Day 8

Hello all,

Before sharing the events of our final day in El Salvador, Maureen, mother of Tyler, wishes to share a few words.

In El Buen Pastor,  Tyler’s name (Tay-lor) was mentioned so many times! Each time filled my heart with joy. The warm greeting by the children & community had me thinking Tyler would have walked this very road into the center of El Buen Pastor. As we strolled toward the guest house, Marta took my arm (Tyler stayed in her house in 1998) as she guided me towards the mural. The image of Grande, Romero & Tyler was freshly painted and was beautiful to behold. I reached up and touched Tyler’s image & was overcome with sweet emotion.  After all this time, these people responded as if they personally knew Tyler.  I thought for the youngest in the crowd Tyler was but a face on the wall and now they knew the face of Tyler’s mom.

We all thank her and support her for her strength and courage in making the decision to follow her son’s footsteps back to El Buen Pastor.IMG_1284

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Well, this is it. Our last day in the beautiful country of El Salvador. It has been a week to always remember, full of people to never forget. Our final day began with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and refried beans. After that, we traveled to the Monument of Truth and Memory, and mourned the loss of tens of thousands of missing and dead Salvadorans listed on the wall there. We heard the story firsthand of Guadelupe Mejia, who has been working tirelessly for human rights ever since her husband’s name joined the innumerable amount of others engraved in the stone wall.

From there, we took an hour long drive to the beautiful black sand beaches of Playa del San Blas, and spent some time lounging, eating, and reflecting on the events of the past week. After some time, we traveled to COAR, or Community of Oscar Arnulfo Romero. This community, and the school which shares its name, provides shelter and education for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or sexually abused by their parents. While the school is open to any children in the area, special housing is provided for the almost forty students who live there permanently. The school also provides professional counseling and psychologists if necessary. Upon leaving the school, we ended our day at Planes De Renderos, a nearby mountain, for pupusas at El Atico and breathtaking views of the city. Upon our return back to the hostel, we said our goodbyes to Damien, our wonderful translator and our voice throughout our days here, and began to pack for our long flight home in the morning.

From our first full day listening to Journalist Gene Palumbo over breakfast, to being welcomed as family to El Buen Pastor, to meeting with and learning the story of human rights advocate Guadelupe Mejia just this morning, the Salvadoran people have always opened up their homes and their hearts to us. Even in a country so full of sadness, poverty, and injustice, the Salvadorans have never given up hope. To this day, they still fight to right the wrongs levied against them during their Civil War. Like a flower blooming after a violent rainstorm, the Salvadoran people are able to bravely rise up in spite of the cards they have been dealt. Even after everything they have suffered, and all of the loved ones they have lost, Salvadorans such as Gene Palumbo, the organization of UCRES, El Buen Pastor, Mirna Perla, Guadelupe Mejia, and all of the people and groups of people we have met on this powerful trip have never given up. They are forever working to right the wrongs inflicted against them, to bring those responsible to justice, and to ensure a better nation for their posterity. And we will be right beside them.

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Day 7

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.

Day 6

The rooster’s crow didn’t jar us awake this morning as it has other mornings.  It still crowed at the wee hours but it was no longer such an alarming sound – more the background of our days here.

Jackie’s daughter Rebecca traveled to El Salvador three times.  She wrote letters to read at certain times of our travels and one was to be read on our final day in El Buen Pastor.  Jackie shared this letter during breakfast.  Rebecca beautifully captured our sentiments of having gotten to know and love these people who now seem like family.

A quick ping pong tournament ensued before we boarded the bus to Mass.  We returned to the community to get our towels and swimsuits then packed our bus and the back of two pick-up trucks (standing) to go to La Hacienda, a water park.  A wonderful lunch was waiting for the whole group followed by presentations and pictures,  The water was cool and refreshing and we were treated to an ice cream cone.

Then came the tearful good-byes.  It is amazing how close we can become in such a short time!  They expressed how this one weekend each year rekindles the bonds of the families within the community in addition to celebrating our sistership.  They thanked us for the support that has really transformed their lives in ways that would not have been possible without it.   Most of all they thank us for our prayers and friendship.  We were reminded that we always have a home in El Buen Pastor.

For dinner we ate Pollo Compera – the locals here swear it is the best fried chicken in El Salvador!  We look forward to showers, clean sheets and air conditioned rooms tonight.

As Rebecca reminded us we cannot ‘coast’ through the rest of our trip because there is much of El Salvador yet to see.

Thanks again for your continued prayers

PS: Pictures are here!

Day 5

Wow! It seems that our past few days at El Buen Pastor have just flown by! Today was our last full day here in the community.

The day started with a breakfast of eggs, ham, plantains, and fruit. After fueling up, we embarked on a hike to the Cihuatan ruins about 20 minutes outside of the community, where we were able to climb a thousands-year-old pyramid and explore the ruins of an ancient ball court. After our return to the community, we met with high school and college scholarship recipients, and had the opportunity to ask each other about our experiences as students. Lunch was a meal of marinated chicken with rice and a strawberry pineapple juice. After lunch, we distributed bags of over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and our 30th anniversary t-shirts to the families. We also enjoyed a cultural exchange, in which we were treated to traditional Salvadoran dance from a local dance troupe. Following the cultural exchange was some free time in which to play with the kids, and then another amazing dinner of cheese quesadillas, fried potatoes, hot chocolate, and casamiento, a mixture of beans and rice. After dinner, we played bingo with the entire El Buen Pastor community, and the families were able to win prizes we brought from home.

Thank you so much for reading again, we ask for your blessings and prayers as we continue our journey.

-The El Salvador Delegation Blog Team

PS, we are still unable to get good enough service to send pictures, but we will send all of the pictures from El Buen Pastor upon our return to San Salvador tomorrow.

Day 4

Greetings and blessings to all of our readers.

Today we spent a full day at El Buen Pastor. Waking up was an unusual experience for many, especially for those who were awakened by roosters at 4, 5, and 6 o’clock. By the time most of our delegation had climbed out of our beds, the village was alive and full of activity. Parents were off doing the morning’s chores, milking cows and cooking breakfast, and the children were enjoying a day free from classes. After a breakfast of eggs, beans, plantains, and other fruit, we headed to the school and were greeted by a presentation of traditional Salvadoran dancing from the schoolchildren. This was followed by a tour of the school and the community as a whole. It was an amazing opportunity to see where everybody lived, and being able to meet them. Lunch was a delicious meal of carne asada, pico de gallo, rice, sausage, fruits, and vegetables. (Side note: I am not trying to recruit you to come simply because of the food, but the food is by far the best I’ve ever tasted). The afternoon was spent playing soccer and volleyball with the kids, along with flying kites in the pasture against a beautiful backdrop of rolling hills and mountains. After another amazing dinner of pupusas (which we were taught how to make earlier), we did an arts and crafts session in which the kids arranged colorful beads on a shaped tray, and then adults used heated irons to melt the beads into a certain shape. The kids really enjoyed it, and many made two or three.

It was a fun-filled and exciting day, and we feel privileged to be able to share it with you. See you tomorrow!

The El Salvador Delegation Blog Team

Day 3- El Buen Pastor

 

Dear Good Shepherd Community, Thank you for visiting our blog and wanting to check in on us. We appreciate greatly that you all care for us.

Our day began with us packing our bags, getting ready to go into the country. We enjoyed a traditional breakfast of eggs, refried beans, and plantains, and met with the leader of SHARE. After our meeting we got on a bus to visit the monument of Rutilio Grande. Right up the road from his monument we visited a church that had his body buried right in front of the altar. Then we rode up to the Rutilio Grande community, where we saw a project made by only the women in the community, this project raised chickens for profit. This was a way that the women could be empowered in the community. Afterwards, we went to meet with the high school and college students who received scholarships through UCRES. They put on quite a show. The UCRES family and scholarship recipients fed us a soup of rice and beans with tortillas, then presented a play depicting a day in the life of an El Salvadorian student. They also showed us a traditional Salvadoran dance, and invited us to dance with them, which we gladly accepted :).  Finally, it was time to visit our sister parish, El Buen Pastor. We were received extremely graciously, with the children singing songs and decorations everywhere. It was indescribable to see how much their faces brightened up when we arrived, and how happy everyone was to see us there. After a few hours of playing soccer and softball with the kids, and getting to know the community during a meeting, the delegation was served an amazing dinner of pasteles, cheese quesadillas, and fruit. It was truly amazing to finally reach the destination that we have been so eagerly anticipating, and we hope that our next few days in the community will be filled with community, friends, and fun.

As usual, thank you all for reading, and we eagerly await telling of our adventures in the community tomorrow.

The Good Shepherd Delegation Blog Team

P.S. Sorry for no pictures, the service isn’t exactly the best in El Buen Pastor, so the pictures wouldn’t upload. We will try to send EBP pictures upon our return to San Salvador.

Day 2

Dear Good Shepherd Community,

We write to you today after our first full day in El Salvador.

The day started with pots upon pots of authentic Salvadoran coffee, complimentary of the staff at our San Jose hostel. During our breakfast of pancakes, mango, and papaya, we had the good fortune of hosting Jose and Margarita, grandparents of Roberto (a delegate from two years ago), and Gene Palumbo, a journalist who spoke to us on the social condition and history of El Salvador. After breakfast, the delegation visited Arbol de Dios, home of Fernando Llort, one of the most famous artists in El Salvador. In addition to creating wonderful paintings and sculptures, Llort also masterminded the design of our delegation’s t-shirts. After a quick lunch at Nelly’s, a buffet which provided different types of carne, arroz, y frijoles, we returned to Divina Providencia. The delegation toured Romero’s home, and returned to the chapel where he was martyred. Our next stop was to the hustle and bustle of downtown, and visited the San Salvador National Cathedral, where Romero’s remains lay under a beautiful brass sculpture. At the crypt, we met an eighty year old survivor of the civil war, who had endured heavy torture and loss. Her emotional story touched us all deeply, and reminded us why we were here. She asked for us to be an echo of her story to those back at home. Her message reverberated in our heads as we walked to El Rosario Church, a building unassuming from the outside, yet strikingly beautiful and colorful from the inside, with rainbow-patterned stained-glass windows. It was quite the unexpected surprise. The tour concluded with a traffic-filled ride home, but nobody noticed because of the power of the shared experiences and anticipation of things to come.

Thank you to all who are reading and praying for us, please continue to keep us in your prayers as we travel to El Buen Pastor tomorrow. Buenas Noches.

-The 2017 Delegation Blog Team