. It also prevents the phenomenon of one community having a benefactor who seems to supply all their material needs, which makes a neighboring community think not of self-development, but of finding their own benefactor and waiting passively for help from outside.
PAB will still help the Tenancingo area with material needs, but we’ll have to make sure projects are manageable and have adequate supervision locally. But examples like the sound system for the new housing development and even the earthquake housing reconstruction overseen by CORDES, another Salvadoran non-governmental organization, are certainly possible. And the schools have demonstrated a level of initiative and independence that makes projects they manage seem to work very well.
So we’ll still be accompanying the people of Tenancingo, and still be fund-raising, but now we’ll add in projects on the regional level in which Tenancingo is already participating!
José Luis Pineda, far right, chats with Tara from the SHARE office in El Salvador and Romeo Duarte, still PAB’s ever-faithful driver last July in Tenancingo.
José Luis Pineda, president of the Community Council of Nuevo San José El Sitio and one of the team of promoters working with the Tenancingo micro-region, will visit the Saint Cloud area from Tuesday, October 1 until Sunday, October 6. José will also participate in the SHARE National Gathering in Washington DC from September 27-30th. A meeting is planned on Tuesday afternoon, October 1, at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell that is open to all PAB members and supporters. José Luis (“Chepe Luis”) will talk of the plans and projections of the new promoters team, the re-organization of the grassroots Municipal Development Council, and other items of interest.
If you are interested in helping with events this week, whether as a driver, a translator or as a participant, or if you have ideas you want included, contact Rosanne Fischer at the Mission Office: 251-1100. We are currently looking for a driver to take José Luis down to a very early flight on Monday, October 7. If you’re a morning person, sign up!
PAB delegation at lunch in the “local” building in Tenancingo. Recent negotiations, with PAB financial help, finally succeeded in securing the title to the local. It will be managed by CORDES for the communities until their legal status as an organization is firm.
Jose Luis Pineda of Nuevo San José El Sitio, Tenancingo, will visit the Saint Cloud Area on October 1-6, after the SHARE National Gathering in Washington, DC. José will meet with all interested PAB folks on Tuesday, October 1st, at 4 PM, at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. Call Rosanne Fischer (251-1100) or S. Anne Malerich, OSB (251-2225) for more information. Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also need drivers and translators for October 1-6. Call or e-mail Rosanne at the numbers given.
Partners Across Borders' Newsletter is edited
by Dennis Beach, OSB. It normally appears three times a year: Winter,
Spring/Summer, and Fall. Contributions are welcome! Help in editing and
doing layout for the remaining issues in 2002-03 is needed! Contact email@example.com for information.