Sunday, October 23, 2011

Devastating Rains

Dearest friends,

As you may (or may not) have heard, all of Central America is suffering one of the its worst natural disasters in history. Unfortunately, it is not getting much coverage on English-speaking news, but the situation here in El Salvador is overwhelming. For 8 days, we received rain day and night, non-stop. More rain was poured onto this fragile country than in 1998's devastating hurricane Mitch. We received almost the equivalent amount of rain as what we normally get in an entire year. As you know, the poor suffer more greatly in catastrophes like this. In one area of the country near the Lempa River, the Bajo Lempa, hundreds of communities were flooded up to the roofs of homes and businesses. This area is a principle crop-growing region for El Salvador, and everything was lost. The loss of crops means that the price of food will increase soon, and a lot. There are 34 people dead, and over 30,000 in shelters indefinitely. What do the poor do when they lose everything, in a country with little to no safety net? There is no flood insurance. There are no homeless shelters. People must lean on each other; solidarity must carry people forward.

I know some of you have been worried about me. I want to let you know I am fine, mostly. I am high and dry in my middle class neighborhood. But San Ramon, where I work, is at extreme risk of landslides, as it is at the base of the San Salvador volcano. My heart breaks for the people in the Bajo Lempa, including many co-workers and friends. ANADES, Programa Velasco's Salvadoran partner organization, has 3 pre-schools in the Bajo Lempa, and those communities are very close to my heart. I have been visiting some of the shelters, completely overwhelmed by the scale of loss and suffering. Amidst it all, I also have had bronchitis for 2 weeks now (stress-related?), but I am thankful to be home, on medication, and resting. Please pray for those that do not have food, medical care, or even a dry bed to sleep on.

The situation in the shelters is overwhelming. People have nothing, not even blankets or a change of clothes. Some federal and international aid is beginning to arrive - food, hygiene items, medicines. But what is uncertain is the long-term rebuilding process. There are thousands of people - the country's poorest - that have lost everything: their homes, their possessions, their crops, their animals. What will they do? Unfortunately, in poor countries like El Salvador, there is not much to fall back on.

Programa Velasco would like to help the three communities where we work in the Bajo Lempa rebuild the three pre-schools run by ANADES, and send donations of basic necessities to the families in those communities. We would also like to contract a psychologist to tend to mental health needs in the area. If you can, please consider donating to help with relief efforts. Learn more at

I have included some photos from the catastrophe and ANADES's work in the past 2 weeks.

During this time of catastrophe, we also learned the beloved father Dean Brackley, a North American Jesuit priest who has lived in El Salvador since the 6 Jesuits were murdered here in 1989, recently died of cancer. He was an inspiration in my life personally, and taught me so much about the meaning of suffering and solidarity. He taught me about vocation, and downward mobility - the direction my life has taken toward solidarity with the poor, toward self-gift, simplicity, and love. Please pray that his spirit would not die with him, but be made greater in each of us.

in love and gratitude,