David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Travel Adventure

We left for the airport Sunday afternoon to stay at the convenient park and fly hotel for early morning departure. At 4:00 Monday morning, much to our surprise, a small delegation from our synod was also on their way to El Salvador. We thought they left Sunday so the surprise was a pleasant one as we enjoyed conversation and time together on the trip. The delegation is participating in a gathering of the Lutheran churches from various locations in the US and Europe that have sister parish relationships in El Salvador. Due to heavy storms, we landed in Atlanta late and had to run to the international departure gate. The Atlanta baggage handlers on the other hand decided “what’s the rush?” As the delegation that originated from Milwaukee noticed the Salvadoran airport baggage belt void of any of our luggage, we knew what happened. Many other late arrivals at the gate had the same experience. Our baggage was promised for early Tuesday afternoon. That would give the baggage handlers 24 hours to move 58 bags a thousand feet on their trucks and carts used for such purpose. Francisco was to pick us up at the airport but it’s late and did he wait? When I completed the claim process I started to look for him and was overwhelmed with taxi drivers swarming me, blocking my way. I said I am looking for a specific motorist. A moment later Francisco’s brother, Alexi, walked up behind me and said “you’re going to Hotel Mariscal.” I recognized him; he was our driver in March and his children attend the public school where we are implementing additional grades and classrooms. This came together nicely. When we arrived at our hotel our clothing was drenched in sweat and smelled. We went to the mall next door to our hotel to purchase some replacement clothing. In the underwear department, the young man and I couldn’t determine what size was correct, so he said he would model it. It’s a term lost in translation; it wasn’t what it sounded like. After a very hot shower, clean clothes and a cold beer, at day’s end, we said it was a great First Day. Alexi arranged for his brother to pick us up at 12:30 to return to the airport. On the way I told Francisco what process we were told to follow. He said no way. I will go with you to guide you. We entered the main entrance of the airport and went to Information office. We had to leave our drivers licenses at Information office to secure a red entry pass. At the immigration/customs/baggage area, we experienced a heavy security search and headed to baggage claim. No one was attending the Delta counter. We then considered our red pass was available for “free range” and looked at every piece of luggage we could find with no luck. An agent approached us and said give me your paper work and I will track them down and told us where to stand. Then another Milwaukee person spotted Nancy and said your luggage is with the Synod delegation. So Nancy disobeyed orders and found our luggage. I was watching and joined her. The agent had abandoned his search for our luggage and was helping another traveler. We got our papers from him and returned to customs. The same agent from yesterday redirected us to another luggage scanner. The people in front of us were having many problems. We had none when it was our turn. Happily leaving the airport with Francisco, we stopped for pupusas and got 16 to share with friends at the hotel. On opening our suitcases for eating utensils and other supplies, we discovered that they had apparently been left on the cart in the rain in Atlanta. Most of our clothing was in plastic bags but clothes for tomorrow were not and were soaked. The hotel clothes dryer is broken, but between the hair dryer and the iron and enjoying freshly made pupusas, Day Two was another great day. David y Nancy

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Droughts and Flooding

Droughts and flooding are the news from eastern El Salvador. Last week’s pictures in one of the national newspapers showed the Rio Grande San Miguel at flood stage in the township of Concepcion Batres. The bridge crossing the river is usually 20 feet above water level. Last week the river was touching the roadway and flooding shoreline communities. On June 1, 2010 on our way to church in Puerto Parada, homes were standing in 2 feet of water. This continued for 8 weeks and the people remained in their homes with nowhere else to go. Can you imagine living in two feet of filthy water for 2 months? The first planting of seeds withered in the drought. The second planting is usually nourished by these rains but last week they have been severe, destroying the bean plants and creating landslides in the volcanic zone. Landslides can be catastrophic if not immediately removed. Debris and mud can create a damming effect and once the pressure of the dammed water exceeds the pressure of the blockage, a wall of water is released with unstoppable force. The Salvadoran government is assessing the crops to determine if the harvest will be comparable to previous years or will be less. This is critical for the government to know food security risks to avoid a regional famine. An agency of USAID is predicting that by June 2016 1,000,000 Salvadorans will be experiencing hunger. That’s 20% of the population and can result in catastrophic emergencies and civil unrest in communities. Here in Wisconsin we are experiencing an excellent harvest. The final crop is soybean. Like the corn crop this year, it’s predicted to be a bumper crop. But for our partners in El Salvador the question is if the undamaged crops will mature in time for the harvest. And for us, it’s also personal. Will our agriculture grant participants benefit from their hard work through the December/January harvest? We will learn more in November during our visits to the project sites. David y Nancy

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wellspring and guest

We have long time friends at Wellspring Organic Farm and Retreat Center, just down the road from our home. We know the founder and also the Executive Director who is a fellow Rotarian. We happened to meet at a Rotary meeting a few months ago and talked about the possibly of having someone experience Wellspring, working in the fields for room and board, learning the “systems” and practices of Wellspring. We approached Wellspring because in March while meeting with Oikos we shared that Southeastern Wisconsin is rich in organic and aquaponics farming. We suggested that Oikos send someone to visit for the summer to study these practices from a North American perspective and compare them to the current Salvadoran practices. Oikos sent a staff member to us on June 7 to be with us for 6 weeks. He lives at Wellspring with six other adults. One of their staff also speaks Spanish allowing the transition from English to Spanish on details about farm topics as well as participating in class discussion. Wellspring operates year round selling produce grown in a huge green house. They get an early spring start on outdoor plants using hoop houses. Classes are offered as time allows; this time of the growing season is devoted to planting, weeding, harvesting. Wellspring is also a CSA. People join as members for a full payment or a lesser payment if combined by working four hours a week to maintain the fields. Membership entitles the family to one bag of food per week. Weeding is the current need and he had enough after 6 days of back breaking weeding. The CSA is a new concept for him and he loves the idea. He has already approached Oikos with Salvadoran version of CSA and he tells us the idea was well received. The Salvadoran version means they need to consider the local culture for implementation. We took our guest to visit Will Allen’s Growing Power. He liked how they improve the quality of soil by adding organic materials. He said they can also implement this in El Salvador by making arrangements with the local mayor to collect the organic material the street cleaners sweep up daily after the open air markets close. With this organic material added to the soil and the addition of red worms, they will be able to restore soil that has been poisoned by the over use of chemicals. Will Allen’s has hydroponics but it has become too sophisticated to replicate in rural El Salvador. So we also visited Lone Duck Farm where this newer vertical farm is just 2 years old and has a simpler version of aquaponics. In both instances raising fish are an element of the “system”. We saw some beautiful three pound tilapia, perch and bluegills. Again he said they can do this. El Salvador currently raises tilapia but not 3 pounders. We asked the owner of Lone Duck if he would spend a week in El Salvador to help build a system - he didn’t say no, but we didn’t get a commitment either. His social life is also in full gear. Three of the adults at Wellspring have transportation and they do local activities during the week and on the weekends. We enjoy time with him on Sundays and others from our church also have time together with him. He has a beautiful smile and it was at its biggest when we visited the south side of Milwaukee and pulled up to the Salvadoran restaurant for a robust lunch. We don’t know how many transferable concepts he will be able to take back to El Salvador but there is no risk and the potential is limitless. David y Nancy

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Small family business

The second week of our recent visit in El Salvador was to gather information about the developing projects funded by the Greater Milwaukee Lutheran Synod Grant. On Monday we met in San Salvador with the Oikos Management team of Benjamin Alas and his son Daniel to bring us up to date on the projects taking place in the volcanic range in the east. While we receive emails about these projects routinely, it’s more fun to be there than reading about them. On Tuesday the four of us left San Salvador at day break and headed east on highway 2. In Concepcion Batres we met with the pastors working these projects with Oikos. They were all familiar to us so we spent time hearing the latest news about families and church life. The meeting started with churches micro-region leader reading scripture and leading us in prayer. It continued with Oikos explaining the latest initiative to organize the communities “South” of the Volcano into a formal organization, providing residents in this range with more security and better community infrastructure. Time passed quickly and we were all ready for lunch. The entire group got into 4 trucks and Benjamin lead us on an hour drive up the side of a mountain to a high city of Alegria. The menu choices were a small fish, larger fish, much larger fish or very large fish. That was lunch and dinner for us. Wednesday we visited the project sites. The women told us the cycle for the chicken projects is six weeks which begins with the purchase of chicks and food, then they are sold locally for $4 apiece or what the market will allow in that current cycle. They stated the project provided meaningful activity, better diet, cash income, money for their churches and benefited all participants. Benjamin added that the chicken cages constructed from solid metal materials prevented the yearly deforestation of trees usually used to rebuild the coops. These chickens are not free range. In other locations, large birds circled overhead; the men from Oikos pointed out they were looking for a chicken dinner. We are home so the email communication resumes. Benjamin writes about the next phase of project development: In the agriculture communities, each pastor has selected 10 families to participate in the planting of chilies, tomatoes, sesame seeds, bananas, selected fruit trees, corn and beans. Oikos will determine the appropriate crops for each family’s soil. The families will grow vegetables and fruit for consumption and also for sale in the market. This is how Oikos creates small family businesses for the rural poor. With these Oikos directed projects, 95 families will have been helped to establish their own business since 2011. Through other mission projects, one church has been assisted to own and operate a hardware store. Adding the public school improvements with computers, text books, desks, windows and roofs, about 8,000 Salvadorans are experiencing benefits in their family’s lives. That number will increase as these projects are sustainable and will benefit more individuals in the coming years. David y Nancy

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hearts and Spirits

Nancy had been writing our blogs since we arrived in El Salvador in November 2009. She was journalism major at Marquette University so she was most qualified and enjoyed doing it. That responsibility changed when we took a train ride from downtown San Salvador to Apopa. It was fun and dangerous and I really felt I had to write about this adventure. It’s been five years and I haven’t stopped writing. I wrote our journals with words and along the way with passion when I started having visions and dreams of what needed to be shared. Our experiences in El Salvador went from our minds to our souls as we wrote and edited from our hearts and spirits. Here is my first edition dated May 2010: 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. 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. David y Nancy

Monday, May 11, 2015

La Paz Public School Spring2015

With the generous support of our Rotary Clubs and Rotary District 6270, we returned to the public school in La Paz with funding to continue the many needed improvements for the buildings, classroom equipment and educational materials. We arrived at the school finding about 470 morning and afternoon students lined up and waiting for us. We were received like royalty. The students held flags they made expressing “welcome” and “thank you”. We were greeted in English and the Lord’s Prayer in English by two students. Eight girls in beautiful dresses danced, the national anthem was played and the Salvadoran flag was raised on the flag pole. It was wonderful not to hold back, to let emotions take over and enjoy the moment. The first 8th grade class started in January 2015. Last year these students were the first 7th grade class in this school. We had planned on 25 students for this class and 35 showed up. This year we again budgeted for 25 students for the first 8th grade class and 45 students enrolled. How could our assessment be off by almost 100%? Answer - increasing gang activity The neighboring town has a strong gang presence that does not want outsiders in their community. Therefore students who attended the neighboring school now attend our school to continue their education. This is not an idle threat against the students as gangs will kill those who do not do as they demand. Sometimes to make a point they will torture a student and leave the body on the road as a warning to others. Our goals are to provide a safe, resource abundant community school. We sincerely believe if we can meet the needs of these students to provide a place to survive and thrive in their community, they have an alternative to leaving families behind for a perilous journey north. In our initial assessment, we planned for funding for all 3 classes. Even at this late date we can made modifications to our assessment for providing more students with desks and text books. But the beautiful new building for the 7th, 8th and 9th grades was built to serve 75 students and enrollment is 135. Paid teaching positions promised by the ministry of education were not provided. Some teachers are working for food and support provided by other project partners and some parents. One of the parents working on installing new roofs probably should have been home in bed and died after a day of volunteer work. The sacrifices made by so many are not known by many. Our closing meeting concluded that we have basic funding for the equipment, desks and text books for the 9th grade class in 2016 but more will be needed. Another classroom is needed to accommodate growth but we lack any immediate means for the purchase of materials to provide more space for the January 2016 school year. In November 2016, the students we have accompanied since they started 7th grade will be graduating from 9th grade. While distributing text books in the 8th grade classroom, the students proudly reminded us they are graduating next November and the principal said “you must be here!” And we plan to be with them on this next step of their journey. David y Nancy

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Immigration from Central America

The issue of children migrating to the states from Central/South America is not getting the press required for you to be fully informed. The press writes that we and our children are at risk from diseases they bring into the country and our social welfare state will be bankrupt from their presence. Until Sunday we did not have first-hand accounts to share about the issues of immigration. But in our church community in El Salvador, we were told our Godson was sent to the states to be with his mother as the gangs were targeting him. He is just a quiet young boy in high school, sent with a smuggler to the US. Our hearts sank when we were told. The community leaders said it’s ok, he made it. However the peril in that trip puts anyone on edge. Fox news has an excellent story as to the “why” of immigration: Five children from one family witnessed the murder of their neighbor, a 21 year old man, who was gunned down by 4 men. The children lived with their grandmother as the mother had sought asylum in the US from an abusive marriage. The next day the family starting receiving death threats against the children. Grandmother changed her cell phone number many times but continued to receive the threatening calls with each newly issued number. During the past 5 years, the mother has been able to have all 5 children join her. None of the children were able to come to the US legally. Mother paid smugglers thousands of dollars to bring the children to the US one at time. Her only son, the last one, arrived last summer. He tells a frightening story of living in El Salvador where gang members were always threatening him with “join us or die”. How could a mother make this decision to send her children on a journey that has claimed countless lives? She says, “I was not going to let them kill my children. I prefer them to take the risk to get here for a better life than face certain death in El Salvador.” Today’s daily Salvadoran newspaper reports that from January 1 to March 18, there have been 913 violent deaths recorded. This is 287 more than last year at this time. This is the national reality. One Sunday in 2014, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran this article: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/for-child-migrants-walking-1400-miles-might-be-worth-it-b99348809z1-274901021.html The author, Jamie Stark, spends time in Wisconsin and El Salvador serving the clients of the homeless shelter operated by the Lutheran church in San Salvador. The article tells that a United Nations report found that of 404 recent Salvadoran migrant children interviewed, most left for the U.S. for family, opportunity, or to escape violence in society. It would be interesting for all of us to think about our ancestors’ reasons for coming to America. Were they very different than those expressed above? Are safety or opportunity no longer valid reasons to seek the American Dream? Our ancestors often came as teenagers. Can we hold today’s young immigrants to a different standard? David y Nancy

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spring - Winter

Signs of Spring: • The ice fishing shacks have been removed from the frozen lakes and rivers this weekend. • We hear the owls calling to each other during the night. We understand this is their mating ritual. It can’t be the temperature driving this behavior, must be the longer day light. • Our local conservancy is preparing for the annual wild flower plant sale held in early May. This is a major community event in its 28th year. All these traditional indicators point us to spring, new life and preparation for the planting season. It’s been a cold winter - we have a lot of ice, but the snow isn’t deep. We will need those April showers to provide moisture for the seeds to grow. We are on final count down for our return to El Salvador tomorrow. March is the hottest month in El Salvador and points them to winter. Winter is when the April planting begins to take advantage of the start of the rainy season. It’s been dry since October, so the showers are needed to provide moisture for their crops. Last year the rains started early. It was an ominous sign as a drought followed, killing the tender plants in three regions of the country causing the price of beans and corn to escalate throughout the country. Many emails have gone back and forth in planning for our trip. We begin in La Paz to visit the new 8th grade class that started this year. We also hope to see the progress on the new roof and improvements to the rest rooms. When we visit our sister parish community, we will follow up on reports by a February medical mission regarding children with health issues. We want to better understand treatment opportunities or obstacles the families may be facing so we can bring this information back to our church family. Many of the emails pertain to the Community Development projects that are under way. The women’s chicken projects are operating and 10 students are attending 2 year technical programs. The beneficiaries of the project want to meet with us to share some thoughts they have for the future. We anticipate that they are incorporating the effects of last year’s drought into the implementation of the agriculture projects. We will listen to their hope and vision to be an encouragement and blessing to them and their communities in the volcanic range. David y Nancy

Monday, February 16, 2015

Project updates

We recently wrote about the excitement at the public school and also the projects funded by our major grant from the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. This grant continues to offer many blessing to the brothers and sisters in the east. Now we have news from our partner Oikos Solidaridad as it implements Phase 2 of the Community Development Grant. Phase 2 includes sending students who completed high school to attend Technical/Vocational training. Since few students in this area complete high school, the pastors were unsure they could find ten. On Monday (February 9), five young men and five young women started classes at the technical institute in the east. These are from families we met in 2009 who asked for our help to provide education for their children. In 2009 we were not prepared to meet these needs; it was not a part of our mission work while serving in El Salvador. But we did listen and we learned from them of their hopes – for themselves, their families, their communities. Before we realized it, we were developing an assessment of the community. We documented what we heard and learned. Five years later an opportunity presented itself; we took a risk and wrote a grant. Now we are in the process of implementing life changing opportunities for generations. Our project partner Oikos has negotiated a contract with the institute to secure special arrangements for these students. Oikos holds the 10 student positions and has filled them with students recommended by the participating pastors. This contract provides the beneficiaries with additional flexibility; in case a student leaves the program, another can be selected. This is a practical and unusual plan to enhance this education opportunity. The students’ families are also providing an investment in their children by contributing transportation and lunch money for their student. This is a substantial commitment by these poor families. It is very important to keep these students in prayer as bus rides and school settings are points of danger due to the gang activity rampant in El Salvador. When we return in March, we are eager to visit the sites and the beneficiaries of the chicken-raising project and to meet the new students and their families. We will also have a gathering with Oikos and the pastors where they have asked for time to discuss new ideas they have. We look forward to their energy and future vision. David y Nancy

Thursday, January 22, 2015

These Kindergarteners have a bright future. In the past, formal schooling ended for these families at the sixth grade. The parents determined it was too dangerous for the children to travel to the neighboring community to attend 7, 8 or 9th grade. The danger is created by gang violence. So the boys would enter the labor market with their fathers, many cutting sugar cane and the girls would help their mothers at home. The parents had the will to expect more for their children, so they asked a local land owner for help to expand their school, providing 7th, 8th and 9th grades. With support from the Sugar Cane Association, they were given funding for materials to construct a large new building making 3 classrooms. The ministry of education would not provide any teachers until the school included computer education. Together with our project partners and donors, we repaired the roofs, purchased windows, provided an air conditioned computer classroom and the necessary equipment and text books for the first 7th grade class that began in January 2014. In March we will continue for the 8th and 9th grades. The parents and teachers work together to ensure that all the students are fed at lunch time and that no student is left out. This has been another remarkable community with a shared vision and hope for the future of their children. David y Nancy