14 May 2002

San Felipe & Mercedes Umana

Can’t even tell it rained last night…it didn’t make a dent in the dust.

But the water is running and we can take showers and fill the pilas. I washed some clothes and put them on the line to dry before we left for San Felipe (where the water tank project is).
At San Felipe we met one of the teacher’s (Mario – whose English was very good) and some of the children from the school. We saw the soccer field that had been created with help from 1st Presbyterian and the site where the water tank will be build.

The main source of income in this village is working in the fields for the big land owners (at 25 cents per day).

We met with the community in the school. The school has 6 grades, meets 5 days/week, has 4 teachers (2 men and 2 women), and 117 students.

This is the community that cornered Bob to press for emergency medical transportation after one woman in childbirth died while they were trying to carry her town.
  • They asked us to take word back that they need clothing and shoes for the children
  • One woman asked for scholarship money ($120/year) for uniforms and schooling for her children…otherwise they would never get past the education of the local school.
  • They asked for seeds and fertilizer to help with planting the crops.
  • They asked for help paving their road to facilitate connection with town and cut down on the dust in the dry season.
  • They have electric lines in place in the school but no solar panel to provide the power. They would like to have power so they can access educational programs that are broadcast on national TV stations to augment the education in the school.

Bob had told us about a midwife kit that he was delivering to the community…they were going to have a dedication celebration for it…. But as he was on the way there, he was met by a man whose wife was in labor and needed it immediately. While we were there, we met the woman and her baby and the midwife. The midwife kit contains string, special scissors, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and cotton balls. The midwife also wants Mercurochrome, pre-natal vitamins, latex gloves and masks.

On the way to the midwife, we were met by a family who wanted to show us their little girl. She’s 3 years old but very small and cannot walk or talk. They wanted a wheelchair for her. They had another child who died at 15 of apparently the same thing…it sounds like some sort of degenerative genetic disease. After she got too big to carry around she basically could only lay on the floor. Because of that, they are fairly desperate to get some way of having this child be more included and have a more humane life. The cargo container (still sitting in port….) has wheelchairs but they are adult size. We thought maybe a stroller would be more child-friendly…will try to get one for next trip.

Back to Fundavita in the back of the truck. The dust on the road is incredible…I was standing in the back and watching the dust roll away from the tires as if we were driving through water. Everyone was covered…when we got back, everyone cleaned up and washed clothes before having lunch and heading out to Mercedes Umaña.

We started to wash our own clothes but Maria Elena apparently couldn’t stand to watch our feeble efforts and insisted that she liked to wash clothes. The process is very hard on the clothes but the results are extremely impressive.

At Mercedes Umaña… The library is coming along…it needs a roof. They’re hoping to have that completed by the end of the month. They need a special roof (a type of laminate) to keep the building inside cooler (for the computers…and people and materials). Tile is coolish too but is more fragile and susceptible to errant rocks and prone to leaking.

We saw the clinic expansion project…it will more than double the clinic size and provide some separation between some of the functions…giving patients some more privacy and the staff a place to meet away from the clinic and patients. We toured the rooms and met the dentist, doctor and staff. The doctor looked at Julie’s finger and prescribed antihistamines and a hydrocortisone cream. They wouldn’t charge her but we gave them $5 as a donation to the clinic.

We saw the park improvements and some street projects.

The mayor gifted Bob with a bottle of J&B scotch. We figured it was an olive branch as Bob said relations had been strained.

We met with the mayor and some of the council. We presented the money we raised with our El Salvador dinner and I gave him the money the Engstrom’s donated for their library. We invited the mayor to go to the beach and supper at Hayde’s with us the next day but he said he had to be in San Salvador for a meeting. He might join us for the supper though.

It was great to see some of the people we met the first time…the 3 Musketeras, the mayor, Jesús and Doris, Diña, etc. Wilfredo is off to university in the city.

On the way back to Berlin (out of the way, actually, but no matter) we took a woman home below the geothermal plant. It was a lovely little valley…the sort of place I’d seek out to camp in. Living there would be a different story.

Back at Fundavita, we saw Elena’s son Andres. They said he’d fainted at school the day before but was ok. Kelly said he’d been anemic.

After supper, we hear the Parish Team’s personal stories from the war.

Chepe couldn’t get work as a tailor so went to the fields to cut coffee. He heard that his father and brothers had been taken by guerillas. 4 days later his father and 2 of the brothers had escaped and returned home. The 3rd brother was with the guerillas another 2 months before he got away. He was trained in 1st aid and worked for the Red Cross for 5 years (1980-1985) in Berlin. As a part of the Red Cross, he wasn’t on either side but had to be neutral.

Miguel was 4½ when the war started. The guerillas robbed their farms and took their animals. His mother was assassinated. The family had to leave their home and go hide in the mountains. When he was about 14, he was captured by the guerillas. One of the soldier-captors was a girl he new from school. She asked him if he really wanted to be a guerilla and he said no. She said she’d help him get away and did. In 1986 he was captured again by the guerillas and again ran into the same girl. She helped him again but it took 3 months to get away. At 16 he was captured by the army. He and his father were forced to cut coffee and destroy roads. He believes that his community is desperately poor to this day because of the ravages it suffered during the war.

Blanca – the war began for her in 1979. She was studying in Berlin. It was not so bad for people in Berlin as it was for those in the country. She worked in social and health services. In ’82 she went to San Salvador to study. The army told her parents that they were all guerillas because the children were all in studying…learning is leftist. She wasn’t afraid of the guerillas and didn’t like the army philosophy. She says that poverty is nothing new in El Salvador. There was poverty and corruption before too. Poor people have always been taken advantage of. Life is worse since the war. Before there was at least work…even if the wages were low. Now the guerillas (FMLN) have pressured the owners to pay more, raise minimum wages and unionize. Poverty is just as bad as before, only for different reasons and is increasing.

It was an intense evening. Andres was dropping in his seat and we decided to call it a night before we got to Milagro or Maria Elena’s stories.