David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Monday, November 24, 2014

La Paz Public School

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

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

Grant Implementation

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

Coffee Finca

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

Food Security 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

Planting Season

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

School bells

We are taking a break reporting about the Volcano, but do not assume all is well as the internal activity is increasing. School bells are ringing in El Salvador. The new school year is underway. Before we left in November we visited another school and wrote about that visit in our December email. We are partnering with a Salvadoran family to work on this project together. We received the following note of encouragement from Leonor and want to share it with you. A little back ground information: Fredy and Leonor own a sugar cane field in this community. The parents asked Fredy to help make improvements in the school buildings and school equipment. With help of the Sugar Cane Association that purchased building materials, the parents built a large classroom building. When we visited they needed funds to purchase lamina for repairing a roof, desks for students and teachers, dividers to separate the big room into three classrooms. We were able to provide $2,000 for them to begin. We shared our message with friends at home and received another $2,000 in donations that will be used for purchasing text books, repairs to the bathrooms and making a future computer room secure. That’s the $2,000 mentioned in the note below. We saw what was needed, we shared the need, and we invited others to join us in responding to their needs. That’s the excitement and joy in the community and in the email from Leonor. Dear David and Nancy: Things have been busy around the school. The teachers have been receiving training from FEPADE (Fundación Empresarial para el Desarrollo Educativo), before classes started. And they told us that are very happy because they see in all the community of the school a great enthusiasm. Hopefully, if things keep on going this way, FEPADE will match the children from Centro Escolar Lotificación Mariscal for them to keep on studying carpentry, mechanics and bread making. We are very happy too. It is great to hear we have $2,000 more. We have started to buy the things we need for the roof of the computer room, because FEPADE will come to visit any moment and we need to have the class room ready. Classes have started today and we have received some books, not too many, but it adds. I will let you know how many groups of books we got because some people told me that they still are getting them for me. Receive from Centro Escolar Lotificación Mariscal many blessings. They have hope, enthusiasm and joy. Parents are happy with hope of a better future for their children. Teachers feel that their efforts are worth it and have a purpose. The new room gives enthusiasm to the children. Let´s keep this school in our prayers so they really can keep on growing and getting better for the sake of our children. Best regards Fredy & Leonor