Several of our delegation woke up early and attended mass with Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez who will be ordained as cardinal later this month. He is the first cardinal ever from El Salvador! He is coming to the US in August and we hope a stop in Kansas City can be part of his itinerary.
After a breakfast of tamales, plantains and eggs we boarded our van to the school Senora de Santa Ana. We met with the director of the school and the past of the parish, Padre Angel ([pronounced An-hel) Renderos. He told us that the community around the school does not have regular delivery of drinkable water. Among the many projects that he has done with the school is to create a cistern to hold water for use by the school and also for the community. Since the school has been affiliated with the parish, it has become much more a part of the community.
The government requires a grade of 5 to pass to the next level but this school requires a 7 to pass. About 98% of the students go on to high school and the other 2% go into family businesses. They have programs to deter against gang violence and drugs. Padre Angel says that for the past 4 years they have not had problems. He also said that the strict rules at the school keep many of the bad elements away.
After a quick stop at the banos Jackie and Maureen poked their heads in a classroom where Chubby Checker’s version of The Twist was blaring and they showed the young girls how to truly twist again!’ Much laughter ensued.
We then traveled to the University of Central Americas to visit the Museum of Martyrs and the Rose Garden where the Jesuit priests were killed. The chapel on campus was open air as are most of the buildings here. There were drawings along the back wall of torture victims. Our guides told us that during the war it was common to find bodies in such conditions along the streets and sidewalks.
Good Shepherd provides donations to fund scholarships for four students. We had lunch with four scholarship students – Gabi, Adolfo, Clarissa and Victor. They shared with us that they enjoy UCA because of the opportunities to study and the quality of the classes that they have available to them. They told us that the nominations for the scholarships begin in high school and they are identified by their priests due to their good grades and community service. Once they are nominated they take classes each Saturday to provide additional education to bring their skills to a level that will assist them in the selection exams for the scholarship.
The students are not able to afford laptops which can be a disadvantage compared to their classmates. There are facilities at the university where they have access to computers but there still remains a challenge to do class presentations and homework. They described having to call friends who have access to computers to find out when professors have uploaded homework assignments.
Some of the students travel very long distance to get to the university – sometimes 1 1/2 – 2 hours each way. One woman reported begin mugged three times so far this semester and a young man said that he had been mugged four times on the bus.
All of the students expressed their gratitude for our support. We wished them continued success and prayed that they continue to persevere through their challenges.
We left the university and spent several hours at the Museum of Word and Pictures. The museum’s purpose is to curate the history of El Salvador through printed sources, video and audio recordings. The museum’s current exhibits highlight the coffee trade and exploitation of the people by the elite.
We learned of the radio of the resistance (Radio Venceres) which provided news about the revolution. This is how the real news of the war was broadcast to the masses. The guerillas defended the location of the studio. It really reinforces the importance of the media to report on the facts that are happening in real time. The government often claimed that the news broadcast by Radio Venceres was false even though the people reporting on the events were from all areas of the country and were reputable journalists. This sounds uneasily like reports of ‘Fake News’ and ‘alternative facts’ that is our current reality.
The next stop was at Shecali’s Ceramics – a ceramic guild where hearing impaired people are employed to make pottery. Morgan and Bryan attempted making cups on the pottery wheel. Hector, who has been working there for 31 years made it look much easier than it was!!
We made a quick stop at CIS to shop for our free trade gifts and then back to the Hostel for dinner with Father Fredis Sandoval and Myrna Perle.
Myrna is a Supreme Court Justice and Magistrate fighting for human rights. Her husband was assassinated during the war. Father Fredis is a founding member of the Romero Consortium which works for justice in Romero’s assassination. We discussed the recently repealed Amnesty law which allows reopening of cases including the ones for the massacres and assassinations such as Myrna’s husband. They shared their stories of their continued fights for justice. When asked what we can do to help, they said that they believe that the US State Department has records of the details of much of the activity that happened here during the civil war. Having these records declassified and available will help provide necessary evidence of many human rights violations.
It was a serious and teary discussion that lasted many hours. We were very honored that Myrna and Father Fredis spent so much of their evening with us and opened their hearts to us. In the end we agreed that, although there is a long way to go in terms of justice and reparations, much progress has been made for equality. We also agreed that the people of El Salvador have suffered very much but maintain their hopeful and purpose-driven lives.
During our reflection tonight we agreed that it seems that each meeting begins as strangers and ends with hugs (often tears) and smiles.
We can feel your continued prayers and are ever grateful.