Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Medical Assistance

One service that is provided by the Pastoral House is financial assistance for medicines, special medical tests and exams (CAT, X-Ray, etc.) or even a regular doctor’s consultation for those without the financial resources to handle those.
Why would folks need to pay for a medical consultation when the clinic up the street gives basic consultations for free?

Here is the reality … testimony provided by a woman and her daughter this morning:

Margarite and her mom ... I did not ask her to lift her shirt and I apologized profusely for being so intrusive of her privacy - Blanca explained that she could be helping someone in the future - perhaps her story will move people to help.

Margarite had a hernia that needed surgery.  She and her mom came to the house today asking for assistance for the post-operative medicine she needs – we helped out with that …

Margarite’s history: she had gotten a referral from the clinic here in Berlín to be seen at the little hospital in Santiago de María (25 minutes up and then down the road).  The hernia was apparently bad enough that it needed surgery.  She had that scheduled and then done. 

As she tells it: she was given too much anesthesia and woke up vomiting and with a severe headache.  Her neck had been in a hyper extended position (she demonstrated from her standing position with her chin pointed at the ceiling). 

They sent her home after the vomiting subsided.  The vomiting returned and the headache never went away.  She went to the clinic here in Berlín looking for relief.  She waited several hours to be seen and ultimately was never attended to.  So she went to a private doctor, who after a cursory look and simple questions, prescribed acetaminophen.  She was told to go back to the little pharmacy at the clinic where she was told they had none.  She had to go to the clinic in Alegría which is a 10 minute bus ride to the next town.  So she and her mom took the prescription and went.  There she was given 2 (yes … TWO) acetaminophen.

Wonderful health care provided to the folks here.

Please: for every delegation that comes down … each one of you – please consider going to Costco or Sam’s and buy the huge bottles of Acetaminophen, antihistamine and antacids (like Tums) to donate them to the Pastoral Team.  Those things are very expensive here and are weaker in strength to boot.  A big bottle could help a lot of people!

When people come to the house with headaches or aches and pains and they need basic OTC medicines – and we happen to have some here, we ‘baggy-up’ 20-30 for them. To me, it speaks volumes that people come to us for medical assistance.

We do have a small health fund that used to be supported by the sales of Blanca’s Bags – but because we only sell them to visiting delegations, those proceeds are very minimal.   With the quantity of people who come to the house in need of medical financial aid, those funds dwindle down rapidly.

I wish we had a dollar tree.  Better yet … a 20 dollar tree.   

Friday, January 20, 2012


Ache is perhaps the better translation for ‘doliente’.  According to Google Translate, it means: suffering.  I got the word ‘sore’ from how Idalia was describing how she was feeling and how she got her aches and pains.  I didn’t bother to look it up.  There are so many words that have multiple meanings or in this case … more or less the same meaning.
In the ‘doliente’ blog a couple days ago I spoke of the physical.

Idalia said it can also relate to your heart … like when someone you love dies.

And after yesterday and how I woke up this morning – ache and suffering seem like more appropriate translations. 

At about 7:30 a.m. yesterday, we got news that two people had died in an accident on the road between San Francisco and Berlín.  This is the main road out to most of the cantons.  There was a power line that had lowered substantially.  And as it rounded the corner coming down the mountain, the first truck into Berlín from the cantons hit it.  And two people got electrocuted.

One of them was one of our young horsemen from when we went to Rio de los Bueyes during the 15 days of rain last October.  He had helped us get food relief and a delegation down to the community!   I bet he was less than 25 years old.

The other was a woman from San Isidro.  I remember her well – when we went door to door with a delegation we met her.  She was so friendly, talkative, joking … and as we left she gave us a chicken and mini (“deditos”) bananas.  A beautiful woman.   She was only 47.

Apparently, they both grabbed onto something metal when the truck stopped after it hit the wire ... and they must have been grounded somehow.   

And then, a couple hours after this news, we found out about another death in the community ... an older man who had been sick.  He was 74.

So – we planned to visit all three of the families. 

Idalia went and bought flowers when we found out that the bodies were released to the families.  She, Blanca and Cecilia then created 3 beautiful arrangements using baskets and pots and greenery from around the house.  We loaded us and the flowers in the truck.

On the way out of town, we picked up Ivan – the President of the San Isidro Directiva who was helping the families and several others who had been making purchases for the two families (things like the large yellow candles that are placed around the casket for the rosary, cups, sugar, coffee, pan dulce for all the people attending – we had helped out a little for each family - the funds that the Pastoral Team provides helps with these things). We had at least 8 San Isidro people in the back of the truck - several of them family members.

Our first stop was to see Ricardo and his family. This was the saddest visit. Ricardo was weeping. He was so obviously feeling his loss. And their daughter Jeanet was equally distraught. Blanca has a very loving side and had beautiful words that accompanied her hugs and patting. I had already received a message from Lisa (from San Isidro’s partner church in Iowa) sending prayers so I relayed that to them as well.

Inside the house, Teodora's casket was set up. The window in the lid of the casket was open, but she was covered with a sheet. Apparently, they did not/could not make her presentable.

As late as it was getting to be (5 p.m. ish) we only stayed for about 20 minutes.   The Rosary would be much later.

We said our good byes and drove down to we visit the family of Santiago. His casket was also set up with candles and flowers. His daughter Candilaria was standing by the casket when we arrived. There were a couple women and some children with her. A couple of young men (grandsons) were finishing up their work for the day so they could get the home ready for their own visitation and rosary later that night.

After about 20 minutes of quiet visiting, we left. We dropped Ivan off at the main road (Santiago lived a ways down one of the smaller roads) and then started the trek to Rio de los Bueyes. The road had been repaired so we could get there on this more direct route.  This was the mud road we traveled by horseback back in October – (see blog from October 19, 2011) - it is now well repaired!  We called Manuel and told him we had left San Isidro ... and when we got to RdlB about 25 minutes later, they were waiting for us. There was a large truck already full of people and lots of people waiting. Manuel asked if we could carry a few family members since the big truck was full to capacity - we would be traveling to Talpetates.  We ended up with at least 18 people in the back of our pickup and by now it was getting dark - and we had 25 minutes to go. It was slow going with all the weight we had - and it was very dusty following the big truck so I lagged behind it quite far - but in spite of that - since this road has lots of tall sugar cane on either side - there is no place for the dust to disburse. I felt badly for the folks in the back ... but no one complained. 

We finally got there - the people in the back directed us to the home. There were lots of people there between us and the big truck and those that were already there. The ‘horse community’  of Talpetates and Rio de los Bueyes is pretty tight. I recognized lots of young men from our trek during the rains. There was much sadness. One man in particular stood for a very long time looking into the casket with a little flashlight - this is not considered rude - it is just the custom to look.  He was moved to tears several times - but was obviously trying to hold them back - unsuccessfully mostly.

We stayed only about a half hour.  We knew we had a long drive back to Berlin in the dark and it isn’t really a good idea to be out and about for three women alone.  It is pretty remote between the communities.

But I'm so glad we went.  My heart is heavy for all the loss.  I think I really ‘get’ that feeling of ‘doliencia’

Thank you for all your prayers for those that suffer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I had to laugh this morning.  I went down to get a cup of coffee and Idalia and Blanca were at the pila washing clothes.  Idalia said something that I didn’t quite catch … there are still (and always will be I suspect) many words I don’t know.  So when she said what she said and I didn’t understand I asked her what that one word was.  She repeated it for me.  Rather loudly she said: ‘doliente’   
I laughed out loud – not at her or the word – but it is so common, when someone doesn’t understand a language, when we talk to foreigners to try to help them understand what we are saying, we speak LOUDLY.  Not more slowly with more simple language.  But LOUDLY. 

So I joked with Idalia and thanked her for yelling the word to me so I would understand it better.  We both laughed then and continued the conversation about this word … exaggerating our loudness and having a lovely bit of camaraderie. 

She explained what it meant and why she was feeling that way.  Poor thing. 

“Doliente” basically means ‘sore’.

She was gathering firewood (for cooking) like most people in the cantons have to do.  This is one of her tasks for her family – probably because she is very STRONG. 

She apparently had an extra heavy load yesterday and she strained herself when she loaded them on her head and then again when she dumped them to the ground at her home.  Her side hurts her badly she said.

Así es la vida … la gente siempre doliente por su trabajo diario …
Such is life … people are always sore because of their daily work …

This and That

It has been a busy, busy couple of weeks since I got back.  Lots of the busy-ness has been of the organizational variety.  And report making … and meeting attendance …

But there have been some cool things thrown in the mix.

We had a brief, one day visit from a youth group from St. Catherines.  They are always a delight.  Their working partnership is on the other side of the country, but they always make an effort to come up to meet the Pastoral Team, learn about their work and know the Berlín community a little.  This visit, we took them out to the coffee farm where the beans for Don Justo Coffee with Dignity are grown and had a wonderful learning experience.  Arquímedes was there waiting for us to explain the process from seed to cup.  He has gotten quite eloquent over the years: evolving from one word answers to our questions to fully embellished explanations without prompting.
Arquimedes explaining the nursery (center)

Explaining the drying process.  Don't worry ... footprints don't hurt the beans!

Trying on a basket!

After this, we came back to the Pastoral House and they spent time listening to the members of the Pastoral Team – a bit of their history, what they do and their motivation for doing what they do.  As always, they had good questions. 

Their visit was way too brief! 

We went out to visit San Isidro – a recently partnered community.  The first ‘project’ with their partner church in Iowa was to develop a mini-cooperative.  After several lengthy conversations – with all sides throwing out ideas, questions, concerns, hopes … the (very organized) Youth Group decided they would like to learn artisan skills.  Some were interested in painting, some jewelry making – both macramé style and wire/bead designs.  We had teachers lined up for both of those and they had begun their training the first week of January.  We went out mid-way through their trainings to see how things were going.  We had heard good reports.  When we arrived, there were 7 young people painting in the church and 16 (I think) young men and women busily practicing their macramé skills.  When we arrived, they all started pulling their creations out of bags so we could see.  There was a big difference between their first efforts and what they are producing now.  There were some beautiful pieces!!  Julio (the jewelry teacher from Santa Ana) said between them, they have enough to fill a large table.  At least ¾ of the items – in my opinion – are sale worthy.  And that is something we are going out to talk to them about next.

Texture, subtle color variations ...

A group effort - work in progress on the wall of the church

Blanca checking out the work

Julio said this group learns quickly.  Motivation and interest is vital.

Some of the work of just 2 girls!  Very cool.  Anyone want to shop???
This is their final week of training.  Friday will be the “closure” – they are inviting their whole community as well as the Pastoral House folks to see what they’ve accomplished.  We are going to ask Fr. Cándido to come with us to bless the group. 

We plan to sit with them to reinforce the original concepts of ‘cooperative’ – one common cash box – making sure there are funds to purchase materials for future creations, all working as a group for the common good of the group.  There are a couple of adults working closely with the youth to help them and the youth have already formed a Directiva: a president, vice-president, secretary and 2 treasurers (better for transparency to have two people responsible for the funds).  They are on their way!  And this is an exciting venture which ultimately could be accomplished in other communities with other youth groups or women’s groups.  

Organization is key.  Cooperation is necessary.  Agreement. 

SUCH potential!

I would SO not have the patience for this work!! 

But I'd be happy to wear them!

Details ... exact work

Cecilia scrutinizing the work.  She approved!

Look what SHE has done! 

This is 'waxed' thread ... bracelets made with better than the usual materials you can get here

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tamales and Scholarships

This morning I had a tamale for breakfast and some platanos … not an unusual breakfast at all.  But where the food came from is very special.
The platanos came from Blanca’s father’s land.  They are always delicious.  They make sure we have a supply of them on a regular basis. 

The tamales – there is a story about those.  I commented to Cecilia that they were very small.  Normally they are about 5” long and about 2” around.  These were about 4” long and about 1” around. And they were in corn husks and not the ‘normal’ banana leaf wrapping.

I learned they were a gift to us from one of the mothers of one of our scholarship recipients yesterday.  It was a way for her to express her gratitude.  And she is one who definitely would not be able to enroll her son in school without some help.  She sells tamales here in Berlín.  She is a single mom with 2 in high school and one in the middle school.  The kids work in the fields to earn a little pay.  They work hard to be able to survive and to be able to go to school.  The tamales may seem like a humble gift – but to me it was a huge gift. 

We had 45 students and about 60 parents here yesterday for our beginning of the year meeting. The chapel was full and there were probably 20 people sitting and standing outside the door listening. The third year parents and students were invited to hang out in the kitchen area since they knew the process and all.  This made room for our new families.

Cecilia getting ready to take 'roll-call'

Blanca talking about roles and responsibilities

Balmore explaining the funds, from where they come and the sacrifices we
ALL make to be able to send our children to school

Blanca reviewing the lists

Standing room only!!  the people sitting and listeing in from outside the chapel door.

I explained a little of what we talk about in that meeting in my last blog so I don’t need to repeat it all here … maybe just a little embellishment … We talked a lot about the responsibilities of all of us.  And we tried to explain that it is from the efforts of lots of people in the States that we are able to provide this financial help to the families … that we know it doesn’t cover all their expenses – but it is a help.  Several parents spoke up at this point expressing gratitude for the help because it is big.  And without this support they aren’t sure how their children could continue studying.  And it isn’t just our responsibility (the Pastoral House) to help their students be able to attend school – but also the responsibility and sometime the sacrifice of the family to help it be a reality.  There were beautiful words spoken.

After the meeting which lasted about an hour, we started the process of handing out the first “cuota” or payout.  The partner churches that have scholarships provide $100 per year to the family which is given in two payouts.  (One partner church gives $150 in 3 payouts).  We give the first $50 at the beginning of the year to help buy the uniform and shoes and some school supplies.  Then again in July, halfway through the year, the families get the other half.  This second payout can help replace worn out shoes or buy more school supplies.

Prior to the second payout we will have received grade reports for 2 periods.  And I always ask for some sort of written message from the students to share with their partner churches or the individuals who help support our general education fund.  We have 27 students who are being supported by 4 different Iowa churches and 33 students who are being supported by random individuals committed to education. 

We have students from San Francisco, Las Delicias, El Tablón and Virginia (partnered communities).  We have students from Loma Alta, San Lorenzo, Alejandria, and a few students from here in town (general funds).

I took photos of each student – that is included in the folders I keep which hold their solicitude (application), most current grade reports, letters of gratitude and any other information pertinent to the effort. 

Now I get to make a report to each of the partner churches as well as the donors (that I know about) of the general education funds.  I will include the student’s pictures so everyone can see that there truly are young people who will be able to go to high school because of their generosity.

My tamale tasted wonderful this morning. 
Below are a few of our students ...




Marvin (son of the tamale woman!!)



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A New Year

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written … I debated making a New Year’s resolution to be better about that this year – but …

I could think back about the many cool, interesting, frustrating, maddening, joyful (etc.) things that have happened in the last few months – but I think I will begin with the present.  Time permitting (and motivation doing its job) I could little by little think back and perhaps spot-light some of last year’s highlights.

So I’ll start the new year with this week.

I got back from Iowa and into Berlín on the 6th and as normal, I hit the ground running.  I spent about 5 hours that afternoon chatting with Blanca and Cecilia about all that had been going on while I was gone: some things important, some not.  We spent good time catching up on all the news here in El Salvador and in Iowa.

We also had a big Pastoral Team meeting the very next day to ‘plan the year.’  We don’t literally plot out the whole year on a calendar.  We discuss what our focus might be.  We evaluate the good and bad from the prior year and from that we decide what we could change to make things better.  Everyone shares their thoughts and ideas and I was able to give some input from our Compañeros volunteer group.  With all that – we think we know where we’re going. 

In a nutshell: we want to help the church/community partnerships evolve and grow.    Those that have been in partnership for years will hopefully have more communication – listening as well as opining and suggesting ideas from all sides. 

We also want to focus more on self-development within the communities.  It is beautiful to give a gift (a new church, a community house, a new fence for this or that, etc.) – but we would like to take advantage of all the different trainings and workshops that are being provided by NGO’s like InterVida, ProComes and ProVida.  We want to encourage groups to form, become organized and begin to think about how they can put into practice what they have learned.  And if they can organize themselves – to then present a solicitude to their partner church to perhaps support them with some start-up materials – which is the biggest hurdle.  The idea is – if they can start up – they can produce goods to sell and become self-sustaining in time.  Mini-cooperatives.

Now to be very clear – the gift of fertilizer that many Iowa churches provide to the farmers in their communities is still vitally important!!  Yes it is a ‘gift’ – but it is also an investment for a family’s well-being.  The rural families are all subsistence farmers – and if they do not produce sufficient crop, whole families suffer.    Ideally a farmer will harvest enough for his family to consume all year with some left over to sell for the things they cannot grow.  Fertilizer use on this badly depleted and mountainous land can provide from one third to potentially double the crop.  Obviously – climate is a huge un-controllable contributor to how much a field will yield.  But the farmers do see a large difference in crop out-put when they have fertilizer – even when – or maybe even especially – when the climate does not cooperate.  Families for the most part cannot afford the $50-$75 bags of fertilizer.  Many take out loans and go into debt.  So even if a church can help each farmer with one sack per family - it is a great help.  And the farmers are doing their part to respect the gift by working diligently in their farms.

The last couple of days I’ve also been working on organizing all our solicitudes for high school scholarships. Most of the communities who have an Iowa church partner provide scholarship help to the youth in their community.  It might be only 2 students – it could be 9.  And then we, as a Pastoral House, support many students who come from communities without a partnership.  We are able to do this thanks to some very generous donors in Iowa!!  This year we have a total of 54 high school students who are receiving scholarship help.  Of those 54 students – 25 of them are not from a community with a partner church.  The scholarship does not cover ALL their expenses, but provides relief to the struggling families to enable their teens to continue going to school. 

We have our big meeting with the students and their parents tomorrow morning.  We explain the roles and responsibilities of all of us.  Obviously the students need to put efforts in their studies and bring us their grade reports each period and I ask for a ‘thank you’ letter at least once during the year.  Parents need to encourage and expect their students to attend to their studies.  We provide the funds and encouragement.  We also have a typewriter here and many research materials they can use … our students are invited to take advantage of the few things we have to help them in their work.  And the cool thing is … many do!!  I love it when I come downstairs and see the teens typing away … or huddled over an encyclopedia (thank you Mike for buying us a Spanish set of encyclopedias!!).  And the students sometimes come and ask for help with their English homework. 

It’s been a busy few days!