"HOW IT DELIGHTS ME IN HUMBLE VILLAGES WHEN THE PEOPLE
AND THE CHILDREN COME CROWDING AROUND
. THEY COME WITH TRUST BECAUSE THEY KNOW YOU
ARE BRINGING THEM GOD'S MESSAGE."
--Archbishop Oscar Romero
Volume VII, Number 3: Fall 1999
In this Issue:
These words, spoken by Archbishop Oscar Romero, kept ringing through my head as I lived my experienced in Tenancingo this past summer. I recall my feelings of elation the first day thinking, "What a great opportunity for me to experience social justice in action by actually living with the people." As the days wore on, I remember thinking how thankful I would be for clean, running water, electricity, and sanitary living conditions all under one roof. In one moment of despair, I sought out the solitude of an unused doorway off the main street and wept in frustration over the conditions these people lived in. I remember thinking that pets in the U.S. live in better conditions and have more protection over their lives than these beautiful people in these remote villages. Knowing the history of the country and the politics, I couldn't help but wonder if any progress could be made in their lifetimes. It was at that moment that I realized that I could choose to be frustrated or hold fast with all my mental and spiritual energy to hope.
San Salvador is a filthy city located in natural beauty. The streets are clogged with cars, people, and garbage. I found myself having to cover my mouth to filter out the choking thickness of exhaust from all the automobiles. One late afternoon, we could hardly make it through the traffic for all the people pouring out of the sweatshop factories and loading onto buses that would take them back to their rural homes. These sweatshop workers leave their children and their towns, commute via unpredictable public transportation to jobs that exploit their labor, demanding long hours while paying low wages, and no benefits.
Trying to farm or create a way of life in their own economically depressed towns is no longer an option in this politically tumultuous and irresponsible country in which they live. I can't imagine more people trying to make a way of life in this city. That is one of the reasons why rural development for this country is essential to its future well being. These people don't want to move to the city. They love living in the country and producing from the land. The communities we worked with want basic human rights and want to meet basic human needs. What a sad statement that these beautiful people can take nothing for granted (including life) in a country whose political system will go to extreme measures to perpetuate the rich and oppress the poor. And, of course, the U.S. is responsible for supporting the conservative governments in protecting their own business interests of cheap, exported labor.
There were four critical areas that I heard the communities comment on. These are basic human needs, not frivolous wants for a better life, but things that would allow them to live in this world as full and healthy people with hope for their future.
- Arable land for farming.
- Equipment and seeds.
- Roads for access.
- Access to education-adequate numbers of teachers in the communities.
- Curriculum that relates to and promotes rural life.
- Federally funded education, kindergarten though high school.
- Federally funded nutritious food program.
- Literacy program for adults.
- Latrines for all towns.
- Educational campaign for proper disposal of garbage.
- Access to clean water located directly in the hamlets in which they live.
- Proper sanitation and nutrition to cut down on respiratory diseases and parasite infestations of the rural youth.
- Domestic violence awareness training for men and women.
- Access to medicine that is affordable.
- Eyeglasses so that adults can see properly, thus enabling literacy instruction.
This trip did exactly what I hoped it would. It fanned the embers inside me on issues of social justice for the oppressed. It recommitted me to the language and culture of these rich and beautiful people, and it inspired me to action in a way I have not been moved before. My prayers flow so fervently now for the people of Tenancingo and the majority of the world who live like they do. I pray for political leaders that they may have the conversion of heart to lead in an ethical way that promotes the common good, rather than self-interest. I also pray for people like those in my delegation that we can have the courage and commitment to sustain the energy to increase awareness and action on meeting these needs.
I see myself now as a true partner. A partner who reaches across borders and takes the dirty, but precious, hand of an innocent child caught in this circle of oppression. She teaches me with great gusto and joy how to sing the Lord's Prayer in Spanish. More importantly, she teaches me to believe, to have faith no matter what we face. In return, my delegation and I represent hope for her future because there is a whole movement of us that do care and that will commit to trying to make a more peaceful and healthy future for her. It is just as Archbishop Oscar Romero says, "Among these ruins shines the Glory of the Lord."
Above: Delegate Mary Geller with children in Corral Viejo.
Below: Mary Geller walking with Orbelina Ardon's family in Corral Viejo.
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by Dennis Beach, OSB
Partners Across Borders' mission is to accompany the people of the communities of Tenancingo, in solidarity with them as they struggle to develop viable communities where they can live with dignity and hope. What is important about the work of accompanying is that it recognizes the self-respect of the people we are helping. It tries hard not to assume that we from outside know what is best. Our commitment to solidarity calls us to stand behind and support the initiatives of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters. Yet both of these ideals are often harder to embrace in practice than they are in principle.
This lesson seems to be one that the delegates who visit Tenancingo each year must learn: it's hard to witness problems and struggles and not step in to say what you think ought to be done, let alone how you think it ought to be done. Happily, the other lesson that delegates inevitably learn is the wonderful humanity and generosity of spirit possessed by these brothers and sisters whom we have promised to walk alongside and stand shoulder to shoulder with as they work towards justice for themselves, their families and their country. They are indeed wonderful people, in whom we must believe.
The 1999 PAB delegation poses in front of the Tenancingo sign. From left to right, back row: Mary Geller, Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Felix Tristani, Marilou Sommers, Barb Thomas, S. Jocile Robinson, OSB, Romeo Duarte (driver); front: Bill Kelly, Dave Johnson, Dennis Beach, OSB. The photographer was Kate Lorenzen of SHARE.
|Dave Johnson, a twin himself, poses with twins from Rosario Perico whom he instructed in the arts of frisbee throwing.|
Following the recommendation from last year, we decided to visit only four of the smaller communities surrounding Tenancingo with whom we have established sistering relationships. This afforded us more time to spend visiting each community, although it often still felt as if we were just getting to know people as we prepared to leave.
Our first visit was to the hamlet of Rosario Perico, reached by a long hike through beautiful countryside, including crossing the famous high bridge that was in good shape since its repair last year. The hamlet must still haul its water up from a holding tank near the bridge, but at least now it's a new one, constructed through a Salvadoran NGO. The lack of piping and power to pump water up the hill-difficult to install for such a small community in such a remote area-means they will probably have to live with the situation for some time to come.
However, what the community of Rosario Perico was most grateful for is the generator-powered corn grinder that was purchased and installed with funding help from PAB. We were able to see firsthand how much time this simple device freed up, especially for the women, who are now are to give more attention to caring for family or even pursuing such "luxuries" as reading lessons for themselves. The women in the delegation met with the women's committee and reported that this also helped reduce tensions within the family that, sadly, sometimes results in domestic violence. Such a report confirmed the need for this year's campaign by CRIPDES (a key grassroots rural development organization) to combat violence against women. We were happy to see CRIPDES posters promoting this campaign displayed in Rosario Perico and other communities.
The second community we visited was Irioma, a somewhat shorter but just as difficult hike. We were gratified to see the new bridge across the river where a child had drowned the previous year on the way to school during the rainy season. This bridge was one of several projects accomplished in the past year by Tenancingo's FMLN mayor, Amado Lopez.
Irioma is a very poor hamlet that survived the civil war by almost disappearing from view. Unlike other hamlets, it apparently was neither a center of political resistance nor of the liberating social gospel championed by Archbishop Romero and his successor, Rivera y Damas. Now it seems animated more by an old-fashioned religious spirit rather than an understanding of how to promote community development. It was frustrating when the community president took up most of our visiting time delivering an impassioned but irrelevant sermon. As a consequence, we felt this was the community we connected with on the personal level the least.
Despite having neither potable water nor latrines, the community has requested and received a government electrification project that has brought electric power to less than half of its 17 families. Now they received approval from the Tenancingo council of Presidents (who must approve projects funded by PAB) to purchase an electric corn grinder, which is much cheaper than a fuel-powered generator model. This year's delegation again questioned the priority of a corn grinder over their expressed dire need of water and sanitation, not to mention the lack of both a primary school for young children and gainful employment for adults. It sometimes seems that they are willing to take what they can get instead of working towards what they need. However, here is a situation where we rely on the critique and guidance given by the presidents' council, SHARE, CRIPDES and other Salvadoran organizations.
We returned from Irioma in time to visit the schools in Tenancingo, both the Instituto Nacional (high school) and the grade school, both of which will benefit from the library books that a gift to PAB helped pay for in the past year. At the Instituto, we heard again the difficulties in getting government support for a building of their own. After last year's delegation mediated a meeting with the Ministry of Education, there was an initial inspection, but no follow up. Later, we took up the Instituto cause with the highest-ranking FMLN legislator, Norma Guevara, and received a promise she will help them lobby for special funding. The mayor's office also reported that they were prepared to help find land and funds to help solve the problem. PAB will report on the progress of these options in the coming year. We did present the money donated to Partners for the Instituto (see picture), and Don Tito Pérez Cárcamo, the director, expressed sincere gratitude that we remember them, even if their own government doesn't.
Br. Dennis Beach presents a check to Don Tito Pérez, Director of the Instituto, on behalf of PAB as fellow delegates Vera Eccarius- Kelly and Mary Geller look on.
At the Grade School, the highlight was a late afternoon soccer match arranged by Bill Kelly and Dave Johnson, soccer coaches for the College of St. Benedict. Since they coach women, Bill and Dave wanted to play with the girls of the school, and were surprised when the school principal cleared the field of all the boys and turned it over to an equally-surprised contingent of girls. Halfway through the game, the skies opened up and poured rain, but this didn't dampen the spirits of the players (or coaches!)
|The damp but undaunted soccer players pose in Tenancingo.|
The third of the outlying communities we visited was Corral Viejo, also in its second year in the sistering relation. Here the community organization that has joined the association is the women's group, which continued to impress the delegates with their determination and organization, but especially with their warmth and friendship. The leaders, Marta Julia Menjivar and Orbelina Carmen Ardon, presented a very clear plan for promoting the Organization of Women, including developing a fund for small enterprises, expanding their sewing project and herb garden for making soaps and herbal cosmetics and medicines. They are also actively promoting literacy, leadership and human and women's rights training for the women in the community. One concern for future planning is developing projects for youth, especially since a new bar opened in town seems to be exacerbating drinking problems. (It should be mentioned that Corral Viejo is right on the main road to Tenancingo, and so is more accessible, both to problems and solutions).
The final community we visited was El Pepeto, where our attention was divided between the community's meeting and its soccer matches going on in the field behind us. (By this time, our attention was also divided between our task of being present to our Salvadoran hosts and concern for members of our group who had taken ill.) One thing that anyone who has visited El Pepeto knows is that it is a community that loves music, and we were treated to a beautiful chorus of songs and hymns. One especially beautiful song was called "Todo Cambia" ("Everything Changes") in which, after a litany of the changes and instabilities we all experience in life, the singer proclaims that what doesn't change is "my love for you."
While we met with the leadership council and heard them apologize that they have not yet been successful in obtaining a refund of the down payment on some land that PAB funded two years ago, the highlight of the evening was almost the whole community-young and old-turning out to watch a CNN videotape furnished by our driver, Romeo Duarte, on the bombing of Tenancingo by government forces in 1983. I asked one of the women if it wasn't hard to watch the tape, and she replied simply, "Así fue" ("That's how it was").
|The community of El Pepeto watches the video on the bombing of Tenancingo. El Pepeto just received electrical power in the past year.|
The priority of the community council is to develop projects for the youth in order to provide alternatives to gangs and a means of income as well as to teach a sense of responsibility for the youth. It also seemed to us that the community needs to develop opportunities for women, whose sewing shop was closed during the past year, and who lack a voice on the community council.
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Thank you to those of you who returned library materials this past spring. There are some items still out. Please check the following titles to see if you might have one of them. All materials should be returned to Judy Alessio or brought to the October PAB meeting. If you have questions, please call Jan Haarman at 251-2306.
The following magazines were given to people by S. Anne but without recording names or dates. Please check to see if you might have one.
We have a list of all the media in the PAB Library. If you would like a copy, call Jan at the above number. One new item is A Question of Conscience, a video about the murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. Thank you for your help in locating the books and magazines currently signed out.
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While Hurricane Floyd and the earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan have dominated recent disaster news, Honduras and El Salvador have been hit by weather no less disastrous to the people living there. Heavy rains on land already saturated by Hurricane Mitch have caused severe flooding in the Lower Lempa River area of El Salvador. At least 8 people have died in El Salvador (53 in all Central America*), and hundred of families are still evacuated, living in makeshift shelters.
The SHARE Foundation has been very active in this region, which is home to many poor campesinos who regularly find themselves at the mercy of the operators of the electrical dam upriver. When richer landowners controlled the area, they and the government maintained dikes and levees that minimized flood damage. Now that the poor live there, the dikes have fallen into disrepair, and the government says it has no money to restore them.
SHARE is maintaining reports on their web site: http://www.share-elsalvador.org. Contributions for aid can be sent to SHARE/Relief and Reconstruction, 995 Market St., Suite 1400, San Francisco, CA 94103.
See the special PAB page on Flood Reports.
*Erroneously reported as 14 dead in El Salvador in the printed newsletter; at the time (9/25), there were 14 dead in the entire region.
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Tenancingo sends you thanks! Contributions in the past year helped us buy school supplies and bring them to Tenancingo. Monetary donations for the health fund, travel and leadership training fund, and to pay off the debt for the library books were distributed to the communities. In addition, all the material donationssports equipment, toys, cloth for sewing, medical and household items, are in very happy hands. Glasses were taken to Maria Madre de los Pobres--see report in the next issue. Muchas Gracias to everybody for your generosity! We take you to Tenancingo with us!
Your Help Is Needed! We need help in planning the annual fundraiser that makes it possible for us to provide material assistance to Tenancingo. If you are willing to help, please call Tamala Rentz at 259-1822 or Judy Alessio at 252-9520.
Help arrange PAB Presentations or Crafts Sales! Arrange for PAB to come to speak to your class, your church committee or social group. Or arrange a PAB crafts sale at your church, school or community center. It's one of the best ways for us to spread the word about who we are and what we do. For crafts, call Bibi Tristani at 685-9580 or Lynn Engman at 253-0756; for speakers, call Judy Alessio at 252-9250.
Think NOW about being a delegate to Tenancingo in 2000! Delegations are the heart and soul of our work, for they allow us not only to contribute to, but to accompany our friends' struggle for justice. If you've gone before, why not go again? The Salvadorans love it when friends return!
Regional SHARE Sister Parish Meeting in Kansas City. Join others from PAB in Kansas City to share ideas with other sister communities in the Midwest.
SHARE 1999-2000 delegations. Our coordinating organization in El Salvador, the SHARE Foundation, is sponsoring a series of delegations this year to commemorate the Salvadoran martyrs. For more information, click here: SHARE delegations or call 363-2997.
PAB web site: http://www.osb.org/pab. Check it out for advocacy updates and other news.
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PARK SQUARE THEATER
PARTNERS ACROSS BORDERS: MY RESPONSE
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