David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Medical Mission

February is fleeting – and on Saturday we will complete our first 100 days. God continues to expand our borders, to bless us, and to grow us.

Last week, we participated in a medical mission from Milwaukee. Thirty volunteers including nurses, technicians, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and 5 non medical support staff attended 800 patients during a 4 day clinic. Patients served were approximately 20% men, 50% women and 30% children under age 14.

The mission also included a pharmacy and an eyewear clinic. Each member of the group brought one suitcase of clothes and one full of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. The cases of medicines were seized at customs, but with the help of an attorney, they were released before the clinic began!

We joined them for 2 days. On the first day we worked in an older building in the central city. Conditions were not the best, but the team was superb in their care of the people. The clients are the poor; they are lowly and humble people, often uneducated, and some with serious psycho-social needs. Many are referred to a local doctor and dentist for continued treatment.

After 2 days in the central city, the medical clinic moved into the northern region to serve rural communities. Here again the families are poor, the clinic conditions very basic, and the medical care excellent and lovingly given. At both locations, treatment attended the body, mind and spirit. Old men and women, mothers with their children were able to receive shoulder and neck massage and prayers for healing and peace.

While these clinics were done in very difficult conditions, the medical team is already making plans for the mission next year. This is their 10th year of service and each year is well planned and very effective. 25 Salvadorans work closely with the North American Medical Team that includes Lutherans and non Lutherans, members from greater Milwaukee, Duluth, Minnesota and Arizona. This team continues to grow as the Salvadoran experience attracts and retains volunteers.

Our hearts were touched just being with these dedicated volunteers and the people they served. It was a meaningful experience for those who have done it for many years and for the first-timers as well. We are blessed to have been included.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let's ride the train

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. In October 2002, all rail transportation was suspended.
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.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Moving On

Classes ended on January 29; on January 30, we moved again. This is our 4th or 5th move since arriving in November. We are not homeless but we sure are transitional. We are happy to enter the next phase of our lives. January was an intense month of study and supplemental learning experiences.

Recent educational trips have included Cinquera, an historic pueblo that was a guerilla stronghold during the war. Now their main feature is a beautiful nature preserve on a huge mountain on which we climbed a steep and winding trail. On the way up, we crossed a river on stone pillars and further up, across a suspension bridge.

At the top was a two story observation platform from which the view of the surrounding thickly wooded mountains and valleys was awesome. Nancy made it to the summit. David stayed behind to help a woman in our group who was suffering from heat exhaustion.

That night we slept in the scenic community of Suchitoto at a Center for the Arts. The Center is a place of healing for children and youth through art and music to work through the trauma of war and destruction in their lives and families. The facility is in the process of repair after many years of abandonment. The church connected to the Center dates to 1830 and is simply a shell waiting for new life. A gallery exhibiting children’s art borders a peaceful new garden. The dormitory in which we slept was a former convent, basic but comfortable.

Main features of Suchitoto are a beautiful lake and the grand architecture of another church built in 1852. The center plaza was full of people and vendors with their merchandise. Surrounding the plaza were restaurants, caf├ęs and B & Bs in former residences and government offices.

On the way back to San Salvador, we met with a group of rural women who are operating a community business of candle making to supplement their family incomes.

February will be a month for us to refresh our minds, bodies and spirits. We will continue to define our placement, will be working to complete our residency process, and will visit more rural communities to learn about the resources and opportunities regarding the fight against hunger.

With our 12 hour days of school work behind us, we hope to be more consistent in our journal writing.