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!