Volume VIII, Number 1: Winter 2000
In this Issue:
Icon of Oscar Romero of El Salvador painted by Robert Lentz. Available from Natural Bridges: http://www.natural-bridges.com or (800) 699-4482. Copyright Robert Lentz.
March 24 is a red-letter day for
Salvadorans, and this year it will be marked with special attention, but not simply
because it's the first one of the millenium. Twenty years ago on this day, a Monday
afternoon, Archbishop Romero celebrated mass in the small chapel at the cancer hospital of
Divina Providencia, where the sisters had given him a small, humble apartment. Just after
Archbishop Romero had finished his sermon, he spread his hands for the next prayer, almost
as if framing the strong heart that would be the marksman's target. A shot rang out, fired
from a military jeep that had crept up unnoticed outside the open front doors--it is hot
in March in El Salvador. Romero hunched foward slightly on the impact, then collapsed
backward, his heart literally exploded by the single mushrooming bullet. A red letter day
indeed. A martyr's day.
As tragic as such an event remains, it is marked by Salvadorans as a red letter day in another sense. The famous quotation that headlines this article has proven not an idle boast, but prophetic. The powers that were (and that in many ways still are) in control of El Salvador thought that they could silence this voice of calling their crimes out in the street and from the pulpit. (No one was ever tried or convicted of the murder, although no one doubts either that members of the government party, the military and their death squads authored it.) But when one travels to El Salvador today, one's sees and hears Romero's words again and again. They show up again and again on posters and banners because they live, as he said, in the heats of his people.
In March, a group of 15 students and faculty from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University will join the SHARE Foundation and countless Salvadorans to commemorate and celebrate this anniversary. The group will represent not only the colleges, but the St. Cloud area and PAB (Dennis Beach and Dave Johnson, two of last year's delegates, are leading the group). With a little luck, the group will make it to Tenancingo to visit the schools and meet with youth. Why not invite your congregation to mark Friday, March 24th, as a day of prayer for peace, economic opportunity and human dignity for the people of El Salvador?
When Dave Johnson and I arrived in Tenancingo with the Partners Across Borders delegation and introduced ourselves as coaches for the College of St. Benedict womens soccer team, word got around quickly. Shortly after the introductions, a bright, outgoing young lady wearing a Tenancingo grade school uniform came right up to the two coaches and introduced herself. "My name is Orbelina," she said with a broad smile as Dave listened and translated, "I am one of the captains of the school team and I want to know when you can come train with our team."
Orbelina knew that the delegates would be planning a busy week visiting various communities around Tenancingo, and she made it clear that she expected us to make time for her soccer team. Her friendly, assertive nature impressed us, and we agreed to spend part of one afternoon exclusively with the girls grade school team. Orbelina insisted on immediately establishing the exact time and place for a match involving just the girls, and let us know that it was a very important occasion. She talked excitedly about her passion for soccer, laughing nervously as she answered Daves questions about what position she played. "Striker," she said proudly, "I am one of the best players." Dave asked if she scored goals. "Of course!" she answered emphatically, "I score goals every game!"
Orbelina spoke passionately about how much she loved to play, despite the fact that the girls had only one tattered old soccer ball and not enough uniforms, and again she wanted confirmation that we would honor our commitment to come for the proposed match. She needed a lot of reassuranceas if shed been disappointed by empty promises in the past. Every day she sought out the two of us and each time she asked again if we were going to be thereThursday, 4:00, at the grade school field. "íSi, si!" Dave always answered enthusiastically, "We will be there!"
An hour before the appointed time of the match, Orbelina came and found us as we were finishing up a talk with a city official. "I thought Id walk with you to the field," said Orbelina with smile, her eyes shining brightly. She was wearing her soccer shorts and uniform, and tennis shoes. As the three of us walked down the streets of Tenancingo, Orbelina carried the brand new soccer ball that was one of 20 new balls being given to the communities by the St. Bens womens soccer team. The Blazers donated funds to purchase the balls, and stipulated that the girls team should be assured of receiving the same number of soccer balls as the boys team. As we walked conspicuously down the street to the grade school, Orbelina waved proudly to her neighbors. "We are playing soccer at the school," she announced to them. Then she turned to Dave and solemnly asked, "You are not going to let the boys take over, are you? This match is going to be just for the girls, right?" "íSi, si!" Dave replied, and tried to reassure her that this was a very special occasion for the girls of Tenancingo, and that the women of St. Benedicts soccer team definitely wanted it that way.
When we arrived at the field, men and boys were playing small-sided games everywhere. The entire field was being used. Suddenly, a teacher appeared and blew her whistle, instructing everyone to clear the field because a girls match had been scheduled. All at once, twenty girls came out of nowhere and congregated around us, laughing excitedly as they tried to separate into teams. The men and boys seemed bewildered, but did as they were told and soon the field was set up with two teams of girlseach team with a gringo coach!
The match began, and we heard the men and boys begin cheering as they watched Orbelina dribble magically through the defense and score a spectacular goal in the second minute with a low rocket of a shot to the far post. We kicked off again and the pace was fast and furious. For twenty minutes the girls played their hearts out to the now roaring approval of the men and boys surrounding the fieldsomething none of the girls had ever experienced in their lives. Orbelina scored again, this time on a high shot from outside the penalty area. The other team struck back to make it 2-1, but Orbelina was having a career day and notched a third goal off a cross from the right wing.
|In a less muddy scenario, Bill, Orbelina,
another girl from the team and Dave pose with one of the pelotas (soccer balls) donated by
the College of Saint Benedict Soccer Team.
Suddenly it began to rain; hard, and then with torrential force, but we kept playing. Low spots in the field became puddles and then ponds, but there was no stopping the girls. All the fans ran home, but the match continued. Players slid about the field, sometimes completely disappearing under the spray of mud and water. The ball would stop unexpectedly and players collided and slipped comically. It was impossible to pass or dribble effectively, but the players continued undeterred in their enthusiasm, laughing and screaming in delight as the ball slithered unpredictably up and down the field and everyone was drenched and exhausted.
We lost track of the score. It didnt matter anymore. The pure joy and pleasure of playing and having fun came to dominate the event. We played until fatigue and the depth of standing water determined that it was time to go home. After high-fives all around all the girls set off down the streets that had become rivers. Orbelina walked with us as we headed back to our headquarters. She beamed as Dave told her how impressed we both were with her talent. "They cheered for us!" she said excitedly, "we played well, but we need to play more."
Orbelina hesitated, then asked if her team could keep the game ball. We assured her that the girls team would soon be receiving some soccer balls and that we were going to tell the school and city officials that the balls were not to be taken away and given to the boys or any other teams. "Good," she said, "the boys will have theirs and now we will have ours. But are you sure they will know that?" "íSi, si!" said Dave, and we all started laughing.
We stopped for photos to commemorate the soggy event, and then Orbelina thanked us and jogged home in the rain. Dave and I suspected the match would become legendary in Tenancingo folklore, it was memorable in so many waysbut we agreed that never in our soccer careers had we experienced such pure joy in simply playing the game. It was a gift to us we will treasure always.
Have you ever thought, as you read stories of previous delegates, that this could be something memorable, the chance of a lifetime? Well you're right! And then have you thought, "Maybe next year?" or "I couldn't do it" or "I don't know Spanish"? The rosters of past delegations are filled with others who entertained the same thoughts. What they discovered is that "next year" can become "this year" if you make it happen! They found that they could do it, for the real stresses are far outweighed by the wonderful rewards. They learned that, while there's certainly a need for some delegates fluent enough to track every syllable, the heart knows a language that our sisters and brothers (nieces and nephews, grandparents and infants) speak as well!
All interested in finding out more about the PAB July 2000 delegation to El Salvador, please come to an informational meeting at:
Bethlehem Lutheran Church*
*4130 County Road 137
or call Judy: 252-9520 or Dennis 363-2997
Are you interested in reading books and articles regarding Central America? Then join the PAB reading group! Our first book is by Medea Benjamin, entitled Don't Be Afraid, Gringo! It is the story of Elvia Alvarado, a courageous campesina activist in Honduras.
The book is an excellent and moving description of the life and struggles of one ordinary woman doing extraordinary things to bring about political change for basic human rights such a land to grow crops, health care and education for the poor in her country. You can purchase the book in the CSB bookstore (363-5510) or order it through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. There are also a few copies available to borrow. First meeting is February 28th, 7:30 PM at Mary Geller's home in South St. Cloud. If you are interested, please call Mary for directions: 202-0793. Refreshments will be provided.
Along with the above initiative, Mary and Mark Gellers home will be sheltering PABs library of books, magazine articles and videos on El Salvador. The library contains excellent resources for those wanting to understand the history and cultural background of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters. It is a perfect way to stimulate your thinking about joining or taking part in a delegation, a way to refresh or deepen your awareness if youve been a delegate in the past or prefer to support PAB by staying here on the "home front," or if youre looking for material to share with family, friends, church members or students about the mission of PAB. Contact Mary at 202-0793 if you would like to borrow and item. (A list of resources is available.)
Several current books I have read recently (an obsession sets in once youve been to El Salvador) might be of interest to PAB members. Orbis Books has published a new book on Romero to mark the 20th anniversary of his death: Oscar Romero, by Marie Dennis, Renny Golden, and Scott Wright. Romeros own writings have been collected in nice meditation-sized excerpts in The Violence of Love (Plough Publishing House). The noted Salvadoran novelist Manlio Argueta has had several books translated into English. One Day in Life (Vintage) presents the experience of the war primarily through the eyes of a grandmother and her granddaughter. Arguetas other books may be stylistically quite difficult, but this one depicts powerfully the strugglesboth with themselves and with the oppression at the hands of the governmentof these women (the men of their families are all either dead or in hiding). Another celebrated novelist is Sandra Benitez. Her award-winning Bitter Grounds (Picador), chronicles the lives of three generations of women in war-torn El Salvador, and her earlier A Place Where the Sea Remembers: A Novel (Scribner), though set in Mexico and not El Salvador, gets high praise. Finally, a collection of short stories, including several from El Salvador, are found in And We Sold the Rain: Contemporary Fiction from Central America (edited by Rosario Santos, Seven Stories Press). Sister Jocile Robinson, a 1999 delegate, can testify to the value of these stories. When she stayed behind in town the day we took the strenuous hike to Rosario Perico, she devoured almost the whole book. If anyone else has recommendations or capsule reviews, send them in to PAB: Box 667, St. Joseph, MN 56374 or e-mail to email@example.com
It has been a little difficult to gather all the news from Tenancingo over the past months, what with the torrential rains that all El Salvador and Central America experienced in the fall. As of this date, we are still waiting to make the "January" phone call. However, what follows is a digest of previous phone calls as well as communication from Kate Lorenzen of SHARE, who facilitates communication between SHARE communities and their sister cities and parish here in the US.
This past fall, the communities selected Narcisa Cortez (Esperanza), a young woman from the hamlet of Ji˝uco to be the new coordinator for all the communities involved in the sistering relationship we have. Elias Pacas, the president of the Council of Presidents, and Amalia Flores, who helps promote Womens Rights and literacy for CRIPDES (one of SHAREs Salvadoran partner organizations), will help Narcisa get oriented in her new work. At several Fall meetings, the Steering Committee of PAB discussed what the responsibilities of the sistering rep should be. It is important that Narcisa be supported and trained thoroughly, for the job requires her to visit all eight communities once a month, encouraging and helping their organizing, and acting as a communication link between them and PAB. To this end, PAB expressed interest in helping provide a small salary for the position to help compensate Narcisa for her time and to assist her in getting further literacy training, if needed.
Lunch in Irioma, July 1998
The latrine project of the community of Hacienda Nueva has been delayed somewhat because of problems the community has had in maintaining their ongoing participation in the Tenancingo association. PAB by policy leaves such matters in the hands of the Presidents Council in Tenancingo, affirming that they have the right to make decisions and require active participation in order to benefit. By contrast, the small hamlet of Irioma, where PAB delegates had observed only the beginnings of real organization, seems to have made great progress in the judgment of SHARE and CRIPDES: (from Kate) "Just to set the scene for those that went to Irioma in July: the weather right now is perfect: cool breezes, with clear, sunny skies. It is springtime! The hills were all green, there was still water running in the river that we crossed, and there are wild flowers everywhere. It is an inspiring time of the year.
"There were 7 people there to meet with us, 3 members of the Directiva and 4 members of the womens committee. Ramiros sister ran the meeting but everyone was very participatory and no one got a chance to steal center stage. All respected the time limit, let people talk, and there was good discussion among all the community members present." SHARE and CRIPDES have encouraged Irioma to go forward with their electric corn grinder project, and also to assess other priorities for the community.
The Day of No Violence Against Women, November 25, was established in 1981. Latin American and Caribbean women met together to declare this day in memory of the maquila (sweatshop) workers in the Dominican Republic who were burned alive on the November 25, 1975 as they protested for better working conditions for women sweatshop workers.
Over 200 people, women, men and children, gathered in the communal house in Chalatenango. The morning was full, composed of speakers, songs ("Mujer Salvadorena"), small acts, tears, and cheers, and included participation from Salvadoran grass-roots organizations, members, community members, representatives of the civilian police, and others. When the story a woman who had died from violence suffered at the hands of a spouse or partner was told, her name was announced and all gathered called out, "íPresente! as was the custom during the war to remember the fallen as "still present" in the hearts of the survivors.
We spent the day mourning for women who lived in violence, we learned what steps to take to prevent and deal with future violence, and, most importantly, we came together to commit ourselves to struggling for women's rights across the globe, starting in our own homes. With heavy faces, but hearts full of hope, we filed out into the bright Salvadoran sunshine and headed home.
What does it mean to be "organized"? In the fall of 1998, Hurricane Mitch and the flooding that followed in its wake left thousands of people dead throughout Central America. While hurricanes are beyond all human control, the severity of the wounds they inflict are not always so. Who lost their lives in El Salvador makes this point. No lives were lost in the flood-basin communities that had been organized at the grass-roots level. By contrast, over 250 persons died in similar areas that lacked the such organizationa relational structure of the ordinary peoplefor they didnt have the human network to begin to deal with such a disaster. Incidents such as Hurricane Mitch grab public attention and painfully demonstrate the costs and benefits of living, or not living, in an "organized community."
This past summer, as a member of the 8th Delegation to Tenancingo, El Salvador, I began to discover what it means for small Central American community to be organized. The essence of the organization that I now speak of is tied to, a product of, and mutually reinforced by the infrastructure that can help to mitigate the tolls of natural disasters. But, beyond preparing for and lessening the dramatic effects of hurricanes and floods, being organized is about a communitys attempt to actively assess and engage its reality: to consider broad, long term goals as well as to deal with the present through starting forums for discussion of problems and priorities, for developing micro-businesses and devising profitable, sustainable agriculture projects.
The story of Orbelinaa petite, soft-spoken but formidable, commanding leaderand the women of Coral Viejo highlights the crucial role community organizing has in El Salvadors future. Sadly enough, Orbelinas early years are far from uncommon. She grew up in a poor, farming family that not only struggled to make ends meet but suffered terribly through ten years of civil war. Chased from her home, Orbelina eventually found herself married and soon the mother of several children. The father of her childrenwho too had suffered through the civil war, who struggled to put food on his childrens plates, and who was losing a battle to alcoholbegan to vent his frustrations on Orbelina with abuse and violence. Doing what few Salvadorian women dare, Orbelina courageously left her husband. She departed with nothing other than a horrific past and the conviction that no other woman should have to experience what she had.
Orbelina took her message door to door. She encouraged the women of Coral Viejo to gather and share their struggles. At first they grappled only with the issues of domestic violence. It quickly became clear, however, that their collective influence was great and that they had the power to facilitate greater change in their community in other areas. They had amassed a body and an infrastructure, capable of fighting the abuse of women in Coral Viejo and of battling the poverty of rural El Salvador.
|The welcome celebration at Corral Viejo. Orbelina is not pictured, but her cute-as-a-button daughter is sitting on another womans lap in the middle of the front row|
Because of these womens work, Coral Viejo has become a model of rural development in action. The community has initiated twenty-two different micro-businesses, has acquired a community health trainer, has begun composting their trash, and produce herbal soaps, shampoos, and a bug repellant from herb patches tended by the women working together. They have a very strong womens literacy project, for the ability to read and write is the doorway to learning about human and womens rights, to learning about what resources might be available to help, and for communicating with one another as you workfor organizing.
Now PAB didnt create this organization of rural women in Corral Viejo, and it certainly didnt make Orbelina and the others there the courageous women they are. But theyve made it very clear to us how encouraging our solidarity with them is. When they hear that women (and men) in the US struggle with questions of rights and abuse and equality, they gain hope that we can help inform and encourage one another. Divided we are intimidated, but togetherthe women together in Corral Viejo, we from PAB together with themwe find strength.
Eradicating poverty in rural El Salvador is a daunting task. However, after meeting the women of Coral Viejo, though, I feel more confident offering one answer to the ominous question, "Where to begin?" Community organization not only has the power to withstand and fight against poverty, oppression, and injustice but it too has the ultimate strength to struggle with gale forces of nature.
December 28, members of PAB joined other area groups concerned for social justice to meet with Representative Collin Peterson (DFL-MN 7th District) to discuss the prospects of Jubilee legislation. Representatives from Pax Christi, the St. Cloud Mission Office, Bread for the World, Fellowship of Reconciliation, St Benedicts Monastery, St. Johns Abbey, the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, PAB and others joined to present our support of legislation for debt relief for the worlds poorest countries.
|Some of those who met with Rep. Colin Peterson gathered afterwards outside his St. Cloud office.|
The meeting was both discouraging and encouraging. While Collin was pessimistic that the debt-relief legislation could gather wide-spread support in Congress during this election year, it was clear that he himself was very sympathetic to the cause. Having traveled to Africa and Eastern Europe to witness problems relating to development, he is aware of the severe problems international debt causes. He is also skeptical of the ability and the will of international corporations to promote socially just, small-scale economic development, and has communicated this to President Clinton, who seems to favor such "free market" solutions.
But Collin told members of the delegation that compromises made to pass the balanced budget amendment several years ago have really tied the hands of Congress on an issue like debt relief. No one is willing to take away from current domestic programs to fund the relief, for fear of being attacked by political opponents. What was perhaps most surprising is that legislators in general seemed quite unaware that the Jubilee Debt Relief legislation is endorsed by most mainstream churches of all denominations and traditions. Collin hears from grassroots citizens groups like ours, but seemed unaware of official church endorsement. It may help to push denominational leaders to make very clear and focused statements in Washington on the issue of Jubilee debt relief.
- Income from the "Y2K Non-event" Fundraiser was approximately $3000. This "non-event" is was not intended to replace both the annual Christmas appeal and the Yearly Fundraising Event. We need people to help with a special Lenten Appeal Letter, perhaps commemorating Archbishop Romero on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. Please call Judy at 252-9520 if you can help.
- Many Thanks, "Mil Gracias" to Sentinel Printing of Sauk Rapids and especially Greg Harren, the manager of their Collegeville operations center for donating the printing of our Y2K fundraising letter. It was a great help and a wonderful gift!
- Crafts Sales: The end of the year saw some great success with crafts sales. If your church or community organization would be willing to host a PAB crafts sale, please contact Lynn Engman at 253-0756.
- Host a Presentation on El Salvador & PAB! One of the best ways to spread the word about PAB is to have members some to a church or organization meeting, invite speakers to school classrooms, etc. Presentations can be adapted for adults, youth and children. Contact Judy Alessio to discuss arranging a speaker.
- Don't Forget!! If you are even remotely interested in traveling to El Salvador some time with a PAB delegation, come to the Delegate Exploration Meeting on Monday, February 21, at 7:00 PM at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4130 County Road 137, Saint Cloud. Mention the meeting to friends! Encourage them to come just to explore!
- The SHARE Foundation orients us when we arrive in El Salvador, helps plan and coordinate our visits, and accompanies on the way. They are also our eyes and ears in El Salvador in between visits. Their Washington Office coordinates lobbying efforts and keeps concerned people in the US aware of what is happening. If you would to get on the new electronic distribution list for their periodic alerts, send an e-mail to Susan Saudek at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions. Note that the SHARE El Salvador Office has moved and now has a new telephone number and e-mail address: (phone from US) 011.503.260.4325; e-mail: email@example.com.
|Its not too early to start collecting goods for the
delegates to this summer to El Salvador!
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