Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Long Term Relationships

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Casa de Zinc, Usulutan, El Salvador

Ten years ago Trinity United Presbyterian Church entered into a partnership with Casa de Zinc, a very small farming community outside Berlin, El Salvador. This caserio consisted of 13 families.  Today, there are 23 families, totaling 83 people.

The community is made entirely of subsistance farmers trying to raise enough white corn and red beans to feed their family for a year. They hope to sell any excess to be able to generate a modest income. The average income is $1 to $2 per day.

These people are poor and they know they are poor.  Living in abject poverty, they have no voice.  No one listens to the poor.  Government ignores their pleas for basic services like electricity and water.  OoJust now electricity is making its way into the countryside. As it reaches out many find they cannot afford to connect. Water lines are also being run out into the countryside. However, the water may only run for a day or two in a month's time for 2-3 hours a day.  People are forced to locate alternative sources for their water.

I tell you this simply to introduce some of the myriads of challenges facing the people in Casa de Zinc.  Remember, these are people with no voice. One of the goals of Our Sister Parish (OSP) is to helpassist the communities they work with to find a voice.

After 10 years Casa de Zinc is finding its voice..  Communities are encouraged to organize by creating a Directiva, a city council form of government. Casa de Zinc has yet to form a Directiva lol but they have a committee.  This committee has been working with the members of the community to fidentify areas of concern and examine methods to address those concerns.

Our delegation this year has witnessed a sort of transformation.  In years past the people of Casa de Zinc have been rather introverted, slow to be organized for our delgation's visit. It was pleasantly different this year.

We were received by most of the community. Not only were we introduced to members of the organizing committee, we were introduced to every adult in attendance. In spite of two extremely difficult years of drought and worm infestations, they spoke of various bright spots in the time since our last visit.

We received warm welcomes as we visited every home distributing packets of various household staples ranging from rice to cooking oil to toothbrushes and toothpaste to school supplies for the younger members of the home. The value of these packets totaled $35.  We then received heartfelt thanks.  In fact, Rene, 61, a caretaker on a farm in Casa de Zinc thanked us saying with moist eyes that he had never received a nicer gift in his life even for his birthdays.

This positive response was an indication of the good work the committee had conducted since our last visit in June of 2015.  It was an indication of the results of long term relationships between church and community and pastoral team based on trust, commitment and dedication.

Working together presents an opportunity for a community to speak with one voice whether it is nworking with a partner church, the pastoral team, a NGO (non governmental organization) or the local government. Working together in a relationship with Casa de Zinc has been a journey with many twists and turns similar to the roads we take to reach the community.The road is becoming straight as Casa de Zinc finds its voice.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Day 5

Today's designated blogger: Rae Pooley
This morning I was the last one to roll out of bed and begin the day. In Berlin, where we are staying, beauty sleep is not something that is believed in. At 11:30 PM, the dogs begin barking. Around 2, the roosters have decided that it is morning and the day should begin. Approximately 4 AM is when cars and busses will blare their horns to ensure that the those who missed the Rooster Alarm are now awake (besides Leslie-she sleeps through it all by some miracle). Back home, I groan and protest at the idea of waking up, so naturally the habit carried over. Only now it was worsened by the many added interruptions.

After *finally* awakening I soon found myself in the back of our Kia and on the way down the dusty road once again. Once more I spent most of the journey with my camera in hand trying to catch the perfect shot of the beautiful valleys and mountains around us.

We began by giving our fertilizer gifts to the families at Casa de Zinc. Once again we were welcomed with smiles. The families, especially the women, seemed more at ease and open with us first-timers as we were no longer strangers. We played with the children while men of all ages lifted the over 200 lb bags of fertilizer (el bono) over their shoulders. A member of each family receiving el bono signed by their name saying they received their gift. Some signed with a fingerprint as they were unable to sign their name.

We then got back on the road and made it to Casa de Zacate's community center. Interestingly, the community seemed more reserved than usual. They had almost flip-flopped personalities with the neighboring Zinc community. We all agreed that we are curious about what the social dynamic of tomorrow's fiesta will be like.

We had a meeting with Zacate's board of leaders, or directiva, and delivered their fertilizer as well. We ate lunch and then found ourselves back on the road to do our door-to-door greetings for the outlying Zacate members.

Our first stop was a bombed-out schoolhouse that is occupied by 5 adults and 10 children. None of the children were wearing shoes and a few did not have shirts. One boy's shorts had a gap in the front and nothing was covered. A kitten lay dying in the midst of the many people around. The family's livestock appeared malnourished and there was a general aire of chaos around the place. After getting permission from a member of the  directiva, it was agreed upon that this house would receive double the amount of food and soap and medicine that everyone else got. The need was extremely present.

We were only able to visit 6 families in Zacate today, but it was still a productive day and we returned  home with racing minds and heavy hearts. The level of poverty we saw caught us off guard. The people we visited seemed to be in a slightly worse situation than those from Zinc, and we thought we had already seen the worst we could see.

This does not mean we should be disheartened. These families are benefitting greatly from our help and their involvement with the Pastoral Team has changed their lives for the better. They have become organized and now have a voice. We are truly making a difference here, even if it is only a gradual one.

I am proud of the people I am with this week. We work hard. We feel God present in our work. We are letting this experience take hold and change the way we view life.

We will return as different people.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 4

Buenos noches!  Tonight your friendly blogger is me: Kim Grissom.  If you had asked me yesterday if I was tired, I would have said yes. If you had asked me yesterday if El Salvador was a trip everyone should take, I would have said yes. But tonight, I think the answer to both questions is unequivocally yes, definitely.  Kathy Bassett is a former mission co-worker here in Berlín and is now traveling with delegations during a transition period between mission co-workers. Last night she told us that at some point we would reach our absolute low in fatigue and then we would get our second wind. Tonight, I am exhausted.

This morning the pastoral house filled with the entire pastoral team as we prepared to go to Casa de Zinc, the first of our sister communities.  As a first-timer to the mission here, it's very difficult to put into words today's experience.  As I stood in the back of the Kia truck, looking over the rack and ducking branches, I finally understood what a rainforest mountain looks like.  The brown, dusty road snaked around hairpin turns up the mountain into some of the most remote country I've ever visited. Alejandro knew where every bump, gully, rocky spot, or other obstacle on the road was, and he slowed down, avoiding or rolling gently over each. It was the first of several moments today that pointed out the privilege I live with in my normal life. You know, when you can afford a new tire, or to fix your alignment, or whatever damage may "routinely occur" to your vehicle, you can hit potholes, not slow down for bumps, and then complain about the road conditions the county, city, etc. is responsible for. It's privilege that says "time is money" or that justifies beating up a car because we're in a hurry. Alejandro babies that truck, and because he does so, he won't have to complain that they don't make vehicles the way they used to.  Today was the first day I ever wondered if it wasn't that they don't make drivers the way they used to.

As we pulled up to the community center in Zinc--six posts and a metal roof that they bring their own chairs to--we were greeted by a welcome sign and the whole community with smiling faces. Beautiful children, grown men who hugged us each in turn, and women who had already begun preparing us a snack, all dressed in their very best. They recognized Betty and Maurice, greeting them as old friends; two of the children stuck close to Betty's side for the rest of the morning.  After introductions all around, we met with the directiva, the community's leadership, and they filled us in on what is going well, the kinds of problems they are facing, and their ideas for future improvements and projects.  For instance, some of them have begun raising tilapia in tanks or plastic-lined, hand-dug pits. Most of them are in relatively good health. The children that are school-aged are going to school.

Then we spent the rest of the day going to each family's home.  Families dressed in their very best greeted us, often welcoming us into their corrugated tin--lamina-- and black tarp home with swept dirt floors and yards. Each thanked us for our presence, the partnership with Trinity, and we took time to personally present them with a gift from our churches. (We have four churches represented in our delegation and all contributed to the gifts we gave.). Their eyes lit up at the cheese, a special treat. They listened carefully to directions about how to use acetaminophen and antacids. They were thrilled to see the school supply packets for each child.  Our church members donated $35 per family which represents about a month's income for these Salvadorans.

Today was humbling, it was life-changing, it was eye-opening. I was hot and dirty and bug-bitten, but  I have an entirely different perspective. The best thing about this mission is the relationships. We went into their homes and treated them with dignity. The mission itself is all about helping them organize and find their voice. By all accounts, Zinc showed amazing progress on that path today. In the past they have struggled to come to agreement, work together, make decisions as a community. But today their organization showed in the way they facilitated and made decisions regarding our visit. And our relationship continues and they assured us they will wait for us to return again.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Day 3

Good evening from the pastoral house. I'm going to start by introducing myself, because most of you won't know me. My name is Leslie and I attend First Presbyterian in Des Moines. I'm here because Betty told the story of her first trip to El Salvador and it inspired me to attend. Now to the details of today's events!

It's been a very, very long day that started with at 5:30 a.m. (It's around 10:30 p.m. that I'm composing this so I apologize if there's some odd grammar or words). Some of us handled that better than others (which is of course to be expected). Now when I'm home in Iowa, I like to shower in the morning and decided to continue with that big difference is, here "showering" is a bit of an exaggeration. It's most likely going to be cold, and if your not lucky enough to have the water tank on , it's a bucket shower.

Now after that cold shock to the system, and breakfast that included a slightly sweet (but delicious) bread called pan dulcé we were loaded onto the bus with Blanca and Cecilia and our amazing driver Alfredo were were off to visit some historical sites. We made a quick stop to pickup our translator Samuel and we were off to El Mozote.

It took us a little over 2 hours to get to El Mozote but once there, a feeling of sadness and realization as well as a little awe came over me. The site of that horrible massacre, that took place on December 11, 1981 has been turned into the most beautiful memorial site. Our tour guide, Trinity, shared with us what happened on that horrible day. She told us about the only survivor Rufina, and how no one believed her story of what happened. She showed us the chapel where children were murdered for no other reason than "they would become future gorilla soldiers". The chapel was closed off from us, however we were able to walk around the side of the property to look at an amazing memorial mural that covers the side of the building to honor the children that were taken too soon, their names are listed at the bottom. The main memorial is surrounded by a fence that has figurines of a father and mother, son and daughter repeated over and over again to represent the hundreds of families that were slaughtered. They want to share the story, to bring awareness, because they never want to forget so that it can never happen again.

Just a little ways up the mountain we went to the memorial for peace keepers and a little gazebo where Blanca shared a moment of reflection and prayer with us. The views from this memorial were breathtaking.

Perquin was our next and last stop for the day. We visited the golilla encampment museum and their version of living history farms. It again was an eye opening experience. This all happened before I was born, but the peace accords were not signed until 1992 when I was a small child. I grew up after all this happened and this was the first time I had learned any of this.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 1 & Day 2

Our trip started out bright and early...
Chari Kruse and Laura Avitt drove us and all of our luggage to Omaha for a 9:45 am flight on Thursday morning.  We left Trinity at 5:00 am with 7 of us. Nick Van Dam, Leighia Van Dam, Rae Pooley, Mike Paxson, Kim Grissom, Maurice & me.

We drove to the south side of Des Moines & picked up Joyce Rash & Leslie Mettler. Upon arrival in Omaha we were only missing one bag. Rae's bag didn't make it.  It couldn't have been one of the 8 footlockers or suitcases full of donated stuff, it had to be her actual suitcase.  In Houston two of us had full-scale pat downs and then we got to sit for 6 hours to wait for our next flight.

LeAnn Hewitt & Kate Scaief joined us from San Benito, TX. We finally had our entire delegation together. We were all in one place for the first time.  We left Houston at 6 pm and landed in San Salvador at 9 pm without further incident. Kathy Bassett was there to pick us up and we made it to bed around midnight.  Needless to say, we didn't get any blogging done last night.

This morning at the guest house, the wifi wouldn't cooperate, so no blogging was done. Sorry!  The wifi can be iffy here, so if our posts don't show up, it may not be our problem.

Today we visited the National Memorial of Remembrance. It's always so overwhelming to see the 35,000 names knowing that there are at least 40,000 others that belong on it who were also killed in the civil war.

We visited the Divina Providencia but there were so many visitors there that we weren't able to go in either Monsenior Oscar Romero's home or the chapel where he was assasinated on this visit.  However since we had extra time, we squeezed in a visit to the National Catheral of El Salvador to see where Monsenior Romero is entombed.  It's all very overwhelming to think about the recent history of his murder.  We visited the University of Central America to also learn about the murders that took place there in 1989.  We visited the artisan market and purchased some fun items before we headed to Berlin.  Tonight we have settled in at the Pastoral House and already worked on putting together the gifts for our families.

The upper dorm is calling me due to an early wake up call at 5:30 in the morning...

The pictures won't load so I'll have to add them tomorrow night..

Stay tuned for more adventures....and thanks for your patience.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stay tuned...

Early in the morning on Thursday, March 9, Chari Kruse & Laura Avitt have committed to taking all of us to Omaha for our flight to Houston.  Oddly enough, it was going to save all of us $200 a piece to fly from there and we return to Des Moines on Thursday, March 16.  It's above and beyond the call of duty to pick us up in the church parking lot at 5 am on any morning of the year, so a big THANK YOU goes to Chari & Laura!

Traveling this year from Trinity are:
Nick Van Dam
Leighia Van Dam
Rae Pooley
Mike Paxson
Kim Grissom
Maurice Dyer
Betty Dyer

From Union Park Presbyterian in Des Moines:
Joyce Rash

From First Presbyterian in Des Moines:
Leslie Mettler

From First Presbyterian in San Benito, TX:
LeAnn Hewitt
Kate Scaief

We are thrilled to have a Trinity & Friends delegation once again! It's what this mission is all about - sharing it with as many friends as possible!

Stay tuned...we'll write more later.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Our Upcoming El Salvador Trip

On March 9, 2017 a group of eleven friends will be traveling to El Salvador.  These friends are all part of a Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Indianola, Iowa delegation.  However, there are others churches represented in this delegation.  We have the privilege of including one friend from First Presbyterian Church and Union Park Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, as well as two friends from First Presbyterian Church in San Benito, Texas.  Seven of us are Trinity members.  And only two of us have taken this trip prior to this one.  Nine of us are taking this trip for the very first time.

We are traveling to the town of Berlin, Usulutan, El Salvador after landing in San Salvador.  From there we will be visiting two very small communities with which Trinity has a sister relationship.  These are the small communities of Casa de Zinc and Casa de Zacate where we have many, many sisters and brothers in Christ.

You may check in daily to read of our adventures once we begin our trip.  We will share the responsibilities of blogging so you should get to hear from most of us.  Thanks for caring and for keeping these eleven friends in your prayers during our travels.
Betty Dyer