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.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
We left for the airport Sunday afternoon to stay at the convenient park and fly hotel for early morning departure. At 4:00 Monday morning, much to our surprise, a small delegation from our synod was also on their way to El Salvador. We thought they left Sunday so the surprise was a pleasant one as we enjoyed conversation and time together on the trip. The delegation is participating in a gathering of the Lutheran churches from various locations in the US and Europe that have sister parish relationships in El Salvador. Due to heavy storms, we landed in Atlanta late and had to run to the international departure gate. The Atlanta baggage handlers on the other hand decided “what’s the rush?” As the delegation that originated from Milwaukee noticed the Salvadoran airport baggage belt void of any of our luggage, we knew what happened. Many other late arrivals at the gate had the same experience. Our baggage was promised for early Tuesday afternoon. That would give the baggage handlers 24 hours to move 58 bags a thousand feet on their trucks and carts used for such purpose. Francisco was to pick us up at the airport but it’s late and did he wait? When I completed the claim process I started to look for him and was overwhelmed with taxi drivers swarming me, blocking my way. I said I am looking for a specific motorist. A moment later Francisco’s brother, Alexi, walked up behind me and said “you’re going to Hotel Mariscal.” I recognized him; he was our driver in March and his children attend the public school where we are implementing additional grades and classrooms. This came together nicely. When we arrived at our hotel our clothing was drenched in sweat and smelled. We went to the mall next door to our hotel to purchase some replacement clothing. In the underwear department, the young man and I couldn’t determine what size was correct, so he said he would model it. It’s a term lost in translation; it wasn’t what it sounded like. After a very hot shower, clean clothes and a cold beer, at day’s end, we said it was a great First Day. Alexi arranged for his brother to pick us up at 12:30 to return to the airport. On the way I told Francisco what process we were told to follow. He said no way. I will go with you to guide you. We entered the main entrance of the airport and went to Information office. We had to leave our drivers licenses at Information office to secure a red entry pass. At the immigration/customs/baggage area, we experienced a heavy security search and headed to baggage claim. No one was attending the Delta counter. We then considered our red pass was available for “free range” and looked at every piece of luggage we could find with no luck. An agent approached us and said give me your paper work and I will track them down and told us where to stand. Then another Milwaukee person spotted Nancy and said your luggage is with the Synod delegation. So Nancy disobeyed orders and found our luggage. I was watching and joined her. The agent had abandoned his search for our luggage and was helping another traveler. We got our papers from him and returned to customs. The same agent from yesterday redirected us to another luggage scanner. The people in front of us were having many problems. We had none when it was our turn. Happily leaving the airport with Francisco, we stopped for pupusas and got 16 to share with friends at the hotel. On opening our suitcases for eating utensils and other supplies, we discovered that they had apparently been left on the cart in the rain in Atlanta. Most of our clothing was in plastic bags but clothes for tomorrow were not and were soaked. The hotel clothes dryer is broken, but between the hair dryer and the iron and enjoying freshly made pupusas, Day Two was another great day. David y Nancy
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Droughts and flooding are the news from eastern El Salvador. Last week’s pictures in one of the national newspapers showed the Rio Grande San Miguel at flood stage in the township of Concepcion Batres. The bridge crossing the river is usually 20 feet above water level. Last week the river was touching the roadway and flooding shoreline communities. On June 1, 2010 on our way to church in Puerto Parada, homes were standing in 2 feet of water. This continued for 8 weeks and the people remained in their homes with nowhere else to go. Can you imagine living in two feet of filthy water for 2 months? The first planting of seeds withered in the drought. The second planting is usually nourished by these rains but last week they have been severe, destroying the bean plants and creating landslides in the volcanic zone. Landslides can be catastrophic if not immediately removed. Debris and mud can create a damming effect and once the pressure of the dammed water exceeds the pressure of the blockage, a wall of water is released with unstoppable force. The Salvadoran government is assessing the crops to determine if the harvest will be comparable to previous years or will be less. This is critical for the government to know food security risks to avoid a regional famine. An agency of USAID is predicting that by June 2016 1,000,000 Salvadorans will be experiencing hunger. That’s 20% of the population and can result in catastrophic emergencies and civil unrest in communities. Here in Wisconsin we are experiencing an excellent harvest. The final crop is soybean. Like the corn crop this year, it’s predicted to be a bumper crop. But for our partners in El Salvador the question is if the undamaged crops will mature in time for the harvest. And for us, it’s also personal. Will our agriculture grant participants benefit from their hard work through the December/January harvest? We will learn more in November during our visits to the project sites. David y Nancy
Monday, July 20, 2015
We have long time friends at Wellspring Organic Farm and Retreat Center, just down the road from our home. We know the founder and also the Executive Director who is a fellow Rotarian. We happened to meet at a Rotary meeting a few months ago and talked about the possibly of having someone experience Wellspring, working in the fields for room and board, learning the “systems” and practices of Wellspring. We approached Wellspring because in March while meeting with Oikos we shared that Southeastern Wisconsin is rich in organic and aquaponics farming. We suggested that Oikos send someone to visit for the summer to study these practices from a North American perspective and compare them to the current Salvadoran practices. Oikos sent a staff member to us on June 7 to be with us for 6 weeks. He lives at Wellspring with six other adults. One of their staff also speaks Spanish allowing the transition from English to Spanish on details about farm topics as well as participating in class discussion. Wellspring operates year round selling produce grown in a huge green house. They get an early spring start on outdoor plants using hoop houses. Classes are offered as time allows; this time of the growing season is devoted to planting, weeding, harvesting. Wellspring is also a CSA. People join as members for a full payment or a lesser payment if combined by working four hours a week to maintain the fields. Membership entitles the family to one bag of food per week. Weeding is the current need and he had enough after 6 days of back breaking weeding. The CSA is a new concept for him and he loves the idea. He has already approached Oikos with Salvadoran version of CSA and he tells us the idea was well received. The Salvadoran version means they need to consider the local culture for implementation. We took our guest to visit Will Allen’s Growing Power. He liked how they improve the quality of soil by adding organic materials. He said they can also implement this in El Salvador by making arrangements with the local mayor to collect the organic material the street cleaners sweep up daily after the open air markets close. With this organic material added to the soil and the addition of red worms, they will be able to restore soil that has been poisoned by the over use of chemicals. Will Allen’s has hydroponics but it has become too sophisticated to replicate in rural El Salvador. So we also visited Lone Duck Farm where this newer vertical farm is just 2 years old and has a simpler version of aquaponics. In both instances raising fish are an element of the “system”. We saw some beautiful three pound tilapia, perch and bluegills. Again he said they can do this. El Salvador currently raises tilapia but not 3 pounders. We asked the owner of Lone Duck if he would spend a week in El Salvador to help build a system - he didn’t say no, but we didn’t get a commitment either. His social life is also in full gear. Three of the adults at Wellspring have transportation and they do local activities during the week and on the weekends. We enjoy time with him on Sundays and others from our church also have time together with him. He has a beautiful smile and it was at its biggest when we visited the south side of Milwaukee and pulled up to the Salvadoran restaurant for a robust lunch. We don’t know how many transferable concepts he will be able to take back to El Salvador but there is no risk and the potential is limitless. David y Nancy
Sunday, June 7, 2015
The second week of our recent visit in El Salvador was to gather information about the developing projects funded by the Greater Milwaukee Lutheran Synod Grant. On Monday we met in San Salvador with the Oikos Management team of Benjamin Alas and his son Daniel to bring us up to date on the projects taking place in the volcanic range in the east. While we receive emails about these projects routinely, it’s more fun to be there than reading about them. On Tuesday the four of us left San Salvador at day break and headed east on highway 2. In Concepcion Batres we met with the pastors working these projects with Oikos. They were all familiar to us so we spent time hearing the latest news about families and church life. The meeting started with churches micro-region leader reading scripture and leading us in prayer. It continued with Oikos explaining the latest initiative to organize the communities “South” of the Volcano into a formal organization, providing residents in this range with more security and better community infrastructure. Time passed quickly and we were all ready for lunch. The entire group got into 4 trucks and Benjamin lead us on an hour drive up the side of a mountain to a high city of Alegria. The menu choices were a small fish, larger fish, much larger fish or very large fish. That was lunch and dinner for us. Wednesday we visited the project sites. The women told us the cycle for the chicken projects is six weeks which begins with the purchase of chicks and food, then they are sold locally for $4 apiece or what the market will allow in that current cycle. They stated the project provided meaningful activity, better diet, cash income, money for their churches and benefited all participants. Benjamin added that the chicken cages constructed from solid metal materials prevented the yearly deforestation of trees usually used to rebuild the coops. These chickens are not free range. In other locations, large birds circled overhead; the men from Oikos pointed out they were looking for a chicken dinner. We are home so the email communication resumes. Benjamin writes about the next phase of project development: In the agriculture communities, each pastor has selected 10 families to participate in the planting of chilies, tomatoes, sesame seeds, bananas, selected fruit trees, corn and beans. Oikos will determine the appropriate crops for each family’s soil. The families will grow vegetables and fruit for consumption and also for sale in the market. This is how Oikos creates small family businesses for the rural poor. With these Oikos directed projects, 95 families will have been helped to establish their own business since 2011. Through other mission projects, one church has been assisted to own and operate a hardware store. Adding the public school improvements with computers, text books, desks, windows and roofs, about 8,000 Salvadorans are experiencing benefits in their family’s lives. That number will increase as these projects are sustainable and will benefit more individuals in the coming years. David y Nancy
Monday, May 18, 2015
Nancy had been writing our blogs since we arrived in El Salvador in November 2009. She was journalism major at Marquette University so she was most qualified and enjoyed doing it. That responsibility changed when we took a train ride from downtown San Salvador to Apopa. It was fun and dangerous and I really felt I had to write about this adventure. It’s been five years and I haven’t stopped writing. I wrote our journals with words and along the way with passion when I started having visions and dreams of what needed to be shared. Our experiences in El Salvador went from our minds to our souls as we wrote and edited from our hearts and spirits. Here is my first edition dated May 2010: Join us for a ride on the local commuter train, but first a bit of history. The current railroad company is the result of a merger between two companies, one of which is the International Railways of Central American, a former subsidiary of the infamous United Fruit Company (of banana republic fame). Thousands fled El Salvador during the civil war, hopping on freight trains headed out of the country. After the war, passenger traffic declined as the trains were routinely held up and passengers robbed. With El Salvador the most highly populated country in Central America and with a severe shortage of land, the former right-of-ways were settled by squatters. In 2007 the rail company resumed limited service and required all squatters off their tracks. Thousands of people were forced to move. Hundreds of others merely shortened the size of their homes, allowing for passage of the train. We arrived at the downtown San Salvador train station at 4:20 in the afternoon. At the platform we saw a modern diesel engine with two tanker cars and five antique passenger cars. We boarded and started our journey to Apopa about 20 miles away. The train traveled two blocks and made its first stop. In all we must have made 30 or 40 stops, each one about 15 seconds as people climbed on and off. If the windows were without wire screens, we could have touched the homes, clothes lines, children playing and people walking along the tracks. The train rolled by their front doors, over their driveways, across patios and play areas. One can look into many homes, wave to the residents, see what they’re eating and what’s on the television. As we picked up speed, the passenger cars heaved left and right and then across a ridge with a fantastic overview of the valley below. The steep hillsides are populated with homes and the country side is bright green reflecting the lush vegetation that grows wild in Central America. The Apopa train station was a 4-pole metal roofed open air structure with no amenities. The whistle blew for 2 hours, warning all that the train was coming. There are no street signals or crossing guard arms. The tanker cars wet the rail bed to prevent a cloud of dust from choking the passengers and the residents. Each passenger car has a National Police man on guard. The return trip back to San Salvador went a little faster because it was mostly downhill. Our 2 hour train ride cost 20 cents round trip. It was a great experience to see another view of the city and the country side. David y Nancy
Monday, May 11, 2015
With the generous support of our Rotary Clubs and Rotary District 6270, we returned to the public school in La Paz with funding to continue the many needed improvements for the buildings, classroom equipment and educational materials. We arrived at the school finding about 470 morning and afternoon students lined up and waiting for us. We were received like royalty. The students held flags they made expressing “welcome” and “thank you”. We were greeted in English and the Lord’s Prayer in English by two students. Eight girls in beautiful dresses danced, the national anthem was played and the Salvadoran flag was raised on the flag pole. It was wonderful not to hold back, to let emotions take over and enjoy the moment. The first 8th grade class started in January 2015. Last year these students were the first 7th grade class in this school. We had planned on 25 students for this class and 35 showed up. This year we again budgeted for 25 students for the first 8th grade class and 45 students enrolled. How could our assessment be off by almost 100%? Answer - increasing gang activity The neighboring town has a strong gang presence that does not want outsiders in their community. Therefore students who attended the neighboring school now attend our school to continue their education. This is not an idle threat against the students as gangs will kill those who do not do as they demand. Sometimes to make a point they will torture a student and leave the body on the road as a warning to others. Our goals are to provide a safe, resource abundant community school. We sincerely believe if we can meet the needs of these students to provide a place to survive and thrive in their community, they have an alternative to leaving families behind for a perilous journey north. In our initial assessment, we planned for funding for all 3 classes. Even at this late date we can made modifications to our assessment for providing more students with desks and text books. But the beautiful new building for the 7th, 8th and 9th grades was built to serve 75 students and enrollment is 135. Paid teaching positions promised by the ministry of education were not provided. Some teachers are working for food and support provided by other project partners and some parents. One of the parents working on installing new roofs probably should have been home in bed and died after a day of volunteer work. The sacrifices made by so many are not known by many. Our closing meeting concluded that we have basic funding for the equipment, desks and text books for the 9th grade class in 2016 but more will be needed. Another classroom is needed to accommodate growth but we lack any immediate means for the purchase of materials to provide more space for the January 2016 school year. In November 2016, the students we have accompanied since they started 7th grade will be graduating from 9th grade. While distributing text books in the 8th grade classroom, the students proudly reminded us they are graduating next November and the principal said “you must be here!” And we plan to be with them on this next step of their journey. David y Nancy
Sunday, March 22, 2015
The issue of children migrating to the states from Central/South America is not getting the press required for you to be fully informed. The press writes that we and our children are at risk from diseases they bring into the country and our social welfare state will be bankrupt from their presence. Until Sunday we did not have first-hand accounts to share about the issues of immigration. But in our church community in El Salvador, we were told our Godson was sent to the states to be with his mother as the gangs were targeting him. He is just a quiet young boy in high school, sent with a smuggler to the US. Our hearts sank when we were told. The community leaders said it’s ok, he made it. However the peril in that trip puts anyone on edge. Fox news has an excellent story as to the “why” of immigration: Five children from one family witnessed the murder of their neighbor, a 21 year old man, who was gunned down by 4 men. The children lived with their grandmother as the mother had sought asylum in the US from an abusive marriage. The next day the family starting receiving death threats against the children. Grandmother changed her cell phone number many times but continued to receive the threatening calls with each newly issued number. During the past 5 years, the mother has been able to have all 5 children join her. None of the children were able to come to the US legally. Mother paid smugglers thousands of dollars to bring the children to the US one at time. Her only son, the last one, arrived last summer. He tells a frightening story of living in El Salvador where gang members were always threatening him with “join us or die”. How could a mother make this decision to send her children on a journey that has claimed countless lives? She says, “I was not going to let them kill my children. I prefer them to take the risk to get here for a better life than face certain death in El Salvador.” Today’s daily Salvadoran newspaper reports that from January 1 to March 18, there have been 913 violent deaths recorded. This is 287 more than last year at this time. This is the national reality. One Sunday in 2014, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran this article: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/for-child-migrants-walking-1400-miles-might-be-worth-it-b99348809z1-274901021.html The author, Jamie Stark, spends time in Wisconsin and El Salvador serving the clients of the homeless shelter operated by the Lutheran church in San Salvador. The article tells that a United Nations report found that of 404 recent Salvadoran migrant children interviewed, most left for the U.S. for family, opportunity, or to escape violence in society. It would be interesting for all of us to think about our ancestors’ reasons for coming to America. Were they very different than those expressed above? Are safety or opportunity no longer valid reasons to seek the American Dream? Our ancestors often came as teenagers. Can we hold today’s young immigrants to a different standard? David y Nancy
Monday, March 9, 2015
Signs of Spring: • The ice fishing shacks have been removed from the frozen lakes and rivers this weekend. • We hear the owls calling to each other during the night. We understand this is their mating ritual. It can’t be the temperature driving this behavior, must be the longer day light. • Our local conservancy is preparing for the annual wild flower plant sale held in early May. This is a major community event in its 28th year. All these traditional indicators point us to spring, new life and preparation for the planting season. It’s been a cold winter - we have a lot of ice, but the snow isn’t deep. We will need those April showers to provide moisture for the seeds to grow. We are on final count down for our return to El Salvador tomorrow. March is the hottest month in El Salvador and points them to winter. Winter is when the April planting begins to take advantage of the start of the rainy season. It’s been dry since October, so the showers are needed to provide moisture for their crops. Last year the rains started early. It was an ominous sign as a drought followed, killing the tender plants in three regions of the country causing the price of beans and corn to escalate throughout the country. Many emails have gone back and forth in planning for our trip. We begin in La Paz to visit the new 8th grade class that started this year. We also hope to see the progress on the new roof and improvements to the rest rooms. When we visit our sister parish community, we will follow up on reports by a February medical mission regarding children with health issues. We want to better understand treatment opportunities or obstacles the families may be facing so we can bring this information back to our church family. Many of the emails pertain to the Community Development projects that are under way. The women’s chicken projects are operating and 10 students are attending 2 year technical programs. The beneficiaries of the project want to meet with us to share some thoughts they have for the future. We anticipate that they are incorporating the effects of last year’s drought into the implementation of the agriculture projects. We will listen to their hope and vision to be an encouragement and blessing to them and their communities in the volcanic range. David y Nancy
Monday, February 16, 2015
We recently wrote about the excitement at the public school and also the projects funded by our major grant from the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. This grant continues to offer many blessing to the brothers and sisters in the east. Now we have news from our partner Oikos Solidaridad as it implements Phase 2 of the Community Development Grant. Phase 2 includes sending students who completed high school to attend Technical/Vocational training. Since few students in this area complete high school, the pastors were unsure they could find ten. On Monday (February 9), five young men and five young women started classes at the technical institute in the east. These are from families we met in 2009 who asked for our help to provide education for their children. In 2009 we were not prepared to meet these needs; it was not a part of our mission work while serving in El Salvador. But we did listen and we learned from them of their hopes – for themselves, their families, their communities. Before we realized it, we were developing an assessment of the community. We documented what we heard and learned. Five years later an opportunity presented itself; we took a risk and wrote a grant. Now we are in the process of implementing life changing opportunities for generations. Our project partner Oikos has negotiated a contract with the institute to secure special arrangements for these students. Oikos holds the 10 student positions and has filled them with students recommended by the participating pastors. This contract provides the beneficiaries with additional flexibility; in case a student leaves the program, another can be selected. This is a practical and unusual plan to enhance this education opportunity. The students’ families are also providing an investment in their children by contributing transportation and lunch money for their student. This is a substantial commitment by these poor families. It is very important to keep these students in prayer as bus rides and school settings are points of danger due to the gang activity rampant in El Salvador. When we return in March, we are eager to visit the sites and the beneficiaries of the chicken-raising project and to meet the new students and their families. We will also have a gathering with Oikos and the pastors where they have asked for time to discuss new ideas they have. We look forward to their energy and future vision. David y Nancy
Thursday, January 22, 2015
These Kindergarteners have a bright future. In the past, formal schooling ended for these families at the sixth grade. The parents determined it was too dangerous for the children to travel to the neighboring community to attend 7, 8 or 9th grade. The danger is created by gang violence. So the boys would enter the labor market with their fathers, many cutting sugar cane and the girls would help their mothers at home. The parents had the will to expect more for their children, so they asked a local land owner for help to expand their school, providing 7th, 8th and 9th grades. With support from the Sugar Cane Association, they were given funding for materials to construct a large new building making 3 classrooms. The ministry of education would not provide any teachers until the school included computer education. Together with our project partners and donors, we repaired the roofs, purchased windows, provided an air conditioned computer classroom and the necessary equipment and text books for the first 7th grade class that began in January 2014. In March we will continue for the 8th and 9th grades. The parents and teachers work together to ensure that all the students are fed at lunch time and that no student is left out. This has been another remarkable community with a shared vision and hope for the future of their children. David y Nancy
Monday, November 24, 2014
The Minister of Education of El Salvador, Carlos Canjura, acknowledges that 3,300 of the 5,164 public schools are in bad condition. He describes the 3,300 as “not conditions of comprehensive schools, schools worthy of our children”. That’s 64% of the public schools in El Salvador that are not worthy for Salvadoran children. We have visited communities with brand new public schools built by the European Union and Taiwan that remain unopened due to the lack of operating funds. But more often we are invited to one of the 3,300 operating public schools finding leaking roofs, broken and cracked desk tops with other parts missing, small desks for big students, no desks for smaller students, no text books, no lighting, no white boards, and no windows. Rest rooms often provide no protection or privacy for the female students and sanitary conditions that are better left to the imagination than describe here. Since 2011 we have been addressing these issues in 5 public schools. Our projects have provided many students with computer skills where we either supplied computers and/or build a room and/or installed electricity and air conditioning to protect the equipment. We have also provided roof repairs, windows, desks, concrete floors, lighting and text books. This has all been accomplished with donated funds. Our project partners built 3 class rooms in 2012 with seating space for 75 students in the new 7th, 8th and 9th grades. One year ago we furnished the seventh grade. During December and January, the Rotary District 6270 and the West Bend Rotary Clubs will be furnishing the eighth and ninth grade classrooms at a public school in La Paz, along with repairs to another building. New furnishings will include student desks, teacher’s desk and chair, white board and new text books. When school resumes in January, these students will be attending one of El Salvador’s most well equipped public schools. This success creates a dilemma. During registration just two weeks ago, the school is once again at capacity, unable to receive all the students of this rural community who want an education. The new challenge is how to meet the growing need to serve many with space limitations. On one trip home from El Salvador, we found this quote from Kofi Annan in the airline magazine. “Education is, quite simply, peace building by another name. It’s the most effective form of defense spending there is.” For the children and families of El Salvador, it is a call and opportunity that cannot be ignored. David y Nancy
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
The Current Salvadoran Situation When we left El Salvador in May, the winter rains had already started. This was unusual and the Salvadorans were unsure what it meant for the coming winter. We recently learned more when our friend Benjamin sent us the current outlook from FEWS.NET (Famine Early Warning Systems Network) providing us an alarming weather update. The eastern zone (the bread basket of El Salvador), approximately one third of the country plus other Central American countries are in life threatening drought. Farmers who borrowed money to purchase and plant corn and beans will have little to eat for next year or the means to repay the loans. The cost of beans has doubled in the market. The government is purchasing beans from outside the country to stabilize the Salvadoran market but the cost to the consumer remains too high. In Usulután, the government raided the home of a local grain/bean proprietor to determine if he was hoarding staples of grain/beans to keep prices high (he was not). Another issue is that many coffee pickers haven’t worked for two years as the leaf rust has damaged the coffee plants and diminished the harvest. Wages have fallen for those working and picking coffee is already one of the lowest paying wages. Just before the inauguration of the new President, the level of killing escalated from 5 a day to one day of 25 killings. Earlier in August, four young men boarded a bus, drew toy guns and started robbing the passengers. A passenger who was armed killed one robber and wounded another. We have first-hand knowledge of our sister parish youth forced to leave school due to the threat of gang recruitment, intimidation, violence and murder. In the east the Chaparrastique volcano has been simmering all year; 5,000 residents have been on alert 24 hours a day to be ready to flee if necessary. This is the social and environmental situation in which Benjamin is establishing the large Community Development project we launched in April this year. Benjamin writes “the people are in a difficult situation and there is no mercy”. We are beginning to plan our return to El Salvador in November, doing so with heavy hearts. We will be visiting three communities – the school, our faith community and the food security site. The people may have higher expectations of us and our small delegation may be asked to meet needs that will be beyond our abilities. With our brothers and sisters, we seek justice and mercy for the many who are suffering. We pray for social justice, food for the hungry, winter rains, social and internal peace, a dormant volcano and a successful implementation of the Community Development Project. David y Nancy
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Prior to our arrival in El Salvador to implement the food security projects, we had been in communication with Benjamin Alas sharing the components of the projects. Without time to have a pre meeting with Benjamin, he developed a presentation that was rolled out to the pastors, church staff and visitors. Following the office presentation, we all traveled by van and truck to view recent agricultural projects completed by Oikos. Again the beneficiaries were able to share with us the impact these projects bring to them. In Piedra Azul, we were met by 100 women eager to tell us what was on their minds. This placed us at the base of the active volcano but now in the rainy season, clouds blocked the naked eye from viewing the gases emitting from the volcano. The three of us sensed a weak response so Benjamin suggested the three of us meet to review what occurred and how to improve the next meeting. We spent a day developing a strategy. Benjamin also met with Bishop Gomez to get confirmation of his support for the projects. We met again at the end of the week to develop a second presentation for the pastors in the region. We played a more active role by presenting the different responsibilities each of us has in these projects. Pastors Julio and Donal caught the vision for their communities. By the end of the meeting all the pastors indicated support for these projects. They continue to meet to develop a formation document on how they will work together in cooperatives. This is new and difficult for their culture. We left the east to be back in San Salvador for Sunday services at Resurrection Church. After service ended Bishop Gomez offered us lunch and two other families were invited to join his table. We learned that one family had two sons fleeing El Salvador to get away from gang violence. They claimed to be on their way to Mexico, but their goal is probably further north. Also two teenage girls from another family shared they were looking for a safe house as their neighborhood is controlled by gangs and they are not safe. We looked for the girls days later at the safe house but they had not checked in. We shudder when knowing someone from Central America is on their way to the North. A recent online article reported on the 200 plus bodies found in Mexico. They determined the Mexican gangs dealing in illegal migration were sending a message to the coyotes of the lower Americans. Over 200 lives lost over a message. Immigration also is linked to prostitution. Here in Wisconsin the authorities are starting a crackdown on pimping. According to an article in the Journal Sentinel, the authorities have recorded messages between pimps and clients in which Mexican and Salvadoran teenage girls are available for prostitution. Slaves 150 years after slavery ended, just because they were born into poverty. It all becomes so tragic; there seems to be no place to begin to stop the injustice. These issues of poverty and its consequences make us committed to the work of Oikos. When we accompany Benjamin in visits within the volcanic zone, residents recognize Benjamin’s vehicle and hurry to the road side to say hello and engage in conversation. The work of Oikos has made thousands of families sustainable and has reduced crime in their communities. This is just what we hoped for when writing for this grant. Issues here at home are just as complex. Heroin use is epidemic as well as unattended children living in isolation. There is an abundance of ministry for churches, service organizations and community volunteers seeking social justice. David y Nancy
Friday, May 9, 2014
The story begins at the middle of the civil war. Families living in the refugee camp at Fe y Esperanza were anxious to move back into the interior. They were resettled into the community of Panchimilama. Discovered by the military, the air force bombed the camp, injuring two relief workers. The frightened refugees asked to move again. The Lutheran Church has property on Lake Ilopango that borders the states of San Salvador, La Paz and Cuscatlan. The lake is 28 square miles. It is in a caldera (volcano basin), is the second largest lake in the country and is located immediately east of the capital city, San Salvador. It has a scalloped 330 ft. to 1,600 ft. high rim. The refugees were resettled in this property and started a modest coffee finca (farm). Their time there was short and they left before the peace accords were signed. David was invited to join David Carceres, Pastora Norma and Pastor Dimas for an assessment of the property to determine the value and if it could become a source of income for the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. We pick up the two pastors in Soyapango and then drive down the inside of the dormant volcano to the lake shore where we hire a boat to take us to the property. We are the only ones on the lake because it’s the rainy season and storms can develop in minutes. The lake is surrounded by two active volcanos. Sulfur bubbles are visible and noticeable by their odor. We arrive at the finca after an hour boat ride. Pastor Dimas shares the history and the current reality of this place. Two elderly men live on the property and manage the yearly harvest of the coffee. They pick 500 pounds of coffee cherries, loading two horses for the climb up the side of the property and into town. We walk the property left and right to realize this place is huge; we stretch our necks to find the property extends all the way up the mountain side. This is raw land with former roads and buildings vanished from past storms. There is no water or electricity. Three of us are here for the first time and we have a lot of questions. After an hour of questions and answers, it’s time to climb the side of the mountain to view the coffee plants. It’s hot - I’m wearing jeans, way too hot for this climb. After 30 minutes I ask where are the coffee plants? – “just ahead“ our guide responds. It’s another 15 minutes and I need more breaks as the land has many rocks that move under your feet, causing leg fatigue. We reach a point where we stop to view the lake below and realize we cannot reach the top today. The ground is very fertile; we are surrounded by fruit trees (we stop to enjoy), flowering plants and herbs, butterflies and song birds. We go as high as we can and then begin our descent going another way. It’s worse than the walk up and our guide is cutting the trail with his machete. We return to the men’s home and are served warm coffee which doesn’t taste very good. It’s getting cloudy and we hear thunder behind us. We must get off the lake before a storm moves in. We push off for the return and see rain is coming down the mountain, following us across the lake. The engine is at full speed and as we enter the unsheltered part of the lake, the waves become swells and splash into the boat. The motorista begins a zig-zag route to maintain speed and keep the waves from splashing on us. The thunder continues but now the storm is moving to our left. We arrive at shore an hour later, dry, hungry for a late lunch and our return to San Salvador. Here is a 9 minute video of our walk into the finca. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42nLDCi7lY4
Friday, April 25, 2014
We are writing from El Salvador: When we returned home from 2 ½ years living in Usulután we were ready for resuming a more comfortable life style and leave what we accomplished or what we didn’t accomplish in the hands of God. The unfinished business is in the community of Piedra Azul and other smaller communities in the eastern volcanic range. In 2010, at our first meeting in Piedra Azul, we were a little nervous as there was no agenda to guide our conversation. The church could hold 100 North Americans comfortably; 200 Salvadorans attended the meeting. It was packed as the community was very curious. It was a day of many conversations, all of which needed to be translated. We also walked the community and had the opportunity to be one-on-one with a community member who said “we need scholarships to send our children to school”. We said, “why don’t we create some jobs so you can send your children to school?” At this time, Ana Rosa, a pastor and coordinator of the micro-region, was preparing to move to the USA so her time and interest wasn’t in new projects. Our community work would have been impossible but a visiting pastor from Germany introduced us to Oikos Solidaridad and its Executive Director, Benjamin Alas. Oikos works in Community Development in Piedra Azul and other communities in the eastern zone. Benjamin insisted we visit all our new surroundings so that we were aware of our environment. He took us to visit the communities and people displaced by the 2009 flooding of Rio Grande. He also took us to join his work visits to many sites. In Piedra Azul Benjamin took us to the Mother’s Day festivities for the celebration of the organization of the women’s cooperative and a chicken project. We attended the annual Christmas Eve soccer tournament by the church in Piedra Azul. Bishop Gomez officiates at the Christmas worship service that includes confirmations, baptisms and first communions. Before the Bishop leaves the community, he receives gifts of jicama, corn and beans. Seeing the work of Oikos first hand, our West Bend church, Our Savior’s, was willing to fund two projects of food security in the volcanic zone but we felt called to do more as the need is so great. We returned to El Salvador twice in 2013. Each time we spoke with Benjamin about a possible Rotary project for food security. To this end we have attended Rotary meetings in San Miguel, Neenah, South Milwaukee and District Conferences to find a Rotary partner for the purpose of writing a global grant. This process has not developed so we no longer pursue it. We had run out of options to benefit these people. We believed our mission work in the east was over. Then unexpectedly a funding source was announced by the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We struggled with the opportunity; is our time over or should we write a grant? With the approval our church leaders, we wrote a grant considering the needs of the people that remain so fresh in our minds from our first visits and also the additional needs we learned of with the help of Oikos. To our amazement and joy, our grant is approved. We are now in El Salvador to begin implementation of the grant through meetings with church leaders to develop together a vision, goals and a list of participants who will benefit from this grant. It’s another testimony that God answers prayer. He hears the cries of the people living in danger, hunger and poverty and uses our hands for his work. What an Easter blessing!
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Genesis 8 22 - “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” We share a lot of this verse with our brothers and sisters in El Salvador. We are nearing planting season both here in the upper Midwest and also in El Salvador. Our April rains have started and in a couple of weeks, the rains will begin in Central America as well. The cold and heat are not to the same degree or to the extremes we experience in North America, but El Salvador can experience cold in the higher elevations. Our summer and winter are opposite of each other, but we share the same planting and harvest times. We also share this truth with our brothers and sisters in El Salvador: Luke 8:11 – “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.” From the word of God comes the garden of humanity. He places us with millions of others in this garden; some help us grow in faith and others stretch our abilities to serve them and Him in ways we never expected. And we know that as we plant, water, weed and tend the crops, it is always God who gives the growth. In our spiritual lives as individuals and the body of Christ together as families, friends and churches, we go through cycles of growth and dormancy, drought and abundance. But God’s promise is sure that He is the giver of life and creation. God gave us Oscar Romero who planted the word of God in the hearts and minds of the Salvadoran poor. People risked their lives to listen to his Sunday afternoon radio sermon and in turn he risked his life to be close to the people. He visited them to hear about their oppression, injustice and the names of those who disappeared. Romero tended the garden of humanity by offering them his presence, cultivating their faith and listening to their fears and needs. He became despised by the authorities and was a marked man. A high ranking military officer came to Romero to warn him repeatedly to tone down his message to protect his life. The officer was in the inner circle and learned of the date of Romero’s assassination and warned him again. Romero had one more seed to plant; he remained faithful to God’s word and expressed God’s command to stop the killings. For promoting peace, he was murdered in church while preparing for the Eucharist on March 24, 1980. His legacy is alive in our hearts and minds but that’s not enough. We think Romero would be disappointed if we just remembered his legacy. The call is: can we be as bold as Romero in proclaiming the word of truth in God’s message to love, to serve and to free the poor wherever God sends us. Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter celebration. David y Nancy