“It is necessary to return history to its victims, to
subvert it and launch it in a new direction.”
[from a letter of Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ, used as the theme of the 15th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs, November 2004]
Volume XIII, Number 1: Winter 2004-05
In this Issue:
2004 marks the thirteenth year that the St Cloud area has been sistered with the Municipality of Tenancingo in Central El Salvador, and it’s nice to report that this 13th year brings much good news and not the proverbial bad luck of the number “13”! Of course, there are challenges as well, but on the whole, the spirit is good and people are working hard to move their community forward. This issue of the newsletter will share some of the details of the stories of both successes and challenges.
The first thing to celebrate is the success of the schools in several programs supported by PAB. The high school or “Instituto” has been offering a number of scholarships which amount to $48 per year for tuition, with an additional $52 if the student is taking computer instruction, as this needs to be done in the city. This past year five students received full $100 scholarships, and an additional three received partial scholarships. All students have been successful, not only in their studies, but with a program promoting reading in the regional grade schools. Scholarship recipients gave oral readings in grade schools and spoke to younger students, encouraging them to become readers. One scholarship recipient graduates in December, 2004, and two of the partial scholarship recipients told the director that they have better family assistance for the coming year, and asked her to propose needier students for scholarships! Eight students are proposed as full scholarship recipients for 2005. See the enclosed flyer for a donation opportunity.
The Instituto also has held two cultural day celebrations: one in 2003 and another in 2004 for which students elaborate traditional art and crafts in clay and wood and palm, as well as make posters celebrating civic pride from a cultural rather than a political point of view. The idea of the school is that politics has divided people so much, and that perhaps art and culture can unite them! Prizes are given to the best entries in each category, and PAB has helped underwrite the modest cost of these celebrations.
At the grade school, last year PAB made an appeal for help with outfitting a small library. We sent nearly $1500 for this purpose, and in July the delegates were able to see the fruits of these investments when Roberto Aguilar, one of the teachers, showed us the results of the project.
Above: Bookshelves with reference
books and works of literature, history and science in the new
reading room at the school.
One classroom had been converted into a small library and the students are already making good use of the materials. Several of the new encyclopedias and science books contain CDs with instructional material, and a used computer donated by Saint John’s Abbey and University and outfitted with programs purchased by PAB now makes it possible for the students to use these materials. The excitement of the students for these new reading opportunities was abundantly clear to the delegates.
Another piece of news, first bad and now good. is that the municipal council, which last summer had denied an application of the Tenancingo Women’s Association for legal standing, is now reconsidering and expects passage before the end of the year. This status will allow the Women’s Association to have a bank account and manage its own projects. The PAB delegation in July expressed disappointment in the original decision, and the women are grateful for our support in this process.
From July 13-21, eight PAB delegates visited El Salvador and Tenancingo. The eight included six residents of the Saint Cloud area: Br. Dennis Beach, OSB (leader), Cindy Robertson (a Nurse Practioner and also a 2003 delegate), Carrie Stockinger (Spanish teacher at Rocori H.S.), Stan Johnson (retured military and machinery operator), Margaret Haiden (retired nurse) and Michaela Roske (student at the College of St. Benedict). Two people from Chicago joined the group, Randy Jerome, who finished studies at St. John’s School of Theology in May, 2004, and his sister, Jill, who runs a medical personnel placement service in Chicago.
The town of Tenancingo received the delegation with full fanfare, as the accompanying photos show. It’s hard for us in central Minnesota to imagine what this annual visit means to the people of Tenancingo, but for them it is an affirmation of the effort and struggle they engage in the other 51 weeks of the year! The delegation visited several of the outlying communities, including two that had not been visited previously: Masacuayo and Copalchán. They were able to witness first-hand the increased level of organization and sense of belonging felt by the town, and were also able to watch the preliminary rounds of the towns annual soccer tournament, held on the weekend of the town’s patronal feast on July 16.
Travel to El Salvador & Tenancingo!
Delegation dates: July 12-20, 2005
Approximate Cost: $1200.00 (depending on airfare)
Activities: Visits to Tenancingo schools, several of the rural communities, and meetings with community leaders, especially youth leaders. The delegation will spend one day at a national gathering of “sistered” communities, and will also visit key historical sites, such as the chapel where Archbishop Romero was assassinated, the cathedral where he is buried, and the Jesuit University and its “museum of the martyrs.” We will also meet with national grassroots leaders and NGO’s promoting local development and with the SHARE Foundation staff in El Salvador.
Spanish ability is not necessary—translation is provided.
For more information, contact Br. Dennis Beach, OSB (email@example.com / 363-2871) or S. Anne Malerich, OSB (251-2225), or write Partners Across Borders, P.O. Box 667, St. Joseph, MN 56374
On Saturday, July 17th, 2004, the Partners Across Borders delegation attended evening mass at the parish of Santiago Apostól (St. James the Apostle), the Catholic Church in Tenancingo.
The Santiago church building had been declared unsafe after the January and February 2001 earthquakes, and so a provisional temple was constructed of cinder blocks on a lot adjacent to the rectory and church offices. The building, which contributions from the Saint Cloud Diocesan Mission Office helped to finance, lent itself very nicely to the celebration of the eucharist. Mass was said in Spanish, so Brother Dennis strategically sat each of us with a member of the delegation who was fluent in Spanish, and in that way we were able to appreciate the mass more fully. It was especially gratifying after the “Padre Nuestro” [Our Father] to extend a hand of Paz/Peace to the local members of the congregation, who warmly reciprocated.
After mass Br. Dennis met with Fr. Joaquin Melendez, who escorted us to the Parish office for a meeting with representatives from various parish pastoral teams, including the Human Rights Commission, the Pastoral Health Team, the Catechists team and two members of the parish budget committee. All in all, seventeen members from several communities/cantones were in attendance. After a round of introductions, members of the various pastoral teams spoke, explaining the workings of their health promotion program, their programs in Christian instruction and human rights, etc. The pastoral council has a monthly meeting to follow the progress of the programs they have initiated and to discuss the other needs that arise in the communities. The budgeters planners from the parish Council presented a request to provide some basic funding for the operation of the pastoral teams, which the delegation conveyed to the Saint Cloud Diocese Mission Office. Indeed, the delegation was already bringing a check from the Mission office, from funds raised by mission talks given by PAB members in the past year, that will more than cover the first year of this funding request.
Past monies received from St. John’s Abbey and from the St. Cloud Diocese have been used to train four people as health promoters as well as the team of the human rights commission. The health care promoters then visit the various remote communities and staff several small dispensaries that have been set up, largely with alternative medicines made from herbs and other natural resources. Various of the communities supplement this natural medicine with traditional medicines bought with funds supplied by PAB. They often charge people half price for the medicine they dispense, the reason being that the money doesn’t last very long at all if they don’t charge something.
Another project of the pastoral health team is to create a diagnostic pamphlet for diseases that are prevalent in the area. Efforts are being made to educate people so that they will be more aware of health issues and that they will address them more promptly, to make them more aware of foods which can aggravate diseases or medical conditions, such as education on how sugar is deleterious to the well-being of a diabetic, how it causes dental decay; what foods should be avoided in the case of gastric problems; how to treat respiratory infections, etc.
We also heard of the work plans of the Human Rights Commission and the pastoral team of Catechetics or Christian Instruction.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Fr. Joaquin and Don Roberto, the health coordinator, showed us the little pharmacy of alternative medicines the parish had set up in a small space at the rear of the parish office. There is even a small consulting room furnished simply with a chair, where patients can see one of the health care promoters.
My experience with the youth in Tenancingo was like none other. I thought teenagers were all alike throughout the world—disconnected with anyone outside of their generation. However, the youth in Tenancingo were true “young adults.” They were proud, strong, and very intellectual. I had the experience of presenting awards for sports at the high school and observing a large meeting of the Tenancingo-area youth council. The youth proved to be even more amazing as more time was spent with them. They have left a lasting impression and I have great hope for the future leaders of their country.
Our group was invited to present awards at the high school to conclude their week of sporting games, which were dedicated to Partners Across Borders. However, this was the same day that an excursion to Irioma was scheduled. Two other group members and myself chose to attend the event at the high school instead. I am so glad that we did; we were honored to present the trophies and medallions to the students.
The ceremony took place outside, near the basketball courts. The stage was set in the shade, as Salvadorans always stay in the shade. The three of us presenters sat at a long table, along with a female lawyer, the mayor, an elementary teacher, and a nun. The student body arranged themselves around the perimeter of the school grounds, seeking a patch of shade to enjoy the show. Middle school students peered through the chain link fence that separates the grounds of the two schools. The principal of the high school was the emcee and the phy-ed teacher was the DJ. Awards were presented equally to girls and boys for each event. We presented trophies for first place and medallions for second, third, and fourth. The awards were for basketball and typical track and field events.
Intermission entertainment was provided by the middle school. There were five boys and five girls who performed typical Salvadoran dances. Their dance moves were complemented by the traditional outfits that they wore. The boys tipped their straw hats and the girls twirled around to display their beautiful dresses.
I was honored to be a part of the ceremony. It felt good to recognize the athletes for their hard work and dedication. Their faces were beaming with pride as they received their awards. The human spirit in Tenancingo is nothing short of awesome. I am amazed that despite all that has been taken away from these people, they willingly give away the very little that they have. Several girls that were winners for basketball gave their trophy to their coach, to thank her for her inspiration and belief in them. It was an emotional moment as the coach made a short speech upon receiving the trophy.
Afterwards, the principal presented the three of us from Minnesota a sash that the students had made. The sash said, “Our Brothers and Sisters in Minnesota.” Stan Johnson was presented with the sash by the high school beauty queen. There were many smiles and many pictures taken throughout the entire ceremony. All in all, the day was a great experience for us Minnesotans as well as the Salvadorans.
I also had another opportunity to witness the spirit of Tenancingo’s youth at their youth council meeting. There were approximately 30 representatives from the cantones present. They took turns as each adolescent greeted us, introduced themselves, and stated where they were from. After that, the leader of the youth council, David, began to tell us about the progress that has been made. Primarily, there have been informative meetings for the youth in the cantones about women’s issues, men’s issues, health, hygiene, sexuality, gender roles, and equality. The SHARE organization has assisted in the distribution of material to the leaders of each canton. At that point, the leaders relayed the information to their group.
|Davíd Benitez, president and “poet laureate” of the Youth Council of Tenancingo, reads a poem to the youth & delegates.|
Next, David told us about his schedule to oversee the youth committees in each canton. He visits a different canton each Friday to check on their progress, and to distribute and gather more information. David invited a young woman from Corral Viejo to speak. Her mother is Rosalinda de la O, the leader of the Women’s Group in that canton. This girl had written an eight page essay, which she read to us, describing in detail the progress of the youth. She then went on to talk about how they have advanced, but still need support to continue the development of awareness and education of issues for today’s Salvadoran adolescents.
The youth meeting was then concluded with games that included having to sing a song to the group, or dance in front of everyone. It was so fun, watching everyone having to do something silly. It was incredible to watch the transformation of these youth. They began the meeting discussing difficult issues that they face: they sounded like adults. But the meeting was adjourned after the games and activities: they returned to being carefree kids.
We heard from some true leaders that day. The kids were such an inspiration for all of us there. We discussed afterwards how remarkable these kids were, with the capability to discuss difficult issues and educate their peers about them. The meeting left a lasting impression about the power of education and the hope that is in the youth of Tenancingo.
Copalchán seems to be one of the best developed and flourishing cantones of Tenancingo. In 1993 residents begin returning to there and nineteen families built adobe houses. The school was built next and in 1996 potable water became available. Next came electricity in 1999. Currently 120 families live in Copalchán. The canton is accessible via the main road. Today, while the main road through town is in ill repair, they have a beautiful new school. They are working toward replacing the roof over the water pump house and would like a retaining wall built behind the school.
Copalchán is a sharp contrast to Irioma. Accessible only by foot from the main road (a 20-40 minute walk depending on who is walking) or via a road from the other side of the mountain range, Irioma is probably the poorest of all the cantones I have visited during the last two delegations. The community lacks potable water and latrines. They use Clorox to sanitize the water for drinking. The school seemed to serve as the gathering place for the community—being situated just a few feet down the hill from the bus stop of the upper road. It is extremely small and basic and was built essentially of scrap wood with a tin roof. The resounding number one need of the community was a new school—but first they need land on which to build it.
One of the makeshift classrooms of Irioma, constructed from discarded corrugated tin from semi-trailer freight containers.
The mothers of the school cook a school lunch for the students on a rotating basis. The government provides $0.11 per day per child for the lunch program. However, as I observed the people during our brief encounter I wondered how the children are able to consume their lunches as the dental condition of the entire community of Irioma is abominable.
Only the teacher had a full set of teeth that were in good repair. Everyone, I mean everyone from breast-fed infants to the elderly, had a piece of hard candy in their mouth. Candy and ice cream were plentiful during our visit. I spoke with the president of their community council (who was missing the majority of his teeth) about my observation. He was completely unaware of the problem and commented that the sugar consumption was a cultural practice. I wonder, how are the children able to concentrate in school when their basic nutritional needs are barely met from an economic standpoint not to mention the toothaches, headaches and infections? For that matter, how are the adults able to function and make progress in their daily lives let alone that of the community?
Two years ago PAB was reporting on plans “phase two” of a
large-scale project promoting community-level organizing throughout the
municipality of Tenancingo. At this point the 6-8 communities that were involved
in the sistering relationship had developed a good grass-roots structure for
determining community priorities and had enjoyed the benefit of having their own
local projects: a corn grinder here, assistance for a pre-school lunch program
there, a workshop in clothes-making elsewhere. Of course not all these projects
went off without a hitch, but these communities learned to diagnose their needs
and prioritize them, a crucial first step in moving forward.
The “Organizational Strengthening Project” was to expand this organizing to all major communities of the town and to expand its effectiveness. The organ to do this was christened the ADMNT, or “Municipal Development Association of New Tenancingo.” Such groups are “grass-roots” and intended to ensure that the citizens have a channel of communication with the local mayor’s office no matter which political party happens to win the election, although they really function most effectively where a sympathetic and progressive mayor is in charge.
When Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in El Salvador became aware of this organizational strengthening project in Spring 2003, they offered to fund its “phase II” themselves. CRIPDES, the grassroots organization that had been helping with these organizational efforts, thought it best to accept this offer, and proposed developing a complementary Youth Organizing project for PAB to fund. This has had a long gestation and is finally coming to fruition (see the fuller article above).
Since CRS had taken over responsibility for the organizing project, we didn’t get reports on it, and at times questions arose at PAB meetings when it seemed that we were being asked to fund things that the CRS project should have funded. In November I was able to attend a meeting of the ADMNT and the parallel Women’s Association, with the regional CRIPDES organizer, and we discussed what had been the accomplishments of the CRS “Organizational Strengthening” Project.
The Project concluded in April 2004, and boasts as a result the existence of elected grass-roots community councils in all sixteen of the major living communities of Tenancingo (see box). Regular communal meetings are held, and all sixteen communities also had active women’s committees, while most (12) had youth councils that began to function in 2004. The work they had undertaken was largely to get the people living in the communities to understand the need for and advantages of such formal structures for participation in local governance, to promote political advocacy efforts around common concerns such as paving the road, the effects of the pending free trade agreement, etc. The women participated in workshops on women’s rights and gender roles. The focus was getting people to take ownership of these grass-roots processes.
One other accomplishment that was mentioned is Tenancingo’s participation in a “micro-region” with four other nearby municipalities: Suchitoto, an important colonial-era town in the same “department” of Cuscatlán where Tenancingo is located, and three other neighboring municipalities: Cinquera, Jutiapa and Tejutepeque. This micro-regional initiative is focused on shared needs and concerns, such as road-paving and the ecological preservation and restoration (and perhaps even promotion for tourism) of the Quezalapa River, the northeast boundary of Tenancingo’s territory. The Tenancingo folks are considered “leaders” in this initiative, because they have the strongest citizen participation of any of the five municipalities! This is good testimony that investing in people counts—our sisters and brothers in Tenancingo are being looked to as models by their peers in the area!
CRS is willing to consider funding future work, especially with initiatives in this microregion, but they made it clear they will not fund administrative costs of the ADMNT (light, water, travel, etc.) which is why some money for these costs was requested of PAB last summer.
How’s a Salvadoran Town Organized?
In El Salvador, a country about the size of the state of Massachusetts, the towns and cities (“municipalities”) function more as sub-regional centers, almost like small counties, and not simply as residential communities. There’s always a town or urban zone, subdivided in larger municipalities into “Colonias” or “Barrios” or “Urban Districts,” but the municipality extends beyond this central living area. The rural area of the town is divided into “Cantones” (literally the “corners” of the municipality). Depending on the size of a canton, it may be sub-divided into smaller living communities or hamlets called “Caserios.”
Thus Tenancingo has traditionally been divided into ten
cantones: Rosario Períco, El Pepeto, LaCruz, Copalchán, Jiñuco,
Huiziltepeque, Santa Anita, Ajuluco, Rosario Tablón, and Corral
Viejo. Many of these are further divided into caserios with
familiar names: Nuevo San José El Sitio belongs to Jiñuco; Irioma
belongs to Rosario Tablón, and Hacienda Nueva to Huiziltepeque. Thus
when the 16 or 17 “communities” of Tenancingo are talked about as
being organized with community councils and women’s and youth
committees, this number refers to a mix of cantones and
caserios, plus the town center and the colonia, Jardines
de Tenancingo. This number can change: last summer we met folks from
a newer community called El Sitio-El Transito and they have also
started speaking of “El Llano” (“The Flats”) as a distinct
area, although it does not yet has its own community council.
by Dennis Beach, OSB
The PAB Steering Committee made decisions in our December meeting that committed PAB to support of several projects in the coming year and even into 2006. This information box is a summary of the projects, and the information here can be coordinated with the enclosed donation form to facilitate your support of the work of our sisters and brothers in Tenancingo.
From The SHARE Foundation website: December 6, 2004
News from El Salvador
Sources in El Salvador are suggesting that a vote on CAFTA could happen by the middle of December in the Salvadoran National Assembly.
CAFTA was officially presented to general assembly members on Thursday, December 2nd. Previously, the Salvadoran Ministry of Economy had promised law makers sufficient time to review and debate the lengthy agreement (all 2,500 pages of it) and its long term legal implications. It seems, however, that President Tony Saca and the ARENA Party want to avoid the PR damage of a long debate and as a result are pushing for a quick vote.
There were reports that ARENA was pushing for a vote on Friday, December 3. A heated debate, however, led to an agreement that CAFTA will first be studied and debated in the International Relations committee. Tony Saca has said that he still hopes for a short debate and quick vote; he has said that he wants El Salvador to be the first country to ratify the agreement.
Critics of CAFTA had hoped that lengthy an in-depth debate in the National Assembly would reveal the threat CAFTA represents for the majority of Salvadorans; they also had planned large marches and protests to coincide with the debates in order to show the broad based opposition which exists to the agreement in. This past week’s events are an unfortunate reminder of the undemocratic nature of CAFTA's development.
It is expected that popular protests and gatherings will continue throughout El Salvador during December while the issue is debated. SHARE will update its webpage on a regular basis as reports from El Salvador come in.
U.S. Congressional Update
Members of Congress will be home for the holidays between December 25th and January 20th, making now through mid January a great time to get out and visit them. For letter writing tools and tips on talking to your members of congress please see SHARE's Congress Kit on the web at: http://www.share-elsalvador.org/.
Some adaptations will have to be made as these materials were created in anticipation of a summer 2004 vote.
Sample CAFTA Letter to your Congressperson
[Office of Representative ______]
Month & Date, 2004/5
Dear Congressman /woman _______________________,
I am writing to you out of
great concern about the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
This agreement will be presented to you for an up or down vote (Fast
Track) this coming session of Congress. Undeniably trade between nations
is good. It is the terms of this agreement that I question.
These people see from the example of NAFTA that CAFTA will devastate the Central American rural sector, cause mass unemployment in the region, and increase the gap between the rich and poor. It will also result in the further marginalization of the small American farmer, encourage industries to take their jobs to countries that fail at basic levels of labor regulation, and create even greater stresses on American infrastructure as growing numbers of immigrants are pushed north from Central America.
I implore you to vote No on CAFTA.
for local offices & other reps, see www.congress.org
You can also write the MN Senators: Dayton & Coleman
CRAFTS SALES and EL SALVADOR SPEAKERS
Sales of painted wooden, ceramic, woven and other crafts from El Salvador is a major source of income and also a way to spread the word about our work in Tenancingo and about the conditions in El Salvador as a whole. Contact Bibi Tristani by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or S. Anne Malerich at 251-2225 about scheduling a crafts sale at your church, school, or community group. Contact S. Anne or Br. Dennis Beach (363-2871) about speakers on El Salvador and Tenancingo.
Partners Across Borders' Newsletter is edited
by Dennis Beach, OSB. It appears several times a year. Contributions are
welcome! Contact email@example.com for information.
Please consider making a contribution to ongoing work and new initiatives in Tenancingo. You can earmark your contributions for one of the following projects or designate it for the greatest needs as these arise and are communicated to us. You can check as many priorities as you’d like).
_____ Youth Leadership Project _____ Community Health Funds
_____ High School Scholarship Program
_____ Other School Projects
_____ Grade School Library Project
_____ Future Community Projects (in planning stages: sewing workshop in Hacienda Nueva, etc.
_____ Whatever needs are greatest at the time.
*mail donation to: Partners Across Borders, P.O. Box 667, St. Joseph, MN 56374
(We missed the end-of-the year donation-request rush, so get a head start on charitable giving for 2005!)