I had the pleasure this year of spending my second Valentine’s Day in a row in El Salvador, where it’s more broadly defined as the “dia del amor y la amistad” (day of love and friendship). To celebrate, I went to Pizza Hut with some friends for dinner and then to an arcade to shoot zombies, as per tradition. Maybe it’s not really tradition, but it was an entertaining evening nevertheless.
This week was spent in the community of Las Dispensas and conducting interviews with leaders in the town center. On Monday I had a good long chat with the local priest, whose parish is very active in many parts of the municipality. He was able to speak broadly about the situations in the municipality as a whole and had some very valuable insights. And he always shares a fresh cup of Honduran coffee, which he insists is the best in the world (points to anyone who can guess where the padre is from!).
In Las Dispensas, a community just north of town, Keily and I met with members of the local ADESCO on Tuesday and got a good overview of that community, its history, resources, and most important needs. Water, as in so many places, was a main point of conversation there. Right now, people in Las Dispensas get water from a common well. The well, however, is not covered and this has contributed to some fairly serious problems – like, for example, dead cats and dogs being thrown down the well.
In between interviews and community meetings, living in the town of San Jose Villanueva has given me some great opportunity to get to know some familiar faces in town. Take Margarita for example. She has a little pupusa stand and has been kind enough to offer Molly and Kate (my lovely American roommates) and I personal pupusa-making lessons. She’s very enthusiastic and supportive of our efforts. With the skills we’re gaining we’re considering opening a pupusa stand of our own in town (Pupusas Gringa). Margarita seems nervous about the potential competition.
I had some opportunity this week to develop my understanding of some of the other NGOs active in San Jose Villanueva. On Wednesday I went back to Arada Vieja with representatives from an NGO called FUNDAHMER to join them in a meeting about funding of teachers in the local school. At present, the school in Arada Vieja (K-9) has just one teacher. They’re scrounging for funding for a second but without a lot of luck.
During the month of February, there are well over 100 volunteers coming at one time or another to work on projects through Epilogos. The biggest group – 79 high school students and chaperones from Keene, New Hampshire – rolled in this week to build houses. I’ve been popping in and out of the work sites to see how things are coming along – it’s amazing how fast the houses are taking shape!
A great surprise came on Thursday with a visit from my great friend Otto – a strapping young Salvadoran lad who now lives in Toronto but is here visiting for a bit. We spent a good part of Thursday catching up over chocolate-covered frozen bananas and a karaoke outing with Kate and Molly and some of the New Hampshire group. An excellent time was had and I was complimented repeatedly on my “tomato-red” complexion – thank you Salvadoran sun!
Yesterday, I had a bright and early interview back in Las Dispensas with a very interesting man who already had a very well thought out list of community needs drawn up upon my arrival. It included (in order): potable water, improved security, road improvements and rumble strips on the nearby highway, a community centre, street lighting, and a daycare. I also had an interview yesterday with the director of the local health clinic who explained the structure and functions of the clinic, shared the health perspective on community needs, and gave me some statistics they’ve collected on incidents of dengue, diarrhea, etc.
This week I also visited the site where a water project is being planned, with Rotary support, in the community of Santa Maria Dos. There were some folks from another local NGO, called ACUA, there yesterday to take some measurements to help determine the feasibility of pumping water from this particular location on the river.
To round off the week, a donation arrived yesterday evening from the United States. Various logistical issues have meant that the shipment has taken two years to finally arrive here, so it was a sight for sore eyes for the folks at Epilogos. A full tally of the donations hasn’t been taken yet, but it included fire fighting equipment, several computers, and lots of shoes.
This morning I watched the local women’s softball team play a game in their fancy new uniforms – recently donated to them through Epilogos. Molly has joined their team and so we were out in full force to cheer her and her teammates on. Good fun for a Saturday morning! And this afternoon, while the group of American volunteers were off to the beach, I stayed back (dedicated researcher that I am) to interview for a few hours. I had an excellent interview with a gentleman who works for FISDL (the Salvadoran government’s Fund for Social Investment for Local Development). He’s also part of the ADESCO for the town center in San Jose Villanueva and so we had a great conversation about organizational and capacity building needs in the community.
That more or less sums up the week. I feel like this entry has been a bit rambly. Sorry for that. This is the problem when I let a whole week go by without reflecting through the power of blog! Tomorrow we’ll be holding the community workshop in Las Dispensas and rounding out our time there. And next week we head to San Paulino and continue the interviews in the town center. We have more than 40 hours of interviews recorded now and lots of thoughts for thinking.
Final note – today marks the 45th anniversary of Mike and Susie’s marriage here in San Jose Villanueva. These two really are an inspiration. On their relationship, Susie says “We’re not the mushy kind, we’re just best friends.” Cue the “Awww”. Congratulations Mike and Susie.