David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Friday, January 27, 2012

Schools & Mayor

Santa Maria- Our church partner St. Matthews in Wauwatosa, WI has spent 4 years in dialogue with the Mayor’s staff of Santa Maria to assist them in connecting a newly built bridge with a ramp to the road. The bridge ends about 18 feet higher than the road. EWB- UW Madison has a preliminary plan, cost estimates and St Matthews has the funding potential for this project. A legal impasse is blocking any progress towards construction.

We offered to help St Matthews while living in El Salvador. Mayors are hard to approach, thus we asked Gabriel, who is a friend of the Mayor to set up a meeting for us. After a day at the beach Gabriel unexpectedly said “let’s find the Mayor of Santa Maria so you can have your meeting”. We drove to a soccer field, finding the Mayor’s brother who took us to his brother at a campaign rally where Mayor Nicolas was the featured speaker. We waited an hour before he was available to us.

Nicolas invited us to meet in his office Monday at 10 to become familiar with the issues. At the meeting he asked us a number of questions, testing us. We moved to the main topic, the legal issue. The government is preventing any work on this project as the funding has been embezzled by previous mayor or his staff after being voted out of office. There are 31 cases of embezzlement in the department of Usulután, this is the only one having construction started. The others are referred to ghost projects. After many rejected requests written by Nicolas to secure permission of the Federal Office of Fiscal Responsibility, he asked us if we would appear before the court and tell our story. We say yes, but we are leaving Usulután in 5 days, thus this must happen quickly. He will call us.

Canton Guadalupe - We are working with 3 schools in the area of Chirilagua. The school of Guadalupe has 3 classrooms that were built by the Virginia Committee of the USA. The principal was the project manager and before the buildings were completed he retired and embezzled the remaining funds. The community is left with 3 unusable classrooms that need concrete floors, electricity, lighting, fans, desks, paint and white boards - that’s a lot of money. The current principal said she would be the project manager if we decide to fund the needed repairs - we smiled and said no.

On the other side:

La Cribe - The school buildings are rather new and the best maintained we have seen. They were built by the European Union in 2005. The community would like a $12,000 building for its Kindergarten program which is currently held in a storage shed. 15 children attend this class. School for the K grade is often cancelled in the winter (rain/wind) as the storage shed is made of metal and wire. They presented us with a quotation from the hardware store of the materials needed to build this classroom. They don’t want cash; they need materials for the parents to construct the building.

Alambre - We returned to Alambre School unannounced to see the computers, computer desks and student desks, almost $3,000 of equipment. The teachers were delighted we stopped in and called for a student assembly to again publicly thank us for this partnership. We are grateful for their friendship and told them we will return again.

In the past 30 months we have met many wonderful Salvadorans. They have joined us in our volunteer work. They offer us transportation, technical support, translation and wisdom. They enjoy the opportunity to help their fellow Salvadorans as they lack an institution to volunteer in structured environment.

They don’t consider the money as a gift as they provide the muscle, making the project a partnership, but they do see our frequent visits to the community as a gift of our time; they respond in grateful appreciation of our commitment to them. Our past, present and future time together in the dust and in the rain seems to be excellent bonding materials for cementing relationships.

David y Nancy

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shopping & Wedding

We called our Salvadoran neighbor Gabriel on Tuesday to confirm pick-up at the airport on Thursday. At the airport, we were greeted by Dmitri. Dmitri works for Gabriel and was our driver, but left El Salvador while we were on medical leave. Dmitri married an Italian woman and moved to Italy. After 3 months in Italy, they returned to Batres. She works for an NGO and speaks little Spanish, he speaks very little Italian.

From the airport Gabriel and Dmitri drove us to the computer store to purchase 3 more computers to complete the project at Alambre public school. This business is the base for the Rotary Computer Project. Dmitri was surprised at the low cost of a computer and is now saving to purchase one for himself.

When we arrived at our house, we had a wonderful surprise. Gabriel’s family had cleaned our home the day before we arrived. We were able to spend the night, saving the expenses of hotel and eating out. What a relief!

Friday morning we had two sets of visitors. We accompanied Principal Walter to Usulután to order the remaining student desks and computer desks. After Walter brought us home from Usulután, we enjoyed coffee and bakery around our table. This has been the focal point of developing projects and relationships for the past 23 months; it’s fitting we should be closing with hospitality. The computers and computer desks were stacked in our home for Walter to pick up on Sunday on his way to Alambre. He is spending more time in Usulután since his mother suffered a stroke. On Sunday morning he told us she is improving.

After we said good bye to Walter and his accompanara, Alexis and Edwin stopped in to deliver an invitation to attend the wedding of Juan Carlos and Ana on Saturday at the home of Ana’s grandmother in San Rafael Oriente.

On Saturday morning we shopped in the city for a wedding gift, finding a West Bend coffee maker at the major appliance store, Casa Chamba Flores. In the afternoon Alexis and Edwin picked us up. We traveled familiar roads, but then took a new one to grandmother’s home. Grandmother’s yard was brightly decorated with awnings, flowered arches and decorated tables, another stark contrast against the brown landscape as we are now in the dry season. We sat at a table near the road and noted the cars and trucks that arrived by the dust clouds that drifted around us.

The mayor of San Rafael Oriente and his assistant performed the wedding. The ceremony took place at a large table with the engaged couple, the mayor and his assistant and the two witnesses. There were long speeches on family and community. At last the mayor asked Ana if she wanted Juan Carlos as her spouse. He asked Juan Carlos the same --- both said an emphatic yes. The Mayor announced them married followed by much applause.

Ana’s family came forward to greet the married couple, bringing their gifts. Friends and family of Juan Carlos waited for him and Ana to greet them at their tables, then offering congratulations and the presentation of gifts. Children followed the couple, receiving the gifts and taking them to the gift table.

The abrupt change from 30 degrees to 90 was exhausting and with travel and the busy schedule, we took Sunday off to continue unpacking, do more cleaning and to develop our three week agenda.

David y Nancy

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pearl of the Orient

We are looking for a local Rotary Club partner to support a Rotary Agriculture project with Oikos Solidaridad in the volcanic range of the Oriente. A local Rotary Club is necessary as the host club in assisting in securing funding from Rotary International Foundation, managing the finances of the project, providing Rotary International with all the transparency needed to ensure the money is well spent.

In October we contacted two Rotary Clubs in the City of San Miguel. One invited us to join them in their monthly November social held at one of the Rotarians homes. We attended and learned much about their current projects and also about the City of San Miguel.

The City of San Miguel is known through out the country as the “Pearl of the Orient”, El Salvador’s third most important city. It’s the hottest place in the country and is located east of the active volcano Chaparrastique, also known as 1403-10 on the volcanic map.

It’s an hour drive from Batres to San Miguel. We pass fields where cane is being cut by hand. Empty old school buses used to transport the campesinos line the roadway. The field workers are hunched over lifting, baling, sorting and piling stalks of cane and cane waste into the appropriate piles. The piles seem insignificant until you notice a man standing next to one and he looks like a miniature figure from a diorama.

35 minutes out of Batres and our micro bus turns north heading to San Miguel. We pass by two major industries. One is a dairy processing facility and another is the sugar cane refinery. Large trucks are lined up to unload their freshly cut cane. They come to this facility from all over the 3 state area. They are a nuisance on the highway with their double trailers, making the passing of these road hogs a breath-taker.

These two processing facilities as well as many others not visible from the highway, a mall and the National University and 4 College/Technical Institutions provide the area with many employment opportunities. We asked local Rotarians if there is a middle class and they confirmed there is a large middle class in San Miguel.

The city of San Miguel also boasts of being “the carnival city”. In November and December, the environment is similar to Rio de Janeiro. Our faces reflect our internal reaction. Yes the locals confirm full and partial nudity is a part of the carnivals entertainment venue.

Now it’s January 2012. The carnival is now closed, school resumes in 1 week and we return to join the Engineers without Borders to finish the last phase of the 7 year Rotary black water project in La Granja. Then we return 100 miles to the east (our home community) to resume working with the 3 public schools high in the mountains of Alambre and to develop a future agriculture project with Oikos and our new friends in San Miguel.

David y Nancy