May 01, 2009

El Salvador Days 4 and 5 (March 13 and 14, 2009)

By Sarah Steinberg
El Salvador Days 4 and 5 photo

The past day and half has been incredible. On Friday morning we made the two-hour drive to Chalatenago in the northern part of the country.  We met with the leaders form the community of Guarjila to discuss their partnership with SHARE as the CCR, a grassrooots board of leaders in the neighboring communities.  Many of the people living in the north were originally refugees who were in Mesa Grande refugee camp about 12 miles inside Honduras.  The first group left the camp 22 years ago and entered back into El Salvador with nothing.  They had plastic to lie on the ground and a few blankets.  Today, the region has homes, restaurants and roads.

The CCR addresses health, education and building organization within the region.  The CCR represents 110 communities in 22 municipalities.  The CCR works side-by-side with the municipalities to develop a united front.  The CCR leaders shared with us two of their latest concerns:  1.  The question of mining for gold in the region; and 2.  The mega-highway project that would ultimately connect all of Central America.  The Pacific Rim Company recently came to El Salvador looking for areas to mine.  The CCR and many residents don’t believe mining is possible.   According to the CCR, the company would only leave 1% of their profit in the country.  Many of the jobs mining would produce would also come from other countries, therefore it will not help to stimulate the economy.  Additionally, the region sits along the Lempa River that goes from the north to the south of the country.  The CCR is concerned that first, there is not enough water to successfully do the mining and secondly, they are concerned about contamination. As they said, before gold, they would rather have water.

Although mining is their first concern, the mega-freeway may also impact the region.  First, many people will be displaced by the building of the freeway and as such will have to re-create their lives elsewhere.  Furthermore, many hotels and restaurants have taken interest in developing the areas off of the freeway.  As with the mining, there is a concern that the money would not come back into the community.

Evely Laser Shlensky, a long-time MAZON board member is traveling with us.  She visited Honduras 22 years ago on an interfaith mission to the Mesa Grande camp.  She accompanied the first group to the border.  Jose Angel Serrano, a CCR member, remembered Evely joining refugees on the buses.  Over lunch, Evely and Jose recounted the “Exodus” over two decades ago.

El Salvador Days 4 and 5 photo

Evely & Jose

Friday evening, we joined the Jewish community for Shabbat services.  The community warmly embraced us.  Additionally, Knesset member Ron Cohen was at services to address the community.  He too is in El Salvador as an international observer.  The service was traditional but you could feel the ruach (spirit) throughout the sanctuary.  Members of the community welcomed us into their homes for a traditional Shabbat meal.  El Salvador had a larger Jewish community prior to the war, today there are only about 50 families, but they are loyal to Judaism and sustaining their community.

Saturday morning I had the opportunity to visit the Divina Providencia, the home of Monsenor Romero and the site of his assassination.  Romero was for the people.  He became Archbishop in 1977 and decided to live at the Divina with the sisters in a very small room.  He didn’t want anything elaborate as he wanted to live like the people of El Salvador.  He was outspoken and cared about the poor.  He knew the risk of uniting with the poor and pursuing social justice, but he knew that this was what he was meant to do.  On March 24, 1980, Monsenor Romero was assassinated.  Today, individuals are still trying to pursue justice on behalf of Romero.

Saturday afternoon will be filled with formal election training.  Sunday we will be at our polling place at 5 a.m. to begin election observations.  The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. we will then witness the counting of the ballots at the polling place.  Due to our long day, I will most likely write Monday to debrief about the election.

Until next time…

Heather Wolfson