The SHARE Blog

Testimony from a SHARE Volunteer

August 31, 2015

Cathy 2I first visited El Salvador with a SHARE delegation from Oregon in 2012, to observe the elections – a great experience. When I returned to El Salvador to study Spanish I had the opportunity to travel with Isabel and Anabel to visit the women dairy farmers in Jiquilisco – a very inspiring day.   I also traveled with two of your delegations – church women doing wellness work with Salvadoran women in a rural community and then with an educational visit of high school students from the Midwest USA. I was along to take photos and write stories for SHARE’s blog and website – and it was also a learning experience for me.

Now that I’m living in El Salvador it’s been wonderful to get to know your new staff people and support them in continuing to develop their English skills. I hope that when I get back to San Salvador in September I’ll be able to find a way to contribute some volunteer time again.

I really recommend to anyone that coming down and volunteering with SHARE is a great opportunity to meet dedicated Salvadorans – both on the staff and in the community – and to contribute to helping build a more just and equitable Salvadoran society.

In solidarity,

Cathy Howell


Nueva Trinidad Speaker Bios


Sandra Carolina Navarrete Ayala and Jose Faustino Alas from Nueva Trinidad will be visiting the US this fall to speak about current issues in El Salvador.

 

Sandra Carolina Navarrete Ayalasandra carolina navarrete ayala

I was born on the 3rd of February, 1994, in Nueva Trinidad, Chalatenango, El Salvador. My dad, Buenaventura Navarrete Leones (60 years), who is an agriculturist, was born on the 25th of December, 1955, in the community of Jaguatalla from the municipality of Nueva Trinidad. My mother, Maria Guadalupe Ayala (54 years old), who is a domestic worker, was born on the 24th of December, 1961, in the department of Chalatenango. I am a bachelorette and the 4th of 6 siblings. I studied from kindergarten to my 2nd year of high school in the Complejo Educativo de Nueva Trinidad. I then enrolled at the University de El Salvador. At first, I wanted to major in Psychology, but I didn’t continue with that major and was given the opportunity to study Philosophy. I studied law for one year. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I had to leave the university and am thus no longer studying. However, when I can, I want to continue my studies since it is one of my main goals. In the past I have participated as a co-facilitator in giving forums on sexuality, among other topics, to adolescents in the entire municipality. I also have given forums on catechism to kids for their first communion. I am currently a coordinator for a small youth group that could not continue their studies for lack of financial resources and are thus struggling, along with the priest Rutilio Sanchez, for a technical college in our community. I also collaborate with the church. I am part of the choir group, among other things. On the weekends I dedicate my time to learn the administration for the System Maintenance for Portable Water Eramon (SIMAGUE) project of Nueva Trinidad. Furthermore, I am participating in forums on gender with other youth from the municipalities of Nombre de Jesus, Arcatao and Nueva Trinidad. Lastly, I am part of a group of batucada in my community.

 

faustinoJose Faustino Alas was born on the 15th of February, 1976, in a community within the municipality of Chalatenango. He is the oldest of 8 siblings. When he was only 4 years old, he had to confront the horrors of the war, living in the middle of shootouts, bombs and persecution from the military. At six years old, he had to leave the country due to the armed conflict between the guerrilla and the Salvadoran armed forces. For nine years, he lived as a refugee in the Mesa Grande camps of Honduras. There he completed his first studies in basic education. When he was 16 years old in 1991, he returned to El Salvador, at which time the community of Nueva Trinidad was founded and populated.

From the beginning of the repopulation, Jose has stood out for his involvement in different sectors of the community. He has actively participated with youth groups, in festivity committees, and in ADESCO, among other things.

He acted as president of ADESCO during 2002 and 2003. Later he became a member of a grassroots commission during approximately five years. Since he was 14 years old he has been an active member of the Church choir.

It is worth mentioning that despite becoming involved in different community activities, he did not neglect his studies. He studied 5th to 8th grade in Nueva Trinidad. He completed his 9th grade in the neighboring municipality of Arcatao. He completed his high school in San Jose Las Flores. He completed his university studies in San Jose Las Flores at a headquarters of the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Cañas (U.C.A.).

He is a huge sports fan, though his favorite sport is soccer. He is also a fan of music and especially enjoys playing his guitar. Besides this, he loves drawing.

He is a very sociable, amicable, and outgoing person with whom you can speak about different topics.

Being the oldest of many siblings has allowed him to motivate them to study at a university. He always says that school is the key to the future. Thus after graduating as a teacher, his siblings have followed in his footsteps. He has a sister who studied teaching, a brother who is a graphic designer, another brother who is an engineer, a sister who is completing her degree in nursing, and a younger brother who has finished high school.

Faustino states that he is proud of his family. He says they are a united and have always supported one another to get ahead in life.

Faustino has been married for 15 years and has two twin girls that have motivated him to continue struggling in order to give them a better future. He says that the most important thing you can give to your children is affection, as well as values that can lead them on a road to success.

Through fifteen years of marriage, 14 years of being a dad, and 7 years of being a teacher, Faustino has learned a lot. He has had many unforgettable experiences and has learned significant lessons. Since being a father, he says he values the work that each mom and dad have to do each day to give their kids a brighter future.

He is very proud of his own parents, and appreciates God for having them filled with life. He asks for God to take care of them for many more years.

Faustino’s parents are Maria Aminta Alas de Alas, who is a houseworker. She was born in the community of El Jicaro jurisdiction of Chalatenango on the 27th of March, 1952. Pascual Alas, who is a laborer, also was born in the community of El Jicaro on the 14th of May, 1945. Currently, he is working in the mayor’s office in the municipality of Nueva Trinidad in the area of waste management. Both of Faustino’s parents rarely leave the community as they dedicate themselves to their work. However, Aminta has just traveled to the United States. Her daughter, who is soon to be a mother, is a resident of the US, and for that reason Aminta traveled to support her daughter in those moments of life when the expertise of a mother is necessary.

Currently, Faustino and his parents live in Nueva Trinidad, Chalatenango.


An Interview with a Board Member of the Rutilio Grande Community


board member rutilio grandeVictor: What is your name?

Luis: Luis Perdomo

Victor: How old are you?

Luis: I am 32 years old.

V: And what is the name of your community?

L: Community Padre Rutilio Grande

V: Who do you live with?

L: I live with my wife, my son who is seven years old, and my daughter who will be born in September.

V: What is your wife’s name?

L: Silvia Hayde Rivas

V: And your son?

L: Luis Angel

V: And what kind of work do you do?

L: I thank god that through the scholarship program I was able to complete my high school and was able to get a job with the Ministry of Health. I work in the archiving department, where we keep patient files.

V: Now I will ask you questions that have to do with the kind of  participation you do in your community. What work do you do in your board?

L: My life as a community leader began when I started studying in 2001, when I was a part of a youth board. I was a beneficiary of a scholarship project that was implemented by the board of directors of that time. Then time passed, I was able to complete high school, then I found employment and made the decision to help my community the way it helped me back in 2011.

V: Through your participation in the board, how has it changed or improved your life?

L: Well first of all I feel satisfied because somehow I have been able to achieve my goals with my family, I have been successful at maintaining a job, and the community is improving. I primarily enjoy working in the area of development, community organization, the children, the youth, with women, and the adult sector.

V: What have been some of the obstacles you have faced either as a board or as a community?

L: One of the challenges that we have encountered is elaborating projects to do follows ups to the work and progress in the community. This has been an issue primarily with the necessities of the different community branches, such as the   women’s sector, the education sector, and other projects such as housing for the new generations but, despite these difficulties, we have been successful. I have been able to see the small obstacles, and sometimes with the projects we have faith and hope that they get approved or not. There are funds for the following year. Thank God we have always received the blessing and support of the partners, the municipality, and from the local institutions in this country.

V: What message would you like to share with your partners in solidarity about the work you do?

L: First of all I truly enjoy helping people. That I have charisma, love, affection, and solidarity. And I really appreciate the work that our partners do. I really appreciate it. I know that the partners, the committees, the churches collect these funds with care, that they develop activities to continue the improvement of the Rutilio Grande community. That this community continue walking together, hand in hand, from the place our partners reside in, to the small area of Paisnal, situated in El Jicaron, and the community Rutilio Grande in which it is found.

V: What has been the impact of the community work between today and the future?

L: Wow. The impact has been great because, as I have said, I came here from Nicaragua when I was seven years old. And when I arrived here, my mouth dropped, I was saddened, I cried, because we lived in camps, in houses, not even houses but carpets, with the entire family, my dad’s family, everyone together, in a few carpets. We were not received in El Salvador the way we expected to be received. We started working from scratch, from sleeping on the ground to where we are today. Our vision for the future is that, just like a Spanish cooperative supported us with our housing, that today with our other supporters we help the new generation of youth, give them loans so they can build their housing.

 


A Trip to Remember

August 27, 2015

Roberto with his relatives

Roberto with his relatives

God truly has a plan for everyone, and I came to realize that through my experience this summer. My name is Roberto Melgar and I am currently a junior in high school, and this summer I was given the most amazing opportunity of my life. This summer Good Shepherd Parish gave me a chance to go on a mission trip to a little small country in Central America. Funny enough, that country just happen to be El Salvador, the country where my parents migrated from almost eighteen years ago. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and discover the land where my parents grew up and where most of my family lives. To make things even more interesting, I found out about the mission trip through a celebration of Monsenor Romero! Having been recently beatified, it seemed like the first of many miracles to come from Blessed Romero.

Nothing feels as good as a warm and loving welcome from your family when you first arrive, and I must say that applies to all the people of El Salvador. El Salvador has some of the most loving, passionate, hard-working, and caring people in the world. I was able to stay two weeks and every minute that I spent there felt like I was right at home. Words can’t even describe the feelings I had through the many encounters with the people from our sister community, the government officials, and survivors of the tragic civil war. My time there was well spent; we visited many museums and historical areas, which increased my overall knowledge of what the Salvadorian people have gone through. This country has suffered too much and continues to suffer, but they continue to push through odds, and that is just so inspiring. Sure there is violence and poverty, BUT there also is much love, support, passion, and solidarity, that it’s hard not to fall in love with the people and the country.

I strongly felt a connection to the people and their suffering. I felt like this country, this small little place, was my home. It still boggles my mind just thinking how my life could have been so different had my parents not migrated to the states. It is still difficult to describe what I felt those moments that I spent with my family who I got to meet for the first time. All I know for sure is that El Salvador is worth the visit. I’m looking forward to next year’s trip to El Salvador and continuing to work alongside the SHARE Foundation. Please consider visiting this marvelous country. This trip will not only open your eyes, but it will also open your hearts. This truly was a miracle and a part of my plan that God has in store for me. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my story. Thank you to everyone who made this a possibility, I can’t thank you enough.

Roberto_group photo at Perquin

Roberto and delegates at Perquin

Roberto_Monument to Truth & Memory_Youth at Wall

Roberto and fellow delegates at the Monument to Truth and Memory

Roberto_Divina Providencia_Roberto y Grandpa Jose at grotto

Roberto and his Grandpa Jose at the Divina Providencia grotto

Roberto_Cihuatan Ruins_Ryan, Roberto, Libby y Benjamin with morro fruit

Ryan, Roberto, Libby and Benjamin with the morro fruit

Roberto with the soccer group

Roberto with the soccer group

 


Bio 3 of 4: Jean Donovan

August 25, 2015

jean donovan

Jean Donovan (1953-1980)

Jean Donovan, the youngest of the four church women killed on December 2, 1980, was born on April 10, 1953. She was the younger of two children and raised in an upper middle class family in Westport, Connecticut. Her father, Raymond, was an executive engineer, and later chief of design, at the nearby Sikorsky Aircraft Division of the United Technologies, a large defense contractor for the U.S. and manufacturer of helicopters used in the Vietnam War. Jean was very close to her brother Michael and was deeply affected when he was struck with Hodgkin’s disease, from which he made a complete recovery. The experience of the disease and his courageous battle to conquer it left a strong impression on Jean and, as she said later, gave her a deeper sense of the preciousness of life.

Jean received a Master’s degree in business administration from Case Western Reserve University, then took a job as management consultant for an accounting firm in Cleveland. She was on her way to a successful business career. Not the shy or withdrawn type, Jean was described by friends as outgoing, a “driver,” a “joker,” who often did outrageous things to get attention. Her mother, Patricia, described her as “a gutsy, loving, caring person.” She loved riding her motorcycle and was once known for pouring scotch, her drink of choice, over her cereal in the morning.

Her spirit and generosity drew loyal friends who later were left to grapple with the choices Jean made. But Jean was not content and began a search for some deeper meaning in life. While volunteering in the Cleveland Diocese Youth Ministry with the poor, she heard about the diocesan mission project in El Salvador. It was what she was looking for. Jean attributed her decision to “a gut feeling,” and said “I want to get closer to Him, and that’s the only way I think I can.”

The director of the mission program, Maryknoll Sister Mary Anne O’Donnell, described Jean as intelligent, loving and apostolic and believed that, despite (or because of?) her fun loving, hard living ways, she had the signs of being a good missioner. Jean had also been much affected by time she had spent in Ireland as an exchange student, where a priest who befriended her, Fr. Michael Crowley, a former missionary in Peru, introduced her to a different world, a world of the poor and a life of faith committed to a more radical following of the example of Jesus of Nazareth. Jean was haunted by what she experienced there, and this brought her to question the values of her own life.

After her training, including a stint at Maryknoll, Jean arrived in El Salvador in July 1979, a time when the repression was intensifying and the church had become a major target. She became Caritas coordinator for the diocesan mission program. In addition to keeping the books, she worked in La Libertad with Dorothy Kazel, distributing food for the poor and the refugees and carrying out family education programs. Her mother Patricia said of her work, “Jean took her commitment to the campesinos very seriously. She was strongly motivated by St. Francis of Assisi and by Archbishop Oscar Romero. She translated God’s teachings into clothing for the poor, feeding the hungry, and caring for the wounded refugees mainly children who had lost what little they had…”

As for the people of La Libertad, they loved Jean Donovan and dubbed her, “St. Jean the Playful.”

Jean was very devoted to Msgr. Romero, often coming to the cathedral on Sundays to hear his homilies which at that time were the only source of news and truth left in El Salvador. After his assassination, Jean and Dorothy were among those who took turns keeping vigil at his coffin. And they were present in the cathedral when the overflow crowd in the plaza attending his funeral on March 30, 1980, was attacked by security forces, resulting in a panicked stampede. The massacre left 44 dead and hundreds of wounded. As Jean sat crowded among the desperate people who fled into the cathedral for safety, she fully believed that she might die that day. The repression touched her in other very personal ways. Friends were killed by death squads. She witnessed one such killing. In the fall of 1980 Jean took a break from this tense reality to attend the wedding of a friend in Ireland. There she was reunited for a time with her fiancé, Dr. Douglas Cable. Many of her friends tried to persuade her to leave El Salvador, but she comforted them with the quip, “They don’t kill blond-haired, blue-eyed North Americans.”

In fact, she and Dorothy often used their very visible presence to accompany people in danger, or to get supplies into areas not accessible to others. They became a well-known sight, driving along the countryside in their mission van. As the violence engulfed the country, Jean felt the personal challenge of trying to cope, to understand what was happening. It tested her faith. “I think that the hardship one endures maybe is God’s way of taking you out into the desert and to prepare you to meet and love him more fully.” And while she had been a loyal patriotic Republican, she also saw the direct connection between the violence in El Salvador and the policies of the U.S. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in November 1980 promising a strong stand against “Communism.” The Salvadoran government got the message. Wrote Patricia, “Things grew progressively worse in El Salvador after the United States election…The military believed they were given a blank check no restrictions. In light of what happened, who’s to say they weren’t? Jean had told us that she feared there would be a bloodbath in El Salvador.”

Two weeks before she was murdered, with the bloodbath already begun, she wrote to a friend in Connecticut: “Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” For the family of Jean Donovan, her death was an indescribable blow. When she had first told them she was going to El Salvador, they had to pull out a map to find out where it was. Now they had lost their only daughter in this tiny country that had become a major focus of U.S. foreign policy.

But Jean’s death was not the only blow; following her death they had to deal with what for them became the betrayal by the very government they thought embodied values of justice and political good. As they approached the State Department for information, they were treated coolly, then with hostility. Eventually they were told to stop bothering State Department officials. In April 1981, at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, all but one Republican Senator left the room when Michael appeared to testify. The final insult came when the Donovans received a bill from the State Department for $3,500 for the return of Jean’s body to the U.S. The scandal of the way the U.S. government treated this case, including Reagan administration officials accusing the women of “running a roadblock,” of engaging in “an exchange of fire,” of being “not just nuns…but political activists,” enraged the Donovans and other families of the women.

As levels of U.S. military aid escalated, Jean’s mother wrote, “Jean deserves, at the very least, that her native land not reward her killers.” The head of the National Guard, whose troops were responsible for the murders, Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova, went on to become Minister of Defense under the “democratic” government of José Napoleon Duarte (1984-89).

Jean’s time in El Salvador led her to those fundamental challenges of the meaning of life, of faith, in a world torn by injustice and violence against the poorest, the most vulnerable.

It was a personal challenge. “I’m 26 years old. I should be married. I shouldn’t be running around doing all of these things. But then I think, I’ve got so many things I want to do. It’s hard when I see my friends getting married and having babies, that’s something I’ve thought about…am I ever going to have kids? Sometimes I wonder if I’m denying that to myself. I really don’t want to, but that’s maybe what I’m doing. And then I sit there and talk to God and say, why are you doing this to me? Why can’t I just be your little suburban housewife? He hasn’t answered yet.”

 


Root Causes of Migration and the Plan for Prosperity


Dear SHARE family,

I just returned from Honduras and Guatemala with a delegation of 16 religious leaders and immigrant advocates to learn about the root causes of migration. Our delegation was especially surprised to learn about the U.S. Plan for Prosperity proposed by the Obama Administration and invite you to follow its developments. I want to share this piece written by Bill Mefford of the United Methodist Church that explains more about it. Click here for more information on the findings of our delegation.

Jose Artiga
SHARE Executive Director

 

Plan for Prosperity
by Bill Mefford

On an interfaith trip to Honduras and Guatemala led by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity that included religious leaders from across the United States, we learned that violence pervades much of the region and often is so daunting that Hondurans and Guatemalans find it challenging, though not impossible, to dream of a country where all have opportunities for success. We learned that much of the violence that has caused thousands of migrants to flee to the North is imported from the North; and oftentimes, specifically the United States. To that end, we heard one consistent message throughout our journey: the Plan for Prosperity put forward by the Obama Administration is a plan to prosper a few at the expense of the many and will do nothing to create a more safe and secure Honduras and Guatemala.

In March of this year Vice-President Biden traveled to the region to meet with leaders of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to “discuss steps to stimulate economic growth, reduce inequality, promote educational opportunities, target criminal networks responsible for human trafficking, and help create governance and institutions that are transparent and accountable.” That certainly sounds good, but the brave faith leaders we met with are not just skeptical about the effective implementation of the plan; they are convinced it simply will not benefit the families that have been decimated by internal rural to urban migration and the lack of employment in cities that then causes family members of all ages – including small children – to begin the long and extremely dangerous journey to the North.

The Plan for Prosperity proposes a number of steps to reign in corruption in the countries that make up the Northern Triangle. Amazingly, the United States believes that some of the very leaders who are committing corruption are going to commit to stopping the same actions that have benefitted and kept them affluent and in power. The real hope against corruption lies in the voices of the people. One night, while in Honduras, we were able to march in solidarity with Los Indignados: a grassroots movement of thousands of people across Honduras committed to stamping out the corruption that has prospered so few and angered so many.

Unfortunately, the Plan for Prosperity does nothing about land reform, something we heard consistently from faith leaders that is key for true prosperity to be realized in these largely agricultural countries. How could a plan designed to strengthen weakened economies that are so dependent on agriculture fail to mention the need for greater ownership of the land by the people who work the land? Could it be that ensuring more citizens in the Northern Triangle have land of their own on which to farm and make a living would take away from the extractive industries – industries from countries like the United States, Canada and China, for example – and their brutal domination of this region? Tragically, people are literally dying to save their land from extractive industries that are displacing families and stealing the natural resources that belong to the people of these countries.

Even worse, the Plan for Prosperity will only increase the violence in this region and benefit greedy US defense contractors. Perhaps the worst step of the plan is to increase the number of police, specifically in Honduras, to 6,000, while also militarizing them, of course, with the latest gear from US defense contractors. Some of the people we heard from in Honduras are obviously concerned about militarizing and increasing the number of police when there is unrest over corruption and the police may continue to be used to protect the powerful interests – interests which are fused between Honduran elites and US economic and military interests – at the expense of the millions who are forced to live under the greatest threat of violence: extreme poverty.

In the end, we learned that the Plan for Prosperity should be named the Plan for US Prosperity. It is an intentional strategy intent on creating even more prosperity for the very few affluent of the Northern Triangle whose livelihood is united with the political and economic interests of the United States. The people of Central America we talked with do not want the Plan for US Prosperity. They do have dreams of justice and equality shared by all of the citizens of their countries though! Their dreams are focused not on securing the prosperity of foreign countries or mining companies or multinational corporations. They want honest leadership, health and education infrastructures that work effectively, police that do not abuse their power, and access to land so that all people have the same opportunities for success. Thus, we would do well to scrap the Plan for US Prosperity and do more listening to the people of Central America.


Reflections from the 20th Anniversary Remembering the Churchwomen Delegation

August 20, 2015

In December 2000, in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the death of the four churchwomen, I traveled to El Salvador on an immersion trip sponsored by SHARE in collaboration with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I had been involved over many years in prayer vigils every December 2 in San Francisco and protests over the US involvement in the war.

We visited many of the same places that the 2015 trip may experience: Chapel de la Divina Providencia, University of Central America, San Salvador Cathedral, La Libertad, Tecoluca, San Vicente Guajoyo, place of their death, the US Embassy, and many more.Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean

Being with the people, learning from them, experiencing their deep faith and great generosity, observing the poverty and oppression, and sharing their hopes and dreams impacted my worldview and my deepening spirituality.

Three particular experiences will never leave me:

  • The first was listening to a homily given by a catechist, holding a piece of shrapnel from a US bomb and speaking of the loss of family members and his deep faith.
  • The second was listening to three women who had been combatants in the war and their asking forgiveness over the death of the four women. We, weeping with them, were grateful that one of the LCWR members prayed for forgiveness for the devastation and death brought by our government.
  • The third was witnessing the resilience and strength of the people after flooding of the River Lempa and burning of their fields and crops during the war.

Closing with a press conference with the agricultural union gave us hope.

I continue to pray for, work with, and support the people of El Salvador to deal with ever increasing violence, plight of refugees and immigration reform in the US.

– Marilyn Wilson, BVM

Join us for our upcoming 35th anniversary delegation celebrating the lives of Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean.


Autobiography of Víctor Andaluz, SHARE’s Grassroots Program Coordinator

July 31, 2015

Victor head shotMy name is Victor Manuel Andaluz. I was born on December 16, 1988 (December 26 in legal documents–long story), in a small village called Los Amates in the municipality of San Juan Opico, Department of La Libertad in the Southwest part of El Salvador and Northwest of San Salvador. Physically, I am small in comparison to the average Salvadoran, but have a big heart full of humbleness and love to share with others. I also belong an extended and humble family. I am the 11th of 12 siblings. My family is composed as follows: Maria and José, my parents, Rosa, Julia, Silvia, Jaime, Sarah, Yanira, María Elena, Miguel, José Esteban, Jorge, and Juan Carlos. I am in between my brother Jorge who is 2 years older and Juan Carlos who is 5 years younger than me.

Me, when I was 3 months old

Me, when I was 3 months old

As a family, our relationships were not as close as other families. But, why? I grew up with the need of affection, conversation, and attention from my father–which I believe is why my older siblings bugged me anytime they could since all of us had the same need. Being a farmer, my father had to spend a lot of time out of the house–including at night, and as is typical in my society, my mother was in charge of doing chores at home and taking care of us. Due to the evident need of economic resources and after the Peace Accords, three of my older sisters (Julia, Silvia, and Sara) had to look for jobs in San Salvador. Fortunately, they became babysitters which helped provide us with food, clothing, and education for me and my three brothers.

Me in grade 5

Me in grade 5

Me in grade 3

Me in grade 3

My father is originally from Santa Ana, near the border with Guatemala, and my mother is originally from La Libertad, specifically from Quezaltepeque. They got married in 1970, so they have been married for over 45 years now, which makes me very happy and proud. However, I consider my childhood to have been without good memories, except for New Year’s Eve when traditionally all of the family gathered to celebrate the New Year together. Sometimes I felt abandoned and would leave home to look for company among my friends in the village. I am thankful that I never took up any risky behaviors like smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or even joining gangs.

Going to school always made me feel motivated. I remember that I used to ask my mom to take me to school with my other brothers. So, I started my education at a very young age, when I was 3. By that time, the Ministry of Education did not even consider preschool as part of the curricula in schools. The school where I studied was small and consequently not very important for the Ministry. Despite this, I learned to read when I was 5 and to write very well when I was 6. I formally studied there from grade 1-3 because they only taught those levels. Then, I had to go to a different school 2 kilometers away from my house. To get there, I had to walk for about 45 minutes up and down hills. In this school I studied for 2 years (grades 4-5) until 2001. My father had a loan that had increased in interest and by this time it had already doubled. Unfortunately, my father has been an alcoholic since the civil war. Half of the loans he received he spent on alcohol. When the bank notified him that the house was going to be seized, he put it up for sale. When it sold, you can guess what happened with part of the money. We became homeless.

This same year, the country suffered two earthquakes. Many families lost their homes and started holding meetings to decide what to do. My father attended, which is how we decided to move with about 70 families from the village of Los Amates to Puerto de La Libertad. In this municipality there is an area that apparently is protected by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The families worked to clear spaces where they were going to live. We coexisted with wild animals like dangerous snakes, prairie wolves, and many mosquitos at night. All of the families were living with no access to clean water, electricity, or adequate housing. Moreover, we faced difficulties to go to school since the year had already started in January. My mother went to talk with the principal of a school nearby and explained the situation. Fortunately, they agreed that my younger brother and I could study there. Once again, we had to walk around 45 minutes through unknown streets and neighborhoods. It was there that I studied from grade 6 to grade 9.

Me and a group of volunteers with CIS

Me and a group of volunteers with CIS

In 2002, when I was in grade 7, one of the Deputies of the FMLN–Irma Amaya, connected CIS (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) with my community which brought a delegation from Canada. Foundation ARCOIRIS, through CIS, sponsored a project for drilling a well so that the community could have clean water. From then on, they sponsored children at the community and for 3 years they sent school supplies for the students. By that time, I was the only one who was in a higher level of education–grade 7. They wanted the students to not only get excellent scores, but also to become community leaders who would help in its development. I was always at the top of my class. After graduating from grade 9, and because of my excellent scores, they decided to continue supporting my high school studies. My favorite period of being a student was when I was in high school due to the fact that I got a lot of awards. First, I got a scholarship to study English for four hours every Saturday for four years. When I graduated, I was number 3 among 500 graduates. CIS was amazed by my results and decided to sponsor my education at the University of El Salvador in 2008. I applied to study a Major in English Language for Teaching and I graduated last December.

Me and my peers after our graduation ceremony

Me and my peers after our graduation ceremony

In terms of my work experience, during my time at the University, when I was in second year, I started working at a private school teaching English to students from 4-15 years old. I did that because I needed more income. The money I got from the scholarship was not enough to cover all my expenses at the University so I had to work. It was very worthwhile because in the end it gave me experience that is required when applying for other jobs. I also volunteered at CIS in its English School for a year in 2011. In 2012, I decided to do my social work at the same English School the whole year.

In September that year, I knew about the job opportunity as English School Coordinator that was being offered by CIS. I applied and I was hired to start in January of 2013. I worked there for two years. Last year, in March I got a loan to buy my house and start being more independent. As a requirement of my program, my thesis had to be written in English. In mid-July, I defended it in English as well. At the end of July, I married Claribel Ventura. So, 2014 was a really amazing year for me.

Me, my wife, and my colleagues after our wedding

Me, my wife, and my colleagues after our wedding

And last but not least, this year my wife gave birth to our first baby, Santiago Alejandro. He is such a cute baby and is one of most loved people I have in my life. Because of him, I had to look for other job opportunities with better benefits. I did not want to work in a place where I was going to do things I didn’t like. I like working with people, and seeing their achievements makes me happy. Finally, that is how I got to SHARE as the Grassroots Coordinator. I am happy to be here and joyful to do what I am doing. I feel blessed for having such good colleagues. I am really thankful to have this opportunity to be part of the SHARE family. And for the ones who took the time to read this piece of my life, I would like to be part of your family, too.

My 3 month old son Santiago Alejandro

My 3 month old son Santiago Alejandro


The Power of Accompaniment- Insights from a PhD Anthropology Student


 

Written by Gray Abarca, PhD Anthropology Student

As a social anthropologist with a focus on emotional wellbeing I am interested in the ways people from impoverished urban communities navigate the lack of proper mental health care in their cities. More importantly, I am interested in how these people organize themselves to innovative ways to heal despite the lack of mental health care. Thus throughout my research I have explored creative and emerging therapeutic relationships, ones that are not based or necessarily dependent on professional or clinical expertise. I have had the greatest fortune in working with a community health organization in the greater Los Angeles area in the U.S beginning in August 2014. This organization is dedicated, among other things, to addressing the health care deficits that Latina/o families struggle with, including undocumented people. This has been an enormous task for them and has necessitated community organizing and advocacy. I say “fortune” because I have met some of the most amazing people fighting for healthcare, a special group of Latina/os from the community called “promotora de salud,” or community health workers. Since they are very much a part of the community they serve, they have a deeply intimate and embodied understanding of the struggles faced everyday by the community. These promotoras, generally, do not have a formal professional education. Yet their efforts offer an alternative to the work of public health experts since the health education and prevention projects they create develop out of their community expertise.

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Why I’m Coming to El Salvador

July 30, 2015

My wife Mary Alice and I are coming on this pilgrimage to venerate a martyr and undeclared saint, Maura Clarke, MM. I’m coming in the hope of drawing courage from her strength.

I knew Maura back in the late 1970s when we were both members of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Boston–she dedicated, and I uncertain, a conservative trying to think liberally, as I often defined myself.

I didn’t know her well in the sense that we had had long talks together, or that I had invited her to have dinner with the family. But one didn’t have to know her intimately; the smile told you everything. She was genuinely joyous, gentle and affirming–a conciliator when, not infrequently, there were divisive issues being discussed. She listened well, spoke with reason, and always sought to bring peace and good will back to the group while advancing the cause from discussion to action.

She had recently spent time in Nicaragua and looked with hope to the Sandinistas to govern with justice. She wanted to protest the American government’s support of the military there and either organized or joined a protest march around the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in downtown Boston. She asked me to join her since I worked downtown. I hoped so much she wouldn’t ask me.

But on my lunch hour, I went with my white shirt, conservative tie and pin stripe suit and marched with others around the main entrance of the building while security guards and plain-clothed men photographed the participants. It would be more apt to say that I “slinked,” trying to hide my 6’1” frame. It wasn’t my first, nor certainly my last, protest march or vigil. But it is still outside my comfort zone.

And that is why I go…to pray for courage.

-Vincent Stanton, delegate joining us for our December 2nd delegation celebrating the lives of Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean


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