David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 27

We leave this morning for Fundahmer and our visits to our potential communities and projects. We do not know if we will have access to internet, so if you do not hear from us for a few days. so not worry, just continue to pray for our needs and God's riches for our journey. Please keep praying about David's journal - still not recovered.

RECAP: Our visit to the AgriCenter on Saturday was an excellent training experience for the church and community leaders as they develop their vision for their communities.

Sunday was spent accompaning Bishop Gomez at worship in the city of San Salvador and then to a rural community to celebrate 8 baptisms and 3 confirmations in a small church packed to SRO. Then to dinner with him and his family at a pupuseria on the mountain overlooking the bright lights of the wide spread city of San Salvador.

Monday we went to La Granja for a final look at the project to see its progress with community volunteers and a local selected foreman. It is amazing what an extraordinary accomplishment ordinary people can do when their hearts and minds and strengths are dedicated to its purpose.

On this side of the highway, they are working in narrow roads at a deeper construction level with incredible obstacles. When the trenching began on the first lateral street, the road material was sand and dirt. At the first intersection at the main road, the content changed to large and huge volcanic boulders. If the trencher were not being used, it is doubtful they could remove these by hand. The pipe laying continues at a good pace with the end of trenching and the final manhole for the turn to the bridge line in sight. They must somehow remove all these boulders because they cannot go into the trenches - they would cruch the piping.

Community volunteers seem to be very happy about this project for the health of their families because the men, women and youth labor together in the heat and the difficulties. Those who are waiting for the next part of the project in 2010 work to bring it closer to their homes because they have the hope and vision of this reality for their future.

We are now getting goodbye hugs and blessings from the chilren (4 boys and 2 girls so far) at the Casa. They are so beautiful as they leave for school--- fresh and crisp in their white shirts and blouses and dark pants and skirts. They smell so good and we smell like Vicks and are in our pajamas. What a memory we leave with them! We have enjoyed living with them these past and fast weeks and treasure the interactions with us, their Casa family, and the other guests that have passed through.

We need to close and finish packing up for our taxi. God bless you as you come and go. We{ll write if we can - if not, Hasta Saturday.

David and Nancy

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Greetings to all you faithful friends,

We send an early message out today since we are staying around our base camp and resting. We have been experiencing some health issues that have concerned us but got relieving news, in a way. San Salvador is located in a low elevation, in an old volcanic crater, like Mexico City. Our US comparable would probably be a valley between two mountain ranges. The wind blows but the air does not really go anywhere except around and around. This time of the year, the sugar cane fields are being burned and harvested. There is much fine and large ash. The heavy pollution from the busses, trucks, and cars hangs in the air. The dry dust and dirt is everywhere. You can wipe a table and 5 minutes later, you can write your name on it.

We have been breathing in an unhealthy mixture that is affecting our throats, sinuses, and noses. We got advice today about a medication that will provide relief. We took our first dose this morning and are already feeling a little better. We plan to sleep today to regain energy. Dan, a US friend here, says this is a typical condition in January. We cancelled our visit with Club Rotario this morning since we did not think that blowing, sneezing and coughing would make for welcome company. We plan to attend next Wednesday.

We have been reflecting on solidarity and accompaniment - their similarities and differences. As we work in the communities, participate in the electoral process, talk with our brothers and sisters in faith, and experience life in the city, we are becoming more deeply aware of these crucial components as they relate to ministry and service in the Kingdom of God. We have much to learn.

We were able to catch a small part of the inauguration on tv yesterday. We are eager to go to the library and read all the news in English to appreciate this historical event. The people of El Salvador are very excited about this change in the US and what it might mean for the good of their country. We must all watch closely as policies and practicies are initiated for Central America.

We close with a wonderful encouragement that our West Bend friend Nancy sent to us this morning: I Samuel 7:12 - ''The Lord has helped us thus far.'' And we know that He will continue do do so! Thank you, Nancy. Thank you all for your responses and insights. Please feel free to forward our messages to those you think will be interested in knowing and praying. We appreciate your kove and prayers - we know there is an army of angels around us, both seen and unseen.

David and Nancy

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday 1/20

Our Greater Milwaukee Synod Election Observer delegation left the Casa this morning at 5:30. As you know, we have had an excellent time with them and many great experiences together. Tim was in much pain this morning but determined to make it home. They should be on their way from Houston to Milwaukee at this time. We look forward to hearing about their journey to the nort-land.

Before we left on this trip, we discovered a website that presented excellent information about sustainable agriculture projects currently going on in El Salvador. We shared this information briefly with the synod leadership team last week and asked if they would like to discuss possibilities. They were very interested in considering how these projects could help them strengthen their own for the communities. Eight of us met this morning for in-depth conversation and visioning. We will visit this particular farm in La Paz and then determine the next step of a business plan. So we will go on a field trip on Saturday! - does anyone know how to sing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round in Spanish?

The Bishop is having a End of Election celebration for the national and international observers this evening. It should be a great fiesta, with food, music and many conversations (and hopefully some cervesa). We both are having sinus crazies so our throats are not as clear for talking as we would like. It won't stop us from enjoying but it might shorten our time at the event. We'll still be able to hear the music from our bedroom.

We want to tell you about a remarkable volunteer, Tobias, who is residing at Casa Concordia during his 6 month stay in El Salvador. He is 20 years old and from Germany. The government of Germany annually sponsors young people to visit ES for service work and relational experiences. This year because the January and March elections have had serious warnings of violence, the sponsoring organization said they would not stop him from going, but because of the potential danger, they would not fund his travel or stay. He did his own fundraising. and arrived 8 weeks ago. He has learned excellent Spanish language skills in that short time, speaks English very well, and of course his native tongue is a joy for the German Lutheran pastors located here. Toby volunteers his time translating documents, serving at Casa Esperanza, the homeless shelter in an impoverished neighborhood in San Salvador. His responsibility is to inteact with the shelter visitors and increase their self-esteem through simple human contact. He assisted the Lutheran Synod of ES with the preparation for the observers and he also was an election observer. We greatly enjoyed having him join our delegation for some of our special meetings and events. He is honest, innocent, very bright, and committed to making the world a better place in any way he can.

For those who are interested in the weather report - the weather is changing. The mornings are now very cool, almost chilly. By 3:00, it is very hot and uncomfortable and then drops quickly around 6 and requires a sweater or jacket when riding in the back of a pickup truck. At least for us it does - the locals are used to this and wear short sleeved shirts regardless of the change.

We'll keep in touch
D & N

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday 1/19

On Friday, our message concentrated on election observation. We continue that information today. On Saturday, our delegation visited the campaign headquarters of the major parties and also had an excellent conversation with the former ES Ambassador to the United States. He is a brillant and perceptive man who provided insight for us into his country and its hopes and fears. He is a true diplomat.

We also went to the polling sites where each of us would be working on Sunday so we could have a feel of the environment. As mentioned, we were assigned to city precincts. Our site (David & Nancy) was the fair and convention grounds, a larger facility with many buildings. Our building had 160 voting divisions with 450 ballots in each. The word division applies well because while it is not technically correct, it reveals an aspect of power and control. People cannot vote where they live - they must travel to places according to their last name. The husband and wife have two different last names, so they might have to go to the A place for one and the R place for the other. This requires transportation which is not always available and on a day when the city is congested with thick and slow moving traffic, it is almost impossible for both to vote. The Ambassador commented on this situation: for him and his wife, it is annoying but they can do it because they have a car and a driver and the time. Others do not have that privilege. He believes effective voting will not change until there is municipal/local voting.

We arrived at the fair park at 6:00 to witness the setting up of the voting tables. The polls opened late at 7:23 instead of 7:00 and thousands of waiting people poured in to find their poll table at which to vote. David calculated that 7,000 stormed in in 8 minutes. It was a constant flow until 4:00. Polls closed at 5:00 and closure of table documents and counting of ballots began. To our eyes, the stacks of ballots looked very similar for Arena, the power party, and FMLN, the opposition and peoples party. It was difficult to judge who the winner would be.

The other observers in our delegation were in 3 different city locations. Each reported that their polls opened late and were also a center of crowded activity, noise, heat, and political tension. While it is illegal to campaign on Saturday and Sunday, rallies continued both inside and outside the voting facilities throughout the country. It is also illegal to purchase alcohol from Friday through Monday of the election weekend, so those who know (not us ! ) stock up before.

The results this morning were surprising in one sense yet not in another. The well-oiled machine won the election and the big change for the country will not be happening. This has serious impact on our Rotary project as the new mayor of Nejapa is Arena, and not supportive of improvments for the life of the people. We do not anticipate him supporting completion of the project with provison of heavy equipment, lodging for the students, and staff members loaned to assist in many ways. Many of the FMLN staff people will now be losing their jobs and we can only imagine other ramifications. We will need to meet with the new mayor after he is installed in May to begin to develop a relationship with him.

A prayer request for all: on Saturday evening, one of our team members, Tim, fell and seriously broke his leg. He had surgery Saturday night, should be coming back to the Casa today with expectations of returning to the US tomorrow. Home will be the best place for him but travel is going to be very difficult. Needless to say, he is in much pain. Please uplift him all the way and the two women who will be travelling with him.

We must close now. You will hear from us again tomorrow.

D & N

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday 1/16

Our time here has now turned political - we are officially credentialed by the Salvadoran government as foreign election observers. To better understand the political climate, our Greater Milwaukee delegation had a meeting with theologian Dean Brackley of the University of Central America, a Jesuit university. Dean Brackely has been in El Salvador for 19 years. He volunteered for ministry here after the assassination of 4 Jesuit priests on campus. Dean is held in high regard in areas of history, philosophy, politics, and theology.

The ruling party has been in power for 400 years. They have gone by different names but it is still the economic ruling class. This structure rules by fear, threats, and violence. The polls of many different sources show that that the population is seeking change and this election will be significant for the future of the people of the country. The elections are two phased - the voting for the mayors and parliamentary deputies (6 parties) is this Sunday - voting for the presidential candidates is in March. If the March vote is so close it cannot be decisively determined, another election will be held in May. Everyone hopes that this will not happen. San Salvador is a pivotal area so all of the international observers have been assigned to precincts in this area. That will be another story on Monday. The mayors position was won by 44 votes 3 years ago and it was very controversial! The opposition party needs to win San Salvador on Sunday as this momentum will carry into the March election.

We have had two days of training for being observers. Observers have been taught to monitor the voting process with emphatic emphasis on areas of past and potential fraud. Many components of the training focused on the Salvadoran constitution, human rights, and their democratic process. We have been receiving history lessons as well as specific training. The important message we have been receiving is that our presence ensures that the voice of the people is able to be expressed without coersion or deception.

We have had many God moments today - we have met many new people who will be links for our service and ministry here. We have also reconnected with past friends and we are all happy to to be reunited, We met people from the NGO we will be visiting next week to determine our volunteer placement. It is amazing that in a crowd of more than 100 people, we have past, current and future relationships.

Vaya con Dios,
David and Nancy

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday 1/15

This message shares with you recent activities important to us. Exciting things are happening in unexpected ways,

This week we visited the orphanage that we learned about from our seatmate on the flight here. It is along the main road between Nejapa and Apopa, tucked away behind an iron gate and a high stone wall. Once you enter, the environment changes dramatically. The basis or foundation for the buildings is an large old hacienda. Additions to this building include comfortable rooms for 7 babies and toddlers, 5 young children, 7 teenage girls and 8 teen age boys. There is a large dining room and kitchen. This is not an institution - it is a loving home. Rachel and her husband Mauricio began it 5 years ago for two or three children and it has grown. They have a continuous stream of volunteers from their church in Ohio who do the building projects and help care for the children. The children and facilities sparkle in very dirty surroundings. They have one special needs child, Kevin, born with cerbral palsy. He is almost 3 years old, skin covered bones, weighs about 20 pounds, has food allergies, but alert and observant. A family in Ohio wants to adopt him but the adoption process is long and difficult from here. He needs a home and family that can provide for all his physical and emotional needs. We appreciated our time there, found it very encouraging that the hearts of a young couple can be so strong and dedicated, and look forward to a future visit to observe the growth of the ministry.

Yesterday, we attended the morning meeting of Club Rotario, our host project partner. The focus of this meeting was leadership, service, and projects. This project is the Club's largest project so far. We learned from the lead engineer from the US that if this project were to be done in the US, it would cost $2,000,000. Because of the volunteer labor and donated use of equipment, the final cost should be just under $200,000. Overall, the material costs are right on budget!

Surprizingly, I had my first public speaking experience in Spanish. I did a banner presentation to the Club from the EWB team thanking them for their support. I was terrified but it went well and they all were very supportive of my amateur effort.

Members of the Club are visiting the project site today unannounced to see the work in progress and get a better understanding of the scope of the plans accomplished and yet to come. They acknowledged there is another phase to come in 2010 and they are committed to it.

The final trenching on the east side is still being filled and tamped. In La Granja, our community side, trenching is well under way on the first lateral road. This phase of the project will be more difficult because of the density of the homes and the narrow one-lane roads. The EWB teams work today and tomorrow. They leave for home on Saturday to be ready for classes to resume next week. Many of them have told us they will be be bored sitting in lectures and at their computers, and will be wanting to get out and do some hard physical labor. The project now has a designated community leader who is supported by residents of the community. We will stop back to the site occassionally before we leave to check with him on progress and needs to keep EWB informed.

We ended our evening sitting on the correadora, enjoying th evening breeze, stars, waning moon and dinner. SORRY - We just had to tell you that! Wisconsin weather is making a big hit here - many people have commented on the cold and snow at home.

David and Nancy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wedesday 1/14

Now that the students are back in the Casa because school has resumed, access to the computer is greatly lessened. We{ll do the best we can with messages.

Today we write about life in general. Action begins around sunrise with traffic of very loud pickup trucks and buses beginning their routes for workers and students. Voices and barking dogs add to the morning buzz. The women workers at Casa rise early and move quietly like shadows, preparing breakfast and getting ready for the day. They work past sunset taking care of family, house guests, employees of the Bishops office, and many others who come through during the day.

A truckload of food was delivered at the end of last week to prepare for arriving delegations. 50 and 80 pound backs of rice, beans, corn meal, fruit were unloaded into the kitchen. Sincce then we have frequently noticed guests of the unwanted kind in the bedroom and bathroom. We hope we do not bring any of them home in our luggage. Leaving our suitcases in the garage for a few days might help but we are not sure if these critters will die in the cold or if they are the hearty kind of pest.

Our drive to the community in Nejapa often confronts us with women, children and often the disabled begging in and along the busy city streets. The round-abouts are congested with commuter traffic. Pickup trucks full of noisy and active political campaigners add to the chaos with loud music, slogan shouting, and often jumping out of the trucks to run around in the trafic jams handing out party propaganda. They are travelling rallies. The campaign blitz increases daily as the election is on this coming Sunday. We have left one very emotional campaign behind us only to step into another intense one of a different kind.

Last night we went to the Radison Hotel to register with the TSE -Tribunal Supreme Elecciones - and receive our observer creditionals. Tomorrow the training meetings begin and we will receive our supplies and site of observation.

A closing word about the sanitation project - yesterday the final trenching to the Pan American highway was completed at 12.05 pm, the final pipe was laid in the afternoon to connect to the pipe under the highway and the east side of the project is completed! The west side in La Granja began simulateously on last Thursday so the project could continue moving. We will tell you more about the piping under the highway at another time.

We leave at 6.30 this morning to attend the Club Rotario meeting, then onto La Granja for a transitional meeting. The EWB team leaves Saturday so there is much information to share with the community leaders who will continue the work in their absence.

David and Nancy

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thursday 1/8

Rotary Project update from Wednesday

Nancy and I arrived at the sewer project in late morning. The 14 students and 60 community vounteers installed teh last of the plastic pipe they had on hand.

The trenching machine provided by the Mayor was taken off site to repair a water main break in the city of Nejapa.

The shipment of plastic pipe was being held at the border....not explanation given....makes you wonder if a bribe might help move this along.

The Rotary Club of San Salvador is holding up payments to our vendors citing some vague problem that needs to be revealed to us.

The volunteers are restless due to the lack of work and many took off from their jobs to participate.

The students engineers are starting contact with new vendors in the area to secure pipe for Thursday.

The volunteers have left the site. The students have crossed the pam american highway to to La Granja to work on some pre'trenching issues.

Welcome to El Salvador where the best planning can be tested by power and greed.

David and Nancy

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tuesday 1/6

Nancy and I entered the work site today. It was a very impressive site. The 14 University students and two adult mentors organized the 2 communities into 4 work groups of 30 members each. WIth a back hoe digging a 4 foot trench and man holes spaced out every 200 feet the teams begin laying 10 inch pipe and connected one home to the sewer system. The organization and rapid movement of everyone was like watching a football game......a good one.

Women, men, young people working together to improve their quality of life. By Thursday the one half mile to connect the community to the main line will be completed. Tomorrow Wednesday the mayor will join all the workers and volunteers for lunch. Since the election is a week away.......good timing.

The tunnel under the highway to connect to the community was completed before we all arrived, thus a major concern or roadblock has been removed. I hope the pictures Nancy and I took tell a story that is close to the actual experience.

It is another hot day and our bodies are still in adjustment.

David and Nancy