David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

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