We have had a wonderful time staying at this guest house run by Sr. Gloria. In the dining area, where we have been eating delicious meals including my favorite, Whisquil relleno, there is a big mural which features Oscar Romero.
From all this good food we’ve had the energy to do the work that we have been doing. The construction crew worked hard today.
The rest of us “worked” hard playing with the children of Las Delicias. The best part for me was playing twister, using my Spanish vocabulary, such as it is, to play the game: izquierda, derecho, mano, pied, roja, azul, amarillo, verde…
It was a lot of fun, but the sad statistics are that in this area, 65 percent of households are headed by a single woman, who must struggle to support her children. This is partly because, there are no jobs for the men, so they find it hard to support a family.
Sr. Gloria has been giving us a lot of background on the struggles of the Salvadorans. When CAFTA was passed, the price of coffee went down dramatically, due to competition with other countries. Also, since the US pays farmers not to grow crops, or buys their surplus, staples like corn are cheaper in the US and this undercuts the price the Salvadoran farmer can get for corn. While there were maquilas here which offered jobs, they wouldn’t employ people over 35 years of age, and, many of them have moved on to China and places where the wages are even lower. Here in El Salvador the minimum wage is $8 a day, recently raised 1 1/2 years ago from the earlier $6 a day. At this wage, people can barely afford health care. Even education is expensive. While classes are free, you have to wear shoes, and not all can afford them. You have to pay fees to sit for an exam and a host of other small fees.
The orphanage we visited yesterday, Orphanage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was filled with children who, while they may have still had parents, were not able to be cared for by those parents due to extreme poverty, neglect, or in some cases abuse. So the Sisters take care of the children. Jacqueline and Anna made puppets with them.
We learned a lot from Gene Palumbo, a journalist who also teaches in the Casa de la Solidaridad program affiliated with the UCA, the Jesuit university in San Salvador. He told us about the history of El Salvador leading up to the current situation. He gave an overview, starting with the 19th century when Great Britain was paying good money for indigo. That led some to covet land so they could make money on the indigo crop. They pushed indigenous people off their land. When the market for indigo died down, the demand for coffee went up, and the land-hungry businesspeople now coveted the sides of volcanoes and high area where coffee grew well – but that was where the indigenous people had moved to in order to avoid the indigo plantations. For years and years there was a cry for land reform but the government — sometimes a military dictatorship, sometimes a government that portrayed itself as democratic but one that did not allow opposition to the ruling party — always let the people down. As long as land was not reformed, many people were starving and desperate. It finally led to civil war in 1981, which went on for 11 years. During this time leading up to and during the war, the US missed many opportunities to encourage peaceful and just alternatives in El Salvador. After the war, a report authored by a Truth Commission including a Law Professor from Catholic University, members from South Africa etc., said that 75,000 people had been killed, and 85 percent of the deaths were committed by the Salvadoran military, 7 percent from the guerrillas, and 8 percent were unclear as to the cause of death. The US had heavily funded the Salvadoran military during this time. That gave us some real insight into the depth of suffering that the Salvadoran people have been through these past decades. It also gave me a feeling of responsibility to address the issue of all the harm they had suffered. There has been peace since 1992, but there is the ongoing struggle with poverty as well as the emotional and psychological wounds of the war.
We have also been learning about the Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed in 1980. He was a man for peace. We were able to visit his tomb in the crypt of the church, and offer our prayers there for the people of El Salvador, and that he would be a guiding light to us during our time here.
And tonight we are watching the film “Romero,” a very good film that tells his life story.
We have been lucky to have as a guide on our week’s construction a man who was close to Oscar Romero. Miguel had been a Seminarian for the years of 1977-81, and Romero had been his teacher. We prayed together at the end of the day’s work. He asked us, who will speak out for the poor?