Wednesday, March 7, 2018
When our West Bend group left the celebration of text books and restrooms, we went to visit another school. Tecualuya is a very small rural school in a very poor and isolated corner of the community. When our van drove into the school yard, the students and teachers were standing there waiting for us. Our friends Fredy and Leonor have visited this place in the past so they were greeted as old friends but when these little kids saw 6 North Americans get out of the van, some of the younger ones were frightened and tried to hide behind someone bigger. The older children held up a large poster thanking Fredy for the support he has already provided this school as noted below. Having just left much joyful noise and action, the stillness of this school was strange. I said to our friend Leonor this place is different. She replied these people are the poorest. A closer look at the children confirmed some of these kids are malnourished and in need of health care. Our visit here had a purpose. The ministry of education has received thousands of computers from Taiwan and is distributing them to 1,900 of the country’s 5,100 public schools. Tecualuya will be receiving 29. Upon notice of receiving 29 computers, the principal contacted our friends Fredy and Leonor for help to prepare a classroom appropriate for computer classes. Fredy engaged the Sugar Cane Association to build a storage shed, freeing up a room that was full of junk. Then he redesigned the classrooms, established a wiring diagram to accommodate the computer set-up, installed glass windows and electricity in the new computer room. They still need tables and chairs for the students and a reinforced dropped ceiling to protect the computers from theft. In addition to these immediate needs, the building long ago was divided into three classrooms by wooden dividers that have been destroyed by termites and weather rot. They need new dividers, desks, chairs, white boards, basic learning supplies and as usual, text books. Glass windows installed to protect all these improvements will vastly upgrade the educational experience for the children and teachers. During our brief time there, the principal told our group that in her 25 years at the school we were the first visitors to come to meet them. She wished we could have stayed longer but she and the children were so grateful for our presence and encouragement. It was a fun and meaningful afternoon for all of us.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
We did not return to El Salvador in 2017. It takes us 3 months to plan a trip and we just didn’t have the time last year. However, our partners kept us up to date with many pictures of the projects, specifically the experimental farm and the school improvements. We returned to El Salvador in January 2018. The weather was cold here in January but when we deplaned the temperature was 94 degrees. We were joined on this trip by two West Bend couples (Dave and Eileen Baldus and Patrick and Kris Groth) We arrived in country on Sunday and spent the afternoon touring the historic central city of San Salvador. On Monday we got up early to go to the school for the book distribution. Nancy submitted a Rotary District grant to purchase text books for the public school of San Luis Talpa. Our goal is to finish this school and take a break. We personally added to the amount allowing for the purchase of 15 cases of books for grades 1-6. When we arrived the kids were free range as there were no classes. We joined in the chaos and took our own tour of the many improvements, including the computers, new kinder/pre-K building and the new restrooms. Back in the school central square, the official ceremony was to begin. The students lined up by grades in the hot morning sun. We were seated in the shade with the official speakers. One after another, then Nancy was asked to say something. She told the students, teachers and parents that we missed coming last year but we wanted them to know that they were in our hearts and prayers. We are proud of all of them. That from the little ones to the biggest ones, God has a plan for their lives for a good future and much hope and that they are loved! After the speeches we were presented documents to sign that passed ownership of the text books, restrooms and new school building to the directors of the school. Then we moved on to the area of restroom for the ribbon cutting. Cutting the ribbon was the easy part but then I was handed a 50 pound hammer to begin demolition of the old structure. After two swings I gave the hammer to Nancy who took a swing breaking a section of tile. Then the hundreds of students, teachers and parents returned to the central square to receive the 15 cases of books for more pictures. The students and parents started grabbing the books alarming the leaders for just a second until we realized they wanted to be in the pictures. What enthusiasm and we couldn't let them down and took all their pictures. The celebration was ending when our friends said they wanted to show us another school, so we headed out to another community. A quick review of this school: student population is 90 in grades K – six; younger students attend in the morning and older ones in the afternoon, three classrooms have no lighting, windows or white boards and no books or desks, paper, pencils, etc. Teaching is verbal and basic. We are waiting for a financial assessment of the needed building improvements, text books, desks and supplies. This might be our 7th public school to accompany in the future. David y Nancy
Saturday, December 23, 2017
With Child Development a primary value in raising our children, the call we received to help 240 children in a rural school in El Salvador was a call we could not ignore.
Living in El Salvador for 30 months, we were witness to the incredible lack of resources in the public schools. With education one of the Rotary Foundation’s global goals and knowing that education is the path from poverty, we have taken it as a personal challenge to improve public schools in El Salvador. We are completing major improvements in our 6th public school.
In a recent post in his blog titled El Salvador Perspectives, Tim Muth highlighted an article in El Faro about the recent analysis of education in El Salvador. He titled it “An Education System in Ruins”.
Here are a few bullets from that publication:
Only 84% of the children in El Salvador attend school.
The school calendar shows 200 school days but with many holidays, the boys and girls attend 100 days per year.
There are 5136 public schools, however 60% were declared non student ready by the education ministry in 2015.
In addition to leaking roofs, lack of desks and text books, 20% of the schools have a budget of under $1600 per year.
Our current project is now in its 5th year. It’s one that we became aware of from the owner of our guest house in San Salvador. What got our attention was the fact that the parents asked for help to improve the futures of their children. They wanted their children to remain in their community while in school and not have to travel to a neighboring community where gangs and danger lurk. With that commitment from the parents, we have worked to rebuild the entire campus and added two more buildings.
Other foundations in El Salvador have taken notice of this facility and are also contributing improvements including a science lab, new furniture and training for improving the teachers’ skill level.
We return in January with friends to distribute text books to the students in grades 1 thru 6. This will complete text books for grades K-9.
Sunrise Rotary West Bend has committed to fund a new cooking area at this school. It will be environmentally correct by having a chimney to clear the smoke from the cook’s presence and also will be cleaner with new preparation areas, and surrounded with a fence to keep the stray dogs away from the food and cooking.
What’s next? A meeting with Habitat for Humanity of El Salvador for a developing community pre-school for very poor rural children to enter the public school system. The parents who work all day just to put food on the table do not have time or the education to prepare their children for school, but they want their children to have a foundation in education in order to succeed.
Below are pictures of the new boys and girls restrooms that are being completed this month to be ready for the new school year starting in January 2018.
Monday, November 13, 2017
In the winter of 2013, our Greater Milwaukee Lutheran Synod received proceeds from the sale of a church building and decided to use the money in ministry by asking churches in the synod for suggestions. Still fresh from our living in El Salvador, we asked our local church leadership if they would support our writing a grant.
With our focus on Community Development, we submitted a grant for 10 technical school scholarships, women’s small business (chickens), and then family agriculture to create income. Later we expanded the family agriculture project to include an experimental farm. We received funding of $75,000 for these projects.
In previous blogs, we have reported on the first three, especially the scholarships for technical college and now we hear they are all working in their fields of study.
The experimental farm is very important as Central America is also dealing with climate change. With the traditional planting of corn and red beans, these crops are vulnerable to severe storms, a result of climate changes. However, a diversity of crops allows us to demonstrate that growing a little of everything ensures food security and products to sell in the market.
The experimental farm is still in development. The infrastructure has been developed over the past two years including:
- · Conservation – preparing the land with channels of water drainage and sloping the soil
- · Erection of a huge plastic hot house
- · The reforestation of 13 aces with fruit trees
Our contractor of the projects is the NGO Executive Director Benjamin. When his son Daniel was in West Bend for a summer internship at a local farm, we encouraged him to share the practice of hiring local people so they would also benefit from the projects. When we visited in November 2016, Benjamin was quick to point out the men he hired to build dikes to protect the soil from erosion. In a spot along the small stream, we could see erosion revealing the top soil was 6 feet deep. That’s due to the leaves falling from trees every day and accumulating undisturbed.
The next steps at this experimental farm are to:
- Develop a value system for training in bartering for work and for food.
- ·Erect a building for a class room.
We are going to stop writing and share pictures we just received as they will tell the story better than words.
David y Nancy
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
We are at home forwarding the current news from our partners in El Salvador. The first four months of 2017 have been quiet as our partners are very busy with the harvest of sugar cane, coffee, corn, beans and the many vegetables they grow in their hot houses.
However recently Benjamin writes that on June 2 in our former hometown of Concepcion Batres, the 14th annual native seed fest took place, coinciding with the World Environment Day being celebrated in El Salvador. The community square was blocked off to cars; horses, bikes and vendors took over the main street in front of the church.
Seed fest is where the participants in the Oikos Agriculture Projects are invited to celebrate their harvest and exchange seeds with others, exchange or sell livestock, poultry, foods or crafts they have made. It’s also the celebration of the winter rains that provide the moisture to promote germination of the seeds and growth of the plant. Last year’s precipitation was less than average, but El Salvador was able to escape the risk of crop failure. Escaping crop failure also means the prices of coffee, corn and beans are lower than previous years. That’s the life of someone in agriculture.
The local school children compete in displays they assemble with their classmates. These displays take on themes of national risk (storms and flooding,) climate change, crime and poverty. The children are very eager to share their display. Whether you understand Spanish or not, enjoying the enthusiasm of the children as they share is an event unto itself.
Our friends at Oikos are always looking for new employment opportunities for their staff. Last year they were contracted to manage the turtle preservation project on the Pacific Ocean. They did a great job and they have been hired again for the 2017/18 season with their area to manage greatly expanded. We hope to return in early 2018 and again watch this process of catching huge turtles, capturing their eggs, placing them in new nest inside a sanctuary for hatching and releasing after their shells harden.
This summer Oikos is managing the reforestation of hundreds of acres of land in the East. Seven communities in Usulután and San Miguel have been chosen for this project that includes fruit trees as well as trees for developing the forest. Seventeen men and women are participating, representing many recipients who have benefited from prior Oikos projects of chickens, agriculture and lagoon preservation.
Our 13 god children are in high school. Communication with them is difficult as they attend school and then most must work for family income.
With the sugar cane harvest complete, the men of this community will be volunteering to install new rest rooms at our public school. The first plan was new equipment, but the septic system failed, requiring a whole new facility.
Nancy is seeking funding to provide text books for grades 1-6.
Our 2018 plans include leading a Thrivent Habitat Build to construct a community center in the west side of the country. We are looking for 14 volunteers (you?) to join us for a week and then we hope some can remain to participate in the turtle watch, visit some of our completed school projects and agriculture projects.
David y Nancy
Monday, March 6, 2017
March 2017 - We are once again writing from home with great updates.
We are joyful about the grade level promotions and achievements we witnessed at the end of the 2016. For these three-year academic programs, we have done a lot of fundraising, anticipating strong outcomes for the lives of the students. Our hope was not disappointed. A total of 129 students graduated and are continuing on to improve their future with education or employment.
In 2014, we received a grant for community development in the departments of Usulután and San Miguel. It included three modules, one of which was for scholarships for youth to attend the Technology Institute in Usulután.
Ten students who had completed high school were selected as qualified for this opportunity; 2 dropped out early in the process. Another student was selected who chose to attend the University in San Miguel where she continues for one more year. Eight students completed their studies in December and participated in the graduation ceremony held on February 24, 2017. Without their diplomas they couldn’t apply for higher level work.
5 studied Computer Engineering
1 studied to be an Auto Mechanic
1 studied for Tourism
1 studied for Marketing
We met with them shortly after they enrolled at the Institute. The first picture below is at that meeting. We asked them what they hoped or expected to happen after graduation. A couple wanted to start a business and the others just wanted a good job. Finding secure work is a major issue. Their families can offer little support as they are often not educated and do not have networks to help their children seek employment.
The second picture is their graduation day that was taken and emailed to us. The Auto Mechanic is missing from the picture but he did earn his degree. We had to study the pictures closely as some of the students have transformed into mature young men and women. Hair styles changed and they grew taller.
Additional graduations took place in San Luis Talpa where 41 ninth grade students not only graduated but were all accepted into high school. Thirteen could not attend because of the cost of $300 per year. We fundraised to provide scholarships for these students. Some of these 13 students come from difficult family situations where it’s expected they work to support the family and forget about more education.
Finally (but not really), 80 little ones in San Luis Talpa “graduated” from pre-school and are now attending kindergarten to begin their education journey.
David y Nancy
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
A relationship that started in 2010 with our Agriculture Partner has continued to mature and we are witness to many ongoing changes. A project we funded in 2010 continues to evolve into something none of us could fore see 6 years ago.
We first started working with our Agriculture Partner (AP) after moving to our home in Concepcion Batres. They took us to many sites where small family farms were supported with the latest agriculture methods to improve yields. The only problem was lack of funds to purchase more resources to include more residents of the volcanic range. After many visits, we were convinced that the work of our AP was indeed the way to decrease poverty for the people living in this range. With determination and the Internet, we wrote to our home church and asked for a financial commitment to expand this work.
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church West Bend Wisconsin invested $15,000 to include more families in 2011. In 2013 a delegation from OSLC visited those sites in Usulután/San Miguel to see first-hand how this investment benefited Salvadorans. We were impressed with the results, sampling four families of a total of 63 families that participated in the project.
There was nothing visionary in this investment; it followed an established pattern. But in 2015 when a young man from our AP spent 6 weeks at Wellspring Organic Farm, he began to see a vision for a new agriculture model when he returned home.
The new model includes family cooperatives working together in a large hot house. Each cooperative includes 10 families and each cooperative grows a different vegetable or vegetables in the hot house. When the crop ripens they harvest hundreds of pounds of produce that they sell it to a middle man, who in-turn takes it to a larger market like San Salvador. The old way is to sell whatever vegetable is ripe from their small garden, spending a lot of time in the market and competing with other families from the same community. The new model provides more jobs, specialization, and more income.
Inside the hoop-house it’s hot! If these large hot houses were entertainment tents you could seat 4,000 people in each site. Watering is done via drip hose with water provided by rain collection and also a stand-by gasoline powered water pump. The plants protected from insects, airborne disease, and the environment allow for multiple crops per year.
Next year they will implement their own marketing organization to sell directly to the larger markets, providing more work, better profit and income for more families.
This project begun in 2011 with 63 families is growing and evolving in something more dynamic. The participants have a vision for the future and are developing a strong leadership team who enjoy working together for the benefit of all. We are confident the project will continue to grow and strengthen the lives of more families.
Are we relieving poverty in these communities and for these people? A resounding yes, as we saw a new barn, housing improvements and healthier families.
David y Nancy
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Our trip to El Salvador was in the planning for the past year. Our priority was to attend the first 9th grade graduation, as we have been working and fundraising for the past three years to make this possible. We knew pictures and an email from our partners would not capture the moments for us, so we made the journey.
The graduation is the story of the parents who had a vision for their children to remain in the community to safely complete their education. With help from the local sugar cane producer, the sugar cane association and parents, a classroom building was constructed.
On our first visit the building was bare, there was nothing for classes. We returned home and started fundraising for the equipment and books needed for the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Our efforts were successful and on November 18, 41 students graduated from the ninth grade. The students were escorted into the ceremony by a parent or grandparent. The three students having the highest grades were acknowledged and also the 22 students who started in kindergarten and graduated received recognition for their persistence. There were numerous speeches and then a performance by the students and their teacher where they danced with graceful movements and sang a friendship song to each other. It was beautiful and lots of tears.
All 41 students passed the entry exam to qualify for high school. We believe this is a testimony to the teachers as 100% passing the exam is not the norm but the exception. Victor wants to be a civil engineer and will be taking classes online since he has a full time job. Victor and all the other graduates have computer skills as the West Bend Sunrise Rotary invested in a computer classroom three years ago. One of the largest industries in El Salvador is working in a Call Center. With English and computer skills, these young people have another choice for employment after high school.
David y Nancy Slinde were named the Godparents of this graduating class and given a handsome plaque acknowledging our personal and financial commitment.
Ten students don’t have resources to attend high school. Our Salvadoran Partners are checking on costs to determine if a scholarship plan is feasible.
What would their lives be like without these improvements? Some students would have attended the neighboring school until they were threatened and then drop out. Most of the boys would work in the sugar cane fields or coffee plantations, but that’s only for a couple of months each year. They would have a lot of idle time on their hands.
What was accomplished by educational success will have impact for generations and that truly is a stunning reality.
David y Nancy
Monday, November 21, 2016
With only a day to visit, we couldn’t afford to have the steam and gas from the volcano keep us from visiting Our Savior’s Lutheran Church chicken project. Our Savior’s and the German Churches are supplying chicken units for the women’s cooperative. With our donation, our project partner provides the family with a coop design and the materials to construct a coop. The family does the work. We were greeted by seven families representing the 25 women of the cooperative, finding that four of the seven have their chicken coops and for one, the chicks were being delivered today. A smaller group of families provided us a rare opportunity to talk to learn more about their community. A visual of these women indicated they were dressed better than our first visit and looked healthier. That is in part to better nutrition and income generation from our projects and ANDA (government water provider) now has drinking water to the community. The community has approximately 300 families and all the children attend school. Classes are offered through the ninth grade. This is a big change from our last visit so we asked another question - is electricity available to the entire community? Yes, electricity is available to all but not all families can afford it or think it’s really necessary. A family receiving these chicken units will repay the community by donating five hens to start another chicken unit. We visited three of the sites before leaving and heading to the agriculture projects else-where on the volcano.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
This is the new Kindergarten classroom at the Community Central School in Talpa, our most recent education project. With many improvements, it has become the premier school in this area. Children are coming to it from other communities as it has features that are missing in their current schools. On Friday November 11, we were invited to dedicate the new classroom. It’s not yet completed but will be for January classes. The local Sugar Cane Growers Association will provide new equipment for the classroom. The rooms at the left will be a boys and girls restroom, a storage unit and the cove at the right is for the teacher’s desk. The walls will be painted, a suspended ceiling installed, doors and fixtures added. Outside concrete will be poured around the building including the porch where the children will eat lunch. Kindergarten classes will be held AM and PM as the incoming class is over 50. These students seated for the dedication will be the first class attending in January 2017. Schools were typically closed when it rained as the buildings were not weather worthy. With all these improvements, the children attend school in all weather conditions. Better facilities will protect them and encourage them to learn. For many, school will be safer than their homes. The local mayor has been bragging that he is providing all the improvements. His office signed the building permit, that’s all. Our friends placed a memorial on the new building that reads-- David y Nancy raised the financial support for the construction of this building. We love this place, the parents, teachers, students and our project partners, all committed to the education of the children for their lives to come.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
We write today to tell you about our new learning experience with one of our project partners. We greatly enjoyed the personal connection with their current project and were delighted to participate in the action. Please be sure to see the six photos at the end of this journal. We also have a video to share with you at another time.
Environmental changes impact our entire planet and El Salvador suffers from these effects. It started with deforestation, progressed to improper agricultural practices, use of chemicals poisoning the land and people, and now the over harvesting from the ocean.
For years, turtle eggs have been in the regular diet of the beach people and then they discovered that the inland dwellers enjoyed them as well and paid good money to have them.
The turtle population is dangerously in decline. Sea turtles lay eggs every ten years. The first twenty four hours after hatching, the newborns are at risk as their shell has not hardened and they are prey for birds, sea crabs and large fish. About ten percent of the hatched eggs survive in the ocean.
An environmental organization FIAES is taking action to protect and increase the population of sea turtles. Sea turtles begin to lay eggs on the beaches of El Salvador in September and continue thru February. Stations are located along the beaches with a 24/7 staff to watch for turtles laying eggs. In some cases the staff must carry the 100 pound turtles closer to their work site and help the turtle dig a nest at the beach. After the turtle creates a nest, the zone staff removes those eggs from the beach into an enclosed safe zone.
The safe zone is a large grid of string creating 200 one foot by one foot squares. Here the eggs are re-nested for incubation and are documented by type of turtle, date and the name of the “re-nester”. Then the staff waits forty five days for the baby turtles to dig their way up and out of the nest. When they reach the surface, they are placed in a tub and held for twenty four hours for their shells to harden.
After twenty four hours, the staff waits for the right ocean conditions and then releases the baby turtles. The local staff family members (children) call their friends and they carefully place each turtle on the sand. You can place the turtle in any direction and instinctively it turns to the ocean and quickly heads to sea. After a wave or two they are out of sight.
The staff keeps detailed records of the number and type of turtles laying eggs and the number of baby turtles released. In the future FIAES plans to place a chip in the turtles to better monitor the results of this preservation project. Our partner hopes to continue working with them to improve the balance of marine life.