Monday, October 28, 2019
Nancy and I became Election Observers in El Salvador in our first trip in 2004. It was an experience! At 4:00am we were bussed to the community of Apopa about 30 miles north of San Salvador. The community was thick in corruption and violence. We were taken to the large out-door plaza in the heart of the community where voting would take place. The emotions for the day were running very high; everyone was on edge about the outcome. The Civil War had now become a deep political divide. A former communist commander was running against the elite who had controlled the county for the past 400 years. Just before sunrise, there was suddenly shouting at the plaza entry. One official said open the gates for the voting to begin, the others shouted no. The military having their backs to the gate hearing the shouting aimed their AF 47’s at the election observer, not the gate. We didn’t feel safe until the plaza filled with voters. During the day there was much conversation from the current ruling party members that we were there to sway the election for the opposition party. There is no question that our presence allowed the public to vote their choice without repercussions. It was two years later with local community elections. Again we volunteered to be election observers. Our new post was in the local arena in capital of San Salvador. No military were present as they didn’t really add to the event. The voting rules have since changed but at that time the people had to return to their birth homes to vote. There was much reunion and fellowship taking place resulting in people staying for many extra hours. The congestion was overwhelming for us but not for them. This was and is their life style. After voting and vote tally ended, our small group from Milwaukee was invited to the Catholic University for time with Jesuit Dean Brackley. Dean Brackley left Spain when the four Jesuits were murdered at the Catholic University and then he served in their place through the civil war. Later he served a couple of semesters at Marquette in Milwaukee, then he returned home. Another participant in the conversation about the civil war that night was Rev Phillip Anderson. Rev Phil became our mentor in El Salvador. He remains one of the most wonderful men who supported our work in El Salvador long after he was called home to DC. We all met at Brackley’s apartment. He took us outside on his patio where we discovered he had a private gate to the public street with a pub on the other side. Over beers the delegation listened to the many stories from these icons of the civil war. Their stories highlighted the oppression and brutality experienced by the citizens. In reflection, this was a once in a life time opportunity and the possibility that this evening shaped our future. David y Nancy
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
While it’s winter it’s the growing season in Central America. The first harvest should be picked, but the rains have not cooperated this year. Through what’s called the dry corridor, it has not rained to produce crops of corn and beans. Pictures from our friends show fields of corn parched and broken corn stalks. The effects of this drought will be higher prices and no work available in the fields. The weather has stopped the implementation of six more families in the women’s empowerment project on the volcano San Miguel. We wrote a grant and received the funds in May. Now we are waiting for the weather to cooperate. In contrast, the last week of September has seen torrential rains causing walls to collapse and homes to collapse. The rains end in November, but with climate change everything is uncertain. The new president is very aggressive in implementing changes in law enforcement and in changing the scope of the National Budget. His draft eliminates a secret line item of 300 million dollars, which has caused many investigations, prison time and exile of former presidents. He has reallocated the funds for education and other services which are long overdue. We have a teacher shortage in our two most recent schools. We now have hope that the increased funds may provide the teachers for our 7, 8, and 9 grades. Our Salvadoran partners have appointments with the ministry of education to press for these positions to be filled. High school has 2 and 3 year curriculum. This December is going to be an exciting time as the last of our 42 God children are finishing their high school education. 15 needed scholarships; a few dropped out but when we spoke with them in January, the graduates in the two year program had jobs. Along the way we acquired up two more boys Carlos and Diego who have one more year to complete. They are top students in high school and without financial support their education would be impossible. Their scholarships are being provided by children who attended Vacation Bible School. Their VBS focus was raising funds to support a student in Tanzania and these two boys. We recently received the check and look forward to letting them know they can finish their dream. We are finishing up our 2 public schools with needed improvements. One is to enclose the school grounds to keep neighboring farm animals off the play area which will provide safety and will prevent the spread of disease to these vulnerable malnourished children. We know that through all these years and all these many projects, our mission has become your mission also. We are deeply grateful for your financial support, your prayers and your encouragement to us and by sharing our stories with others. May the Lord continue to bless and keep you in this grace. David y Nancy
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Our January 2019 journey began in a memorable way. After missed connections, lost luggage and wearing the same clothes for three days, we finally settled in to our time in El Salvador. We were accompanied by Judy Steffes, a freelance journalist who also publishes the Washington County Insider. With losing a day, we rearranged our schedule allowing Judy the opportunity to learn the culture, people, and environment so as she meets people she would be able to better identify with them. On Wednesday we met with the leaders of Habitat for Humanity of El Salvador. Our purpose is to understand the scope of a pending build in our Sister Parish Community of Fe y Esperanza. HFH has asked us to fund raise for this event and frankly we are seeking more information for sharing with potential donors. After our breakfast meeting we went to Fe to meet the community and visit some homes. Some of our members live in barracks at the former refugee camp. The HFH team upon entering these buildings immediately stated these are not habitable. HFH El Salvador requires the candidate to have a clear title to a lot before they qualify for HFH loan, for either repairing or building a home. Our challenge is how to help these families buy lots so they qualify for a loan/build. The next day we traveled to the Far East to revisit the women’s chicken project, hot houses and the hardware store we started in 2011. Highway 2 is under construction to make the two lane highway into four lanes. The detours were dangerous and difficult to drive during the day and much worse at night. The drive was often terrifying. The women greeted us, showing the latest coops and letting us know they need ten more. Other developments included the women now producing chicks rather than buying them. One woman told us the income she makes from her project. It’s impressive, making this another very successful project that is managed by Oikos. After this meeting we left the women of the volcano and headed to the lagoon. This is a very important wet land as many of our Midwest birds migrate though this lagoon. The local people have tried to make a living fishing and also to protect it from pollutants. With modest income from the lagoon, Oikos recommended they turn to agriculture with construction of two new hot houses. They are full of sweet and tasty chile pepper plants, creating more income. Our last stop of the day was a visit to the hardware store in the community where we lived. Whether it’s a local Ace Hardware store or Fleet Farm, I (David) love hardware stores. This income creation project in 2011 has grown with two more locations and has provided many jobs and scholarships for the youth of the churches in which we served. It was a good home-coming, greeting many friends before heading back to San Salvador on highway 2. On Friday it’s Rotary Day to deliver text books to the public school from a grant from District 6270 through Nancy’s Sunrise Rotary Club. This is school number seven that we are rebuilding and invigorating. In the past year, three separate classrooms were developed by building two dividers in an open hall. Computers were installed and being used; supplies of pencils, paper, art materials were donated and now text books for all grades and students. Our project partners also distributed backpacks to all the children. Construction of the new healthy kitchen continued while we were there with the sounds of celebrations joining with pounding and sawing on the new lunch facility. After this joyful morning, we met with the high school students who received scholarships. To backup for a moment, over four years we developed and funded the creation of the grades 7, 8, and 9 at a community public school. When the 41 students graduated from the 9th grade, 15 could not afford to attend high school. We found sponsors for them and they attended the local high school. Two dropped out with need to work to help support their families, four completed their two year program and the remainder are completing their third year of high school in 2019. Many of their report cards are marked “superior”. All did very well. Two of the boys now rank number 1 and number 3 in their high school studies. A little bit of encouragement and support, even from a distance, goes a long way to change a life. David y Nancy
Thursday, November 29, 2018
November Projects Update We recently received updates from two project partners: One is from the couple that we have partnered with to begin rehab of our 7th public school; the other is the continuing growth of the women’s cooperative of raising and selling chickens in their community to improve the diet for their families and to create income. We have always attached pictures to tell the story, but google will not display the photos, only the numeric code. If anyone could give suggestions on how I can resume photos, we will appreciate your advice. We have had a remarkable year in the school restoration. We have received many donations allowing us to wire transfer significant money for repairs in 2018. It really hard to explain how unsafe and under equipped these institutions are. The pictures we post don’t tell the story. Pictures with these beautiful children standing in doorways or of eating lunch don’t tell the story. With no desks, text books, paper or pencils, parents send their kids to school for supervision and a lunch. The Department of Education recently won a global award for its free lunch program. We have eaten with the kids and we can attest a tortilla and powdered milk is no award winner. The chicken project started in 2013. After our January 2018 visit, we sent funds for another four coops to our project partners for training, construction and purchase of chicks in our base community. We are delighted that the women and families from the past 6 years who have their chicken business continue to encourage their neighbors when they are included in the chicken cooperative. It’s a blessing to see them support one another because they are rebuilding the value system of what it means to be community. We really look forward to spending time with them; however they wonder why we come to this difficult place. But they know that we are pleased with their work and will continue to support this life-changing project for more participants. Our first project was a sanitation project that we prayed about starting in 2004. The problem was that children in the community were dying from diarrhea. This became a major long-term engineering project that was way over our abilities. We had dedicated partners and volunteers who made it successful for the well-being of this whole community. And we learned to take on challenges and do them in smaller phases. It was a crucial lesson for our future visioning. When we return in January 2019, we will meet for our third time with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador to develop a plan to repair and provide homes for those in need in our church community. Once again we are out of our league and careful not to raise false hope. But we have been called, thus the risk and results reside with our Lord and Savior, Jesus the living Christ. David y Nancy
Monday, September 10, 2018
We recently received good news from our project partners in El Salvador that more chicken units are under development for empowering women. In January 2018, our delegation visited the women’s empowerment project facilitated by our partners at Oikos. The women were very grateful for the financial support that provides building materials for a coop and a brood of chicks to start their family business. The women’s cooperative has invited two older men into their organization offering them the same available resources. We were pleased to witness their generous spirit. After our return home, we were able to transfer funds allowing 4 more families into the chicken business. This project began with 41 women needing startup funding; we now have only 6 remaining families to bring into this economic initiative. Our relationship with Oikos started in 2009 when we moved to El Salvador. The staff played a major role in our understanding the culture, people and the significance of community development to build strength together. We have traveled up and down the volcano many times viewing numerous projects facilitated by Oikos and funded by European and American sponsors. These projects are based on the community learning team work for effective and sustainable results. In contrast to the above projects, we visited a site in 2011 where Oikos was asked to work on conservation and protection. The community experienced a violent storm that washed out parts of the shore line. Another storm followed and the entire community washed into the ocean. The only evidence was outhouses remaining far out in the water. The community had cut down the coconut trees between the ocean and the houses thus destroying the natural defense to storms. People need training to use natural resources and good environmental practices. With Oikos commitments to address problems of climate change and soil erosion, they continue to implement conservation projects in 5 communities in the Eastern zone. This has been one of their consistent areas of focus as often it is the first step in preparing land for sustainable agriculture. These projects use the same engineering skills to protect the community from the major tropical storms and reclaim the country’s water resources. On a national level El Salvador has realized that it is depleting its water resources and needs to take action to stabilize the water table. With local and foreign funding, Oikos is implementing reforestation in two major communities that have significant watersheds. These seem to be the same important issues for us here in the United States: soil and water conservation, organic agriculture, management of land use, protection of forests and air quality, wise and sustainable practices to benefit all. While El Salvador has seriously neglected these concerns for many generations, we cannot do the same and expect our future generations to repair major environmental damage.
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. While this will be our seventh school and the needs are similar, the improvements require much planning for effective implementation. We will keep you informed about how these plans progress. Maybe you would like to be part of the experience. David y Nancy
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.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
The Habitat Build concluded on Sunday, Oct 30, with 14 members of the 16 person team leaving for home. Flight delays prevented those living on the east coast from reaching home the same day. We stayed at the beach for another 3 days for a short but enjoyable vacation time.
While at the Build site we had an unusual experience. It started with us asking our HFH coordinator if the matching funds from my previous employer could be directed to HFH El Salvador or must remain at Americus Georgia. Wednesday the Director of Development came to the site to talk with us. He asked us what we wanted to do in El Salvador. We had a quick reply and that is to improve education.
He had a HFH vehicle so he took us to a community hoping to build a multipurpose center. This small community is where our build took place in 2015. We had the opportunity to visit the family whose home we helped build. We were greeted with strong hugs and smiles. Then we visited with women of the Women’s Cooperative to hear the story of their problem.
They have been renting a small house where they make crafts to sell and also have a daycare for the little children. The children entering kindergarten are not prepared, thus the community is providing training in readiness skills.
The woman owning the small house recently married and wants to return home. The cooperative must find another location. They have a vision of bringing together children from 3 nearby communities to attend the daycare run by volunteer mothers.
It seems the only recourse is to build but that is not in HFH El Salvador’s 2016-2017 plans. It is a stretch of Habitat’s vision. On Saturday we received an email that HFH would consider the building as we are committed to fundraising for this new project. While we are in the very early stages of planning and developing a common vision with HFH, it seems this will be a good partnership
Supporting a multi-purpose building also expands our vision. A program to care for children and get them ready for success in school is an educational opportunity we cannot ignore. Your continued support can help make this happen.
We would like to have a one week build team for this new project in 2017. Future planning with the HFH staff may include this possibility for permission and support. If it becomes a reality, you are invited to work with us in El Salvador to experience a different culture, the life of the rural poor, and to help make a positive impact in the world.
David y Nancy
Sunday, October 30, 2016
We previously wrote about a young girl from the community of our current public school project. She was sitting next to an adult at a roadside café eating pupusas when a gunman drove past and fired shoots. Joselyn was hit in the throat. She was hospitalized for months. When the doctors didn’t have the experience to perform surgery, they contacted a hospital in Boston for assistance. Joselyn had surgery there and will need more to repair her breathing and eating functions. A recent picture shows her gaining weight and looking much better.
We are writing from El Salvador. Our first week has been spent with a Habitat Build. A group of sixteen from around the USA has gathered, some with experience and a couple of first timers. Thrivent Financial has been building homes in the Santa Ana area since the past earthquake. While building homes might be completed in this particular community, we hope Thrivent Financial continues its support of Habitat in other locations. El Salvador is still short over 400,000 homes.
The remainder of our visit will focus on our agriculture and public school projects. We continue in agriculture as food production is limited and food needs to be imported. Our projects create small businesses for poor rural families. Forty nine families participated in the past project, learning the latest practices to improve yields and some were provided rented land. All total, approximately 150 families have benefit from these small business projects. Also five women’s cooperatives were established for raising chickens.
Nine high school graduates were provided scholarships to learn a trade at the technical school in Usulután. They finish studies in December but the graduation ceremony will be in March and we will have to miss it.
With continued violence throughout the country, many businesses have closed. Others and our project partners are determining what new practices can be established to protect their equipment, employees and customers. With that in mind, we have partnered to establish a Technical School for the study of agriculture in the western zone of the country. The students will need a high school education to attend. Our goal is to make this school sustainable, using many of the practices our friend Daniel experienced at Wellspring Organic Farm in Newburg, Wisconsin.
The last week will close with the dedication of the new Kindergarten classroom building that we have been fundraising for this past year. Forty students will attend in the morning and another forty in the afternoon session. After the formal dedication ceremony, the first ninth grade class will graduate. We received a special invitation so our plans include attending to enjoy one our most rewarding projects. Our donors have strengthened this public school by providing class room dividers, new roofs, windows and an air-conditioned computer lab. In adding the 7, 8, 9 grade classes, our donors have provided the desks and text books for students and teachers.
At our first visit to the school in 2013, the enrollment was 270, now it’s over 500. The students stay in their community to attend school and can avoid all the gang turf wars that are penalizing the education of its youth. It’s estimated over 80,000 youth stay home as the streets are too dangerous to travel. This has resulted in schools closing and teachers being laid off.
This is why school projects are so important for changing the future of the youth, families and communities.
David y Nancy
Saturday, May 21, 2016
It’s the 2016 planting season. Wisconsin’s farm conditions are good as the ground is moist and the corn crop is 50% planted statewide.
Two weeks ago our Salvadoran project partners wrote to us advising that it hasn’t rained in their community in 6 months. Wells that supply drinking water to homes are drying up and the government is providing water to some communities from tanker trucks. The drought that is being experienced in parts of El Salvador was forecasted and there is no relief predicted until July. That’s cutting into 60 days of what should be the growing season.
If the rains materialize later in the season, the hilly/mountain terrain and years of deforestation prevent the moisture from soaking into the water table. The overall moisture situation is very fragile.
The government continues to import grains to keep the prices in the market stable. The prices are actually below last year’s prices according to FEWS. Without government action to stabilize the price of commodities in the market place, the threat of civil unrest is a very real concern.
With food scarce anyone having produce to sell would be in a favorable position but not in El Salvador. While our agriculture projects have benefited hundreds of families, the final phase of the agriculture project was to take marketing of the crops to the next level. Initial plans were to secure commitments from the families for the quantity of products they could deliver on a weekly basis. They would bring their products to a distribution center and be paid. Sellers (in the market) would purchase the produce from the distribution center and sell from stands our partner would establish. Everyone in this system would be under contact. The sellers would keep the revenue from sales and this market plan would have created more jobs.
We had to abandon this plan due to the extreme violence that is currently taking place. No one is safe. Women shopping in the market, shop keepers, students, taxi and/or bus drivers and pastors, everyone is at risk of extortion, death threats or cross fire from the gangs.
Our project partners are no exception. The gang visited their offices and demanded extortion money. They had to make a payment or risk death. After the gang left, they gathered the employees and had a frank discussion that the office was closing due to the imminent danger. The employees responded that without work, they would be better off dead, so they continued to work to train and support the rural farmers.
Later in the month the offices were broken into on a weekend and all electronic equipment was stolen. The office is surrounded by residential homes, why didn’t someone call the police? You need to live in El Salvador to understand the culture and their society. It’s not as simple as ours.
After a difficult 6 months, our project partners are re-thinking what they can do in this war like environment. They have to create a safer environment for their employees. This means moving the office to a more secure location. Next they can no longer work in the field; they will need to work in a protected environment like a training center.
For our project partners who have dedicated the last 20 years of their life’s work to benefit others this is a heart break. We grieve with them as they make difficult decisions for their future and the futures of those they have worked alongside.
David y Nancy