Tuesday, December 20, 2016
A relationship that started in 2010 with our Agriculture Partner has continued to mature and we are witness to many ongoing changes. A project we funded in 2010 continues to evolve into something none of us could fore see 6 years ago.
We first started working with our Agriculture Partner (AP) after moving to our home in Concepcion Batres. They took us to many sites where small family farms were supported with the latest agriculture methods to improve yields. The only problem was lack of funds to purchase more resources to include more residents of the volcanic range. After many visits, we were convinced that the work of our AP was indeed the way to decrease poverty for the people living in this range. With determination and the Internet, we wrote to our home church and asked for a financial commitment to expand this work.
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church West Bend Wisconsin invested $15,000 to include more families in 2011. In 2013 a delegation from OSLC visited those sites in Usulután/San Miguel to see first-hand how this investment benefited Salvadorans. We were impressed with the results, sampling four families of a total of 63 families that participated in the project.
There was nothing visionary in this investment; it followed an established pattern. But in 2015 when a young man from our AP spent 6 weeks at Wellspring Organic Farm, he began to see a vision for a new agriculture model when he returned home.
The new model includes family cooperatives working together in a large hot house. Each cooperative includes 10 families and each cooperative grows a different vegetable or vegetables in the hot house. When the crop ripens they harvest hundreds of pounds of produce that they sell it to a middle man, who in-turn takes it to a larger market like San Salvador. The old way is to sell whatever vegetable is ripe from their small garden, spending a lot of time in the market and competing with other families from the same community. The new model provides more jobs, specialization, and more income.
Inside the hoop-house it’s hot! If these large hot houses were entertainment tents you could seat 4,000 people in each site. Watering is done via drip hose with water provided by rain collection and also a stand-by gasoline powered water pump. The plants protected from insects, airborne disease, and the environment allow for multiple crops per year.
Next year they will implement their own marketing organization to sell directly to the larger markets, providing more work, better profit and income for more families.
This project begun in 2011 with 63 families is growing and evolving in something more dynamic. The participants have a vision for the future and are developing a strong leadership team who enjoy working together for the benefit of all. We are confident the project will continue to grow and strengthen the lives of more families.
Are we relieving poverty in these communities and for these people? A resounding yes, as we saw a new barn, housing improvements and healthier families.
David y Nancy
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Our trip to El Salvador was in the planning for the past year. Our priority was to attend the first 9th grade graduation, as we have been working and fundraising for the past three years to make this possible. We knew pictures and an email from our partners would not capture the moments for us, so we made the journey.
The graduation is the story of the parents who had a vision for their children to remain in the community to safely complete their education. With help from the local sugar cane producer, the sugar cane association and parents, a classroom building was constructed.
On our first visit the building was bare, there was nothing for classes. We returned home and started fundraising for the equipment and books needed for the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Our efforts were successful and on November 18, 41 students graduated from the ninth grade. The students were escorted into the ceremony by a parent or grandparent. The three students having the highest grades were acknowledged and also the 22 students who started in kindergarten and graduated received recognition for their persistence. There were numerous speeches and then a performance by the students and their teacher where they danced with graceful movements and sang a friendship song to each other. It was beautiful and lots of tears.
All 41 students passed the entry exam to qualify for high school. We believe this is a testimony to the teachers as 100% passing the exam is not the norm but the exception. Victor wants to be a civil engineer and will be taking classes online since he has a full time job. Victor and all the other graduates have computer skills as the West Bend Sunrise Rotary invested in a computer classroom three years ago. One of the largest industries in El Salvador is working in a Call Center. With English and computer skills, these young people have another choice for employment after high school.
David y Nancy Slinde were named the Godparents of this graduating class and given a handsome plaque acknowledging our personal and financial commitment.
Ten students don’t have resources to attend high school. Our Salvadoran Partners are checking on costs to determine if a scholarship plan is feasible.
What would their lives be like without these improvements? Some students would have attended the neighboring school until they were threatened and then drop out. Most of the boys would work in the sugar cane fields or coffee plantations, but that’s only for a couple of months each year. They would have a lot of idle time on their hands.
What was accomplished by educational success will have impact for generations and that truly is a stunning reality.
David y Nancy
Monday, November 21, 2016
With only a day to visit, we couldn’t afford to have the steam and gas from the volcano keep us from visiting Our Savior’s Lutheran Church chicken project. Our Savior’s and the German Churches are supplying chicken units for the women’s cooperative. With our donation, our project partner provides the family with a coop design and the materials to construct a coop. The family does the work. We were greeted by seven families representing the 25 women of the cooperative, finding that four of the seven have their chicken coops and for one, the chicks were being delivered today. A smaller group of families provided us a rare opportunity to talk to learn more about their community. A visual of these women indicated they were dressed better than our first visit and looked healthier. That is in part to better nutrition and income generation from our projects and ANDA (government water provider) now has drinking water to the community. The community has approximately 300 families and all the children attend school. Classes are offered through the ninth grade. This is a big change from our last visit so we asked another question - is electricity available to the entire community? Yes, electricity is available to all but not all families can afford it or think it’s really necessary. A family receiving these chicken units will repay the community by donating five hens to start another chicken unit. We visited three of the sites before leaving and heading to the agriculture projects else-where on the volcano.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
This is the new Kindergarten classroom at the Community Central School in Talpa, our most recent education project. With many improvements, it has become the premier school in this area. Children are coming to it from other communities as it has features that are missing in their current schools. On Friday November 11, we were invited to dedicate the new classroom. It’s not yet completed but will be for January classes. The local Sugar Cane Growers Association will provide new equipment for the classroom. The rooms at the left will be a boys and girls restroom, a storage unit and the cove at the right is for the teacher’s desk. The walls will be painted, a suspended ceiling installed, doors and fixtures added. Outside concrete will be poured around the building including the porch where the children will eat lunch. Kindergarten classes will be held AM and PM as the incoming class is over 50. These students seated for the dedication will be the first class attending in January 2017. Schools were typically closed when it rained as the buildings were not weather worthy. With all these improvements, the children attend school in all weather conditions. Better facilities will protect them and encourage them to learn. For many, school will be safer than their homes. The local mayor has been bragging that he is providing all the improvements. His office signed the building permit, that’s all. Our friends placed a memorial on the new building that reads-- David y Nancy raised the financial support for the construction of this building. We love this place, the parents, teachers, students and our project partners, all committed to the education of the children for their lives to come.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
We write today to tell you about our new learning experience with one of our project partners. We greatly enjoyed the personal connection with their current project and were delighted to participate in the action. Please be sure to see the six photos at the end of this journal. We also have a video to share with you at another time.
Environmental changes impact our entire planet and El Salvador suffers from these effects. It started with deforestation, progressed to improper agricultural practices, use of chemicals poisoning the land and people, and now the over harvesting from the ocean.
For years, turtle eggs have been in the regular diet of the beach people and then they discovered that the inland dwellers enjoyed them as well and paid good money to have them.
The turtle population is dangerously in decline. Sea turtles lay eggs every ten years. The first twenty four hours after hatching, the newborns are at risk as their shell has not hardened and they are prey for birds, sea crabs and large fish. About ten percent of the hatched eggs survive in the ocean.
An environmental organization FIAES is taking action to protect and increase the population of sea turtles. Sea turtles begin to lay eggs on the beaches of El Salvador in September and continue thru February. Stations are located along the beaches with a 24/7 staff to watch for turtles laying eggs. In some cases the staff must carry the 100 pound turtles closer to their work site and help the turtle dig a nest at the beach. After the turtle creates a nest, the zone staff removes those eggs from the beach into an enclosed safe zone.
The safe zone is a large grid of string creating 200 one foot by one foot squares. Here the eggs are re-nested for incubation and are documented by type of turtle, date and the name of the “re-nester”. Then the staff waits forty five days for the baby turtles to dig their way up and out of the nest. When they reach the surface, they are placed in a tub and held for twenty four hours for their shells to harden.
After twenty four hours, the staff waits for the right ocean conditions and then releases the baby turtles. The local staff family members (children) call their friends and they carefully place each turtle on the sand. You can place the turtle in any direction and instinctively it turns to the ocean and quickly heads to sea. After a wave or two they are out of sight.
The staff keeps detailed records of the number and type of turtles laying eggs and the number of baby turtles released. In the future FIAES plans to place a chip in the turtles to better monitor the results of this preservation project. Our partner hopes to continue working with them to improve the balance of marine life.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
The Habitat Build concluded on Sunday, Oct 30, with 14 members of the 16 person team leaving for home. Flight delays prevented those living on the east coast from reaching home the same day. We stayed at the beach for another 3 days for a short but enjoyable vacation time.
While at the Build site we had an unusual experience. It started with us asking our HFH coordinator if the matching funds from my previous employer could be directed to HFH El Salvador or must remain at Americus Georgia. Wednesday the Director of Development came to the site to talk with us. He asked us what we wanted to do in El Salvador. We had a quick reply and that is to improve education.
He had a HFH vehicle so he took us to a community hoping to build a multipurpose center. This small community is where our build took place in 2015. We had the opportunity to visit the family whose home we helped build. We were greeted with strong hugs and smiles. Then we visited with women of the Women’s Cooperative to hear the story of their problem.
They have been renting a small house where they make crafts to sell and also have a daycare for the little children. The children entering kindergarten are not prepared, thus the community is providing training in readiness skills.
The woman owning the small house recently married and wants to return home. The cooperative must find another location. They have a vision of bringing together children from 3 nearby communities to attend the daycare run by volunteer mothers.
It seems the only recourse is to build but that is not in HFH El Salvador’s 2016-2017 plans. It is a stretch of Habitat’s vision. On Saturday we received an email that HFH would consider the building as we are committed to fundraising for this new project. While we are in the very early stages of planning and developing a common vision with HFH, it seems this will be a good partnership
Supporting a multi-purpose building also expands our vision. A program to care for children and get them ready for success in school is an educational opportunity we cannot ignore. Your continued support can help make this happen.
We would like to have a one week build team for this new project in 2017. Future planning with the HFH staff may include this possibility for permission and support. If it becomes a reality, you are invited to work with us in El Salvador to experience a different culture, the life of the rural poor, and to help make a positive impact in the world.
David y Nancy
Sunday, October 30, 2016
We previously wrote about a young girl from the community of our current public school project. She was sitting next to an adult at a roadside café eating pupusas when a gunman drove past and fired shoots. Joselyn was hit in the throat. She was hospitalized for months. When the doctors didn’t have the experience to perform surgery, they contacted a hospital in Boston for assistance. Joselyn had surgery there and will need more to repair her breathing and eating functions. A recent picture shows her gaining weight and looking much better.
We are writing from El Salvador. Our first week has been spent with a Habitat Build. A group of sixteen from around the USA has gathered, some with experience and a couple of first timers. Thrivent Financial has been building homes in the Santa Ana area since the past earthquake. While building homes might be completed in this particular community, we hope Thrivent Financial continues its support of Habitat in other locations. El Salvador is still short over 400,000 homes.
The remainder of our visit will focus on our agriculture and public school projects. We continue in agriculture as food production is limited and food needs to be imported. Our projects create small businesses for poor rural families. Forty nine families participated in the past project, learning the latest practices to improve yields and some were provided rented land. All total, approximately 150 families have benefit from these small business projects. Also five women’s cooperatives were established for raising chickens.
Nine high school graduates were provided scholarships to learn a trade at the technical school in Usulután. They finish studies in December but the graduation ceremony will be in March and we will have to miss it.
With continued violence throughout the country, many businesses have closed. Others and our project partners are determining what new practices can be established to protect their equipment, employees and customers. With that in mind, we have partnered to establish a Technical School for the study of agriculture in the western zone of the country. The students will need a high school education to attend. Our goal is to make this school sustainable, using many of the practices our friend Daniel experienced at Wellspring Organic Farm in Newburg, Wisconsin.
The last week will close with the dedication of the new Kindergarten classroom building that we have been fundraising for this past year. Forty students will attend in the morning and another forty in the afternoon session. After the formal dedication ceremony, the first ninth grade class will graduate. We received a special invitation so our plans include attending to enjoy one our most rewarding projects. Our donors have strengthened this public school by providing class room dividers, new roofs, windows and an air-conditioned computer lab. In adding the 7, 8, 9 grade classes, our donors have provided the desks and text books for students and teachers.
At our first visit to the school in 2013, the enrollment was 270, now it’s over 500. The students stay in their community to attend school and can avoid all the gang turf wars that are penalizing the education of its youth. It’s estimated over 80,000 youth stay home as the streets are too dangerous to travel. This has resulted in schools closing and teachers being laid off.
This is why school projects are so important for changing the future of the youth, families and communities.
David y Nancy
Saturday, May 21, 2016
It’s the 2016 planting season. Wisconsin’s farm conditions are good as the ground is moist and the corn crop is 50% planted statewide.
Two weeks ago our Salvadoran project partners wrote to us advising that it hasn’t rained in their community in 6 months. Wells that supply drinking water to homes are drying up and the government is providing water to some communities from tanker trucks. The drought that is being experienced in parts of El Salvador was forecasted and there is no relief predicted until July. That’s cutting into 60 days of what should be the growing season.
If the rains materialize later in the season, the hilly/mountain terrain and years of deforestation prevent the moisture from soaking into the water table. The overall moisture situation is very fragile.
The government continues to import grains to keep the prices in the market stable. The prices are actually below last year’s prices according to FEWS. Without government action to stabilize the price of commodities in the market place, the threat of civil unrest is a very real concern.
With food scarce anyone having produce to sell would be in a favorable position but not in El Salvador. While our agriculture projects have benefited hundreds of families, the final phase of the agriculture project was to take marketing of the crops to the next level. Initial plans were to secure commitments from the families for the quantity of products they could deliver on a weekly basis. They would bring their products to a distribution center and be paid. Sellers (in the market) would purchase the produce from the distribution center and sell from stands our partner would establish. Everyone in this system would be under contact. The sellers would keep the revenue from sales and this market plan would have created more jobs.
We had to abandon this plan due to the extreme violence that is currently taking place. No one is safe. Women shopping in the market, shop keepers, students, taxi and/or bus drivers and pastors, everyone is at risk of extortion, death threats or cross fire from the gangs.
Our project partners are no exception. The gang visited their offices and demanded extortion money. They had to make a payment or risk death. After the gang left, they gathered the employees and had a frank discussion that the office was closing due to the imminent danger. The employees responded that without work, they would be better off dead, so they continued to work to train and support the rural farmers.
Later in the month the offices were broken into on a weekend and all electronic equipment was stolen. The office is surrounded by residential homes, why didn’t someone call the police? You need to live in El Salvador to understand the culture and their society. It’s not as simple as ours.
After a difficult 6 months, our project partners are re-thinking what they can do in this war like environment. They have to create a safer environment for their employees. This means moving the office to a more secure location. Next they can no longer work in the field; they will need to work in a protected environment like a training center.
For our project partners who have dedicated the last 20 years of their life’s work to benefit others this is a heart break. We grieve with them as they make difficult decisions for their future and the futures of those they have worked alongside.
David y Nancy
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
We have received a lot of news lately from El Salvador. Some of it concerns the state of the country and also news from our project partners of public school improvements and our agriculture projects.
We subscribe to the Famine Early Warning Network operated by USAID. We were introduced to this network by our friends of Oikos Solidaridad. It monitors worldwide weather and harvest conditions in order to alert for possible famine conditions. El Salvador is currently importing corn from the United States and Mexico and its supply of rice is the lowest in many years. These imports have kept the prices of these staples at historic rates in the local markets.
But even with the current level of imports, FEWNET predicts that Central America will be in crisis by July 2016 due to the change of weather (rain) caused by El Nino resulting in a poor harvest. While the El Nino climate effect is diminishing, the effect on the food supply can’t and won’t change until the 2016/2017 planting and harvest.
The new 9th grade is now operational in our current school project. School resumed on January 18. The first day of school was like a festival. Families came to see the many improvements and anticipate the future science lab from FEPADE. Classroom space is now limited and the school is over- crowded.
One of our students from this school was having pupusas at a local roadside vender when shots rang out. She was next to a man who was targeted and she also became a victim. Yoselin took a bullet to the neck, destroying her windpipe. A prosthesis was inserted for her to breathe on her own and a tube is inserted into her stomach for feeding. She will not be able to talk for several years.
We saw a picture of her last week and she has lost a lot of weight and is very fragile. We pray that her family can provide the appropriate supplement that will help Yoselin regain her body mass and strength.
Projects in the east:
· Our older students who attend the Technical Institute in Usulután and San Miguel have also returned for their 3rd semester. The holiday break was good for them as they are getting stressed at the work load at school and at home.
· Additional news on the agriculture projects indicates a good harvest is benefiting our participants in the projects. Earlier in the planting season, the rains did not come and early plants were lost. But with replanting and training offered by our partners, newer technology (greenhouses) overcame these early obstacles, resulting in abundant harvest.
Unfortunately these agriculture improvements are isolated to a small group of families, totaling fewer than 1,000 residents having connections to the churches in the east. We are trying to stretch our thinking as to how to provide ongoing training in other zones of El Salvador to overcome the famine crisis that occurs too often.
David y Nancy
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
It’s cold outside; wind chill is -26, spent Sunday and Monday indoors. Wisconsin held a free fishing day on Saturday. That means you don’t need a license to ice-fish. Little shanties were scattered around the lake and in front of our house we saw men outside all day. They looked like giants with multi layers giving them the appearance they all weighed 400 pounds.
I got up at 3:00am and lights were coming off the lake reflecting on our bedroom wall. I guess the early bird catches the largest fish.
We received these pictures Monday from our partners at Oikos Solidaridad in El Salvador. The volcano of San Miguel is behaving badly again. It started days ago with sulfur gas spewing out and drifting throughout the communities.
Sunday it became more aggressive with ash being released.
The second picture is the effect on the current coffee plants. The coffee harvest continues as the cherries don’t ripen at the same time, requiring numerous picking schedules that are currently in process. This industry has been hit with coffee rust that remains a problem and with fewer jobs available for picking coffee cherries. This current release of ash can be devastating for the local growers and pickers.
Picture three shows the ash on the ground of the corn fields. If it remains a dusting, it can be turned under but if it gets heavier, it needs to be removed as it will become like concrete.
Our friends have endured set back after set back. It’s exhausting. Yet they start over.
David y Nancy