Sunday, September 26, 2010


From Eduardo Galeano's "Celebration of the Human Voice" -

"The Uruguayan dictatorship wanted everyone to stand alone. everyone to be no one: in prisons and barracks, and throughout the country, communication was a crime.

Some prisoners spent more than ten years buried in solitary cells the size of coffins, hearing nothing but clanging bars or footsteps in the corridors. . . [They] survived because they could talk to each other by tapping on the wall. In that way they told of dreams and memories, fallings in and out of love; they discussed, embraced, fought; they shared beliefs and beauties, doubts and guilts, and those questions that have no answers.

When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all. Because every single one of us has something to say to the others, something that deserves to be celebrated or forgiven by others."

Recently, we held a workshop for parents involved in Programa Velasco. These monthly meetings are a requirement for families involved in the scholarship program, but it is my hope that these workshops are a space where parents can enjoy themselves, feel themselves part of a community, and just let their stresses and anxieties go for a few hours. The workshops focus on personal formation and development; they get to think about who they are, what dreams they have for themselves and their families, their strengths, and the things they struggle with. I think it's so important that people have those kinds of spaces - especially the poor, who are too-often dehumanized or exploited in their work, or mistreated and abused at home. I think there is something really humanizing about simply being able to speak your truth.

This month, the theme for our personal formation and development workshop was a tough one: what are the things in your life that bind you? what chains you down? what silences you?

It all just felt really heavy. The reality that people live in. Violence all around. Fear, above all else. Not knowing how you'll find a job. Violence in the home. Rape. Things that they cannot talk about, mostly because they do not have the spaces to talk or the people who will listen.

So, while it felt really heavy to hear story after story of being chained down by the reality, it also felt a little bit like this:

In simply being able to share their stories, there is a little bit of liberation. If not from the violence, the poverty, the exploitation, at least there is liberation from one thing: the silence.

"When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all. Because everyone of us has something to say to the others, something that deserves to be celebrated or forgiven by others."

Friday, September 24, 2010

check it out

Look, friends, I am VMM's mission of the season, featured on VMM's homepage!

If you are able, I still really need your support to stay in El Salvador. You can support me and my work here by donating on VMM's Missioner/Project Support Page.

Me and the new missioners are also featured in the latest issue of VMM's newsletter, Bridges. You can check out the latest one here!

At a time in the
history of the Church
when passive obedience and
reception of the sacraments
was generally accepted
by the laity
as what being Church
was all about,
the VMM emerged as a
new and challenging movement
calling Christian men and women
to respond to Vatican II's call
for full and active involvement
in the Church's life and mission.

This involvement has a
double thrust:
to witness to God's action
through Jesus Christ
in our world today,
to respond to the
material and human needs of
the marginalized and the
dispossessed of our world.

We are first called and
moved by the very Love that
lives within us:
"The love of Christ overwhelms us..."
(2 Cor. 5:14)

- exerpt from the VMM Spirit & Lifestyle, Edwina Gately

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Spanish lesson for the day:
finca - farm.
reverdecer - to grow green again.

ANADES has this amazing finca in Sonsonate, a few hours outside of San Salvador, way up in the mountains where the weather is cooler, the clouds feel lower, and the people live a different type of poverty than in the city. Here, people struggle with gang violence, delinquency, unemployment, pollution, and the locura that is this city. (Take, for example, the chaos that has been the past few days as gang threats have led to a bus strike, leaving the city at a standstill). In the countryside, though, the poverty looks a little different. There is still machismo, of course, but there, at least, people aren´t afraid to talk to their neighbor. Kids aren´t afraid to run around outside and play. But the opportunities are few - there are virtually no jobs to be found, outside of the agricultural sector, and if you want to make it to high school, you´ll have to find a way to travel for hours on a bus every day. Forget about university, unless you can somehow find a scholarship that will pay for tuition, transportation costs, books, and maybe even living costs in the city. The mountains protect the people, perhaps, from the chaos and violence of the city, but they also entrap, as the isolated communities are starving for economic development, hospitals, running water and opportunity.

I digress.

ANADES has this awesome finca in Sonsonate, Finca San Jorge. It supplies each of their five education centers around the country with organic food for the kids, and what is leftover is sold. There, everything from coffee to corn, beans, fruits, lots of veggies, and herbs are grown. Livestock are raised, and a couple of huge henhouses provide tons of eggs. The money ANADES makes from the sale of food from the finca (especially the delicious coffee) and the ecotourism project there (there are some cabins, a cafeteria, and some amazing waterfalls and trails to explore) almost pays for the operating budget for the whole NGO every year. It´s an amazing lesson in sustainability, not only for the environment (yay organic agriculture!) but also in the operation of a self-sustaining NGO.

For me, the finca is literally the most beautiful place on earth. Not only are the mountain views and waterfalls and hiking paths beautiful, but the people who live and work there are super welcoming and friendly. For me, it´s also very spiritual. Last year, as a student at the Casa, we made a silent retreat there, and I remember finding such healing and redemption there, watching the rain roll in over the mountains and meditating in the maizales, or corn fields. I think corn, especially in El Salvador, is a powerful symbol of resurrection. Only when the old crops are burned to dust can the new crops grow again. ¨Pues, cuando ardió la pérdida, reverdecieron sus maizales.¨ That´s what El Salvador is for me. Sometimes there is so much suffering and injustice I feel like the whole world is burning. But then, miraculously, beauty springs forth from the ashes. A child goes to school. Two people in love get married. An old lady gives me directions on the bus.

There is also this tree. This seriously sacred tree. It´s an amate tree. It is huge and ancient, and you have to hike up and down mountainous, rocky, muddy paths and through the corn fields, eventually crossing a makeshift bridge before you finally arrive. But when you get there, you get it. The pilgrimage was totally worth it. Her roots do not dig deeper into the ground, but grow out, covering everything around, wrapping around this huge boulder. Sitting under the immense shade, being sheltered by the tree, supported by her roots, I feel held, protected. And there is this unbelievable view. The tree watches over this expansive valley in between two mountain ranges, river running through the valley below, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the sea. The sky is expansive. The ocean meets the sky and the land and me and there is grace, grace, grace.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I've been working now for 2 weeks, and am starting to find my place at Centro Hogar. It has been a whirlwind orientation, meeting my coworkers, traveling to other ANADES projects in different parts of the country (including the beloved finca), meeting parents, meeting kids, trying to remember names, drinking a lot of coffee, visiting homes, learning my way around the office, learning my way around the files. But, poco a poco. Here I go. I feel very grateful to be here, and I feel that there is really no other job I want to be doing right now.

This past week, Anita and I have had the pleasure to welcome Juan Velasco to El Salvador and reconnect him with the families in Programa Velasco. Three years ago, Anita and Juan were both on staff at the Casa, and Anita was working part time as a social worker at Centro Hogar. She came home one day, overwhelmed, and told Juan that they didn't know what they would do, but there were about 30 families who might have to drop out because they can't afford to pay the $30 tuition every month. And Juan said, well, can I sponsor a child? Can I pay for one child? And Anita said, I think so. Let's figure out how that might work.

They spread the word to their families and friends, and slowly, organically, Programa Velasco began. It was just a group of people responding to a need. I like that.

Now, three years later, we are growing. And I get to be part of that.

It was great to have Juan here this week. Anita, Juan, and I got lots of time to connect and reflect about where we are, how we got here, and our dreams for the future. When Anita goes to the States in a few months, I will be the person on the ground here in El Salvador, directing the program at Centro Hogar, but they will be integral parts of Programa Velasco in the States - raising funds, spreading the word, and helping me feel connected and supported.

Juan and the kids from Centro Hogar at the Monday morning assembly