David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alambre School

The principal of the school in Alambre contacted Oikos for help with needed equipment and supplies. The central school serves 5 surrounding communities. Oikos has no resources for school projects so they introduced us to the principal Walter. After an hour of conversation, we do not understand his specific needs but we are invited to his school for a visit. “It’s just down the road,” he says.

Down the road is a 90 minute drive east and then south towards the Pacific. We leave the paved road in a pueblo and proceed on a hilly dirt and stone path. We pass men on horse and donkey, no other vehicles. At school we are greeted by Principal Walter and the teachers. He rings the bell and all the children file out of their class rooms and into the court yard to greet us.

After introductions the children and their teachers are dismissed to their class rooms. We visit each class room. Two class rooms are void of furniture except a teacher’s desk. The children have been coached on what to ask for, but now they are too shy to speak. The teachers point out some needs, but they are also shy. We ask the children of the 7, 8, 9 grades who plans to go to high school; it’s almost unanimous that they want to go to HS. This is a new positive trend as most children dropped out of school after the 6th grade.

After visiting the classrooms we gather at the principal’s office, including the school directivia. Fredy, the principal’s son, is our translator. Walter is asking for donations of 4 computers and computer desks, windows for the computer room, a new roof, a white board, fans, 50 desks and a paved playground. The principal said his request for funds to do these things has been denied by the federal government and the mayor. We ask for a list with pricing and also his priorities.

About a week later the principal provides a list in English and Spanish. We exclude the roof bringing the total to $4,000 for desks, windows, computers and equipment, white board and fans. In sharing this story with friends at home we were able to raise $500. We ask Fredy to secure quotes to purchase desks, the first priority. We are able to order 18 desks and the factory will deliver them to the school. The desks will be available next week. We will meet the truck at the school for the presentation.

It doesn’t turn out that way. The day of delivery we meet at the store. An old white pickup is being loaded with desks and to our surprise we are asked to ride in the truck. The principal will ride in back with the desks. It’s the same route mentioned above. As the driver hits many holes and rocks, we wait for something to break. At one point the truck can’t get traction to climb the path up the hill. We jump out and by the grace of God, two young men are walking near by and push the truck up the hill. These are the only other people we meet along the remaining 30 minute ride.

Finally we reach the school. We are late, the children are gone, but a small group of boys on the side of the road point to the desks and claim one as theirs. Four teachers help unload the desks placing them in a class room.

It’s time to leave and we dread the return. We experience the same ride out as in. Finally we pass thru the last pueblo entering the paved mountain highway. When the driver hits the gas, the left side of the front end raises up, the truck shakes violently; we skid to the right stopping against the side of the mountain. The other side of the road drops hundreds of feet straight down. We are again saved by the grace of God.

One front wheel is aiming left, the other right. We are on the bad side of a blind curve. The driver gets his machete from the truck, cuts down a small tree and places it on the road. This is an indicator to others that a vehicle is stalled in the road. Vehicles pass by both up and down the mountain highway but no ones stops including the national police. We are expecting one of them to pull out a cell phone and make a call.

The driver returns the machete, places his jack under the driver side of the truck for a lift. He and the principal kick the wheels straight. The driver takes out rope and a vise grip and is under the truck. 30 minutes later he removes the jack and the rocks from under the wheels. They both board the truck and motion to us to do the same. We climb in frightened but without options.

For the next 35 minutes we ride down the mountain at 25-35 miles an hour. The steering has too much play as the truck is all over the road. We are pushing on our imaginary brakes all the way down. I wait for the repair to loosen and rehearse our escape over and over as there is no interior door handle.

The repair held. We stop at a café at the bottom of the mountain for a late lunch. We both have our foot cemented to the imaginary brake. It’s hard to disengage and walk. We made the decision not to get in the truck after lunch. We call our driver Alex from Batres to come to our rescue. That brought us relief, allowing us to eat. During lunch we tell the principal we are not returning with them. The principal is stressed, telling us we are not safe here. We think we are not safe in the truck.

The next morning it’s Aleve and coffee to address the pain in our backs and necks. They still need 32 desks for the children – we know we will make this trip again.

David y Nancy

Friday, June 17, 2011

Seedfest 2011

The first Friday in June is the celebration of Seedfest in Concepcion Batres sponsored by Oikos Solidaridad. The street next to the central plaza is closed, a “band stand” is erected and tents filled with vendors offering products and produce from the mountain communities of the states of Usulután and San Miguel.

We thought we would arrive early, but hundreds of visitors are already here. Alex of Oikos and also Mayor Walter of Batres greet us publicly over the PA system as we are acknowledged as accompanarios to the people of the communities.

We have been in accompaniment with Oikos for over a year. We have meet most of today’s vendors in their communities or their homes. We greet each with a hug and spend time to view their products. Two large tables have specialty seeds, also available is locally grown and roasted coffee, live chickens, eggs, hand-made jewelry, pickled vegetables from Chamabla, tamales, drinks, an Avon lady, and more.

We previously visited Chamabla and are anxious to taste the pickled vegetables. We purchase one quart and realize later we should have purchased more for Mothers Day gifts that are coming up. Our friends from Comus are also present with a representative from their coffee projects. We buy 10 bags for our pending return trip home in July.

We take these items to our house and return to the celebration.

Oikos has included the local schools in this year’s Seedfest. Three schools are competing in a drawing contest regarding natural resources. The pictures are on display for all to see. A group of 5 judges is selected. Benjamin calls the first name and no one comes forward. The same results for the second drawing. On the third and remaining calls, students come forward to claim their prize to much supportive cheering from their peers. In addition to the drawing contest, the students have constructed diaramas depicting risks and hazards in the local environment. The students and teacher of the neighborhood school are proud of their participation.

The five hour program is MC’d by the youth of lower Chirrion. In the communities of Piedra Azul, Oikos has installed radio transmission towers with speakers to communicate dangers and pending risks to the mountain communities. Starting a few years ago, a daily transmission included information of community interests. This transmission of information, the care for the equipment and the need for more equipment has become a youth project.

At the end of the day, Stephen of our sponsoring organization VMM and his friends Alex and Elena, all from San Salvador, join us, Benjamin of Oikos and his 9 year old grand daughter at our home for coffee, soda, beer and Oreo cookies. Benjamin is a story teller; he enjoys the new faces and tells his story of visiting Niagara Falls one January and his fear of having his ears fall off if they become frost bit.

It’s been a while since we laughed. Benjamin’s grand daughter who recently moved to San Salvador from Nevada is experiencing her grandfather’s stories for the first time. Fluent in English and Spanish she doesn’t miss any of the conversation and has a constant grin on her face. It all came to an end much too soon. Benjamin was returning to San Salvador for the weekend and offered to take our guests with him. Six people, a large dog, live chickens, and a box of school supplies left late afternoon. The time together was very familiar, like being with family and friends back home, now our global family is growing as we enjoy fellowship together.

Enjoy the day at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5TfdEX6WHI

David y Nancy

Thursday, June 2, 2011


We left the United States the week of much turbulent weather. We rocked and rolled the entire trip, from Milwaukee to within an hour of landing in El Salvador and were 3 hours late arriving at SAL. We immediately called our driver who was waiting for us.

The next turbulence we experienced was in immigration. The details are boring, but the outcome is we are currently illegal and are unable to leave the country. I guess you can only get deported to El Salvador, not from El Salvador. (This is not going to look good on my resume.)

We arrived home in Batres around midnight. The yard was ankle deep in fallen leaves. A storm passed through just a day or two earlier dropping grapefruit size avocados on the roof, making two new holes. The house was very dirty. We pulled the dust covers from our bedroom furniture and called it a day – a very long day!

The next two days we had meetings with Oikos on the Food Security project in Candalaria and San Julian. This project benefits 41 families with food and a potential income stream. Personal security is an issue, thus a visit to two of the sites took some planning. There is no security risk from the beneficiaries of the project, but the mountains are filled with all types of individuals.

We left Batres in the red jeep taking the familiar drive through San Jorge into the river bed to drive up the volcano in the quebrada towards the two work sites. Prime land is scare and expensive in El Salvador. After the Peace Accord, the government also signed a land restoration agreement, giving land taken from farmers and communities during the war back to them for their personal use. While this is an excellent provision, it also has a down-side. Two generations of campesinos were lost during the war --- those who knew the farming skills for working mountain land and those who would inherit the farms and the knowledge to produce crops and protect the land. Much damage was done to the environment both during and after the war.

Oikos has the engineers and skills to train, assist and encourage these rural farmers. With the latest wisdom in environmental care and erosion control, the mountain-sides are cultivated appropriately for the planting of corn and beans. Planting the beans on the side of the mountain prevents standing water from rotting the seeds. The sites we visited face south; with the direct exposure of the sun, the beans will mature in 7 weeks. The first crop in June will be for the family. If the first harvest is sufficient, a second crop of beans in September will be used for food and sold in the market. This is the first time they will be able to produce two harvests.

Three beneficiaries accompanied us to the sites. They are grateful that we took the time to visit with them and also for financial support for this project. We spent almost two hours at the first site, then we walked the riverbed to the second site. The canyon walls grew higher, with curious residents looking down at our passing. Marta yelled up to them, it’s ok.

At the second site the land is owned by the beneficiary family. They have land but no seeds. Last years devastating weather caused wide spread crop failure and a shortage of seeds for this years planting. Oikos included this family as participants in this Food Security Project.

After spending 4 hours viewing the project in the hot humid sun, it was time to leave. We returned to the vehicle a different route, eating freshly made tamales Marta Lydia brought with her as we walked through the forest and fields back to the jeep.

These two sites are available to view on YouTube at:

David y Nancy