25 March 2004

El Sal - Week 4 of 5

I’m rolling into my final week here in El Salvador. It’s hard to believe it’s that near the end. It took me a couple weeks to get into the swing of things here and I feel like I’m just starting to be effective. The Spanish tutor I’d planned on didn’t work out so I didn’t make the progress in that department that I’d hoped. I need another month! And pretty much everyone I’ve worked with has asked (repeatedly) when I’m coming back.

The hope here is that they can get an intern type program started. When Bob is back in Iowa in April, he plans to talk to a university about having education or medical students in various fields put in a summer here to teach English, P.E., health, etc. The college students would get some experience and the students here would benefit enormously from the help and attention.

Of course, the big news has been the elections. It’s still a hot topic in the press and in the community. The elections themselves went very quietly and calmly. And the entire process is quite involved.

First, a couple days before the elections, the voter lists were posted on the wall around the Catholic church. The lists contained the photos and names of all the registered voters in the municipality. People needed to find their name (or photo if they couldn’t read) to find out what table they needed to go to when voting. On Election day, 5 blocks worth of streets were cordoned off and 24 tables were set up. Each table was assigned 400 registered voters. At each table were: a vigilante from each party (4 total), registrars from each party, backups for the registrars, and observers. There could be as many as 16 people at any one table just to keep and eye on things and make sure they were going properly.

In the early morning the lines were long as all the people from the cantons came on the early buses to vote. The afternoon lines were shorter…that’s when the town people voted. By 5:00 (poll closing time) the lines were pretty well gone. At that point, officials herded all people except those assigned to tables out of the area and the ballot counting began.

The table official opened the box and, one-by-one, removed a ballot. If everyone agreed that the ballot was valid and who the vote was for, it was handed to the vigilante for that party. If there was a dispute, it was set aside to be determined later. When all the ballots were processed, they were counted up by party, the total count checked against the corners that were snipped off when the ballot was handed to the voter and the totals were logged, copies made for each party rep plus one to fax to the capital, then all the ballots were sealed back in the box with the tally sheet and hand-carried to the capital.

It’s fairly labor and people intensive but all of this is designed to make sure there are enough checks and balances to avoid foul play.

The end result is that a nation-wide voter turnout rate of about 70% resulted in ARENA winning with 56-59% of the vote (depending on which paper you read) and FMLN receiving 36-38%. The other two parties didn’t receive enough votes to remain viable so now there are only 2 parties…ARENA and FMLN.

I had only 1 day of classes at the high school this week. It’s the end of their semester so the week is mostly dedicated to taking exams…no classes. I still have the adult classes in the afternoons. I tallied up the attendance for my afternoon classes and there were a total of 36 students across the 3 classes. Probably half of those attended a week or less of classes total but the rest were pretty regular. And about half of the regular attendees weren’t adults. Of the younger people, most were students at the high school that were either 3rd year students (and not able to take English) or 1st or 2nd year students wanting more English. I did have a few younger students. Olman, one of the best of all the students, is 13. Diana, one of the most regular attendees, is 11. The youngest of the regulars is Geraldo at 8 years old.

The Parish Team is going to do an evaluation after I leave to find out what worked, what didn’t, etc. All to help set the stage for similar future efforts. I’m looking forward to seeing those results. It’ll be really interesting to see what the high school students who came to my adult classes thought. The way classes are taught in the high school is very different from the way I conducted the adult classes. I’d really like to know how they compare. Do they complement each other? Is one more effective than the other? Inquiring minds want to know!

Although, realistically, it’s comparing apples and oranges. The high school classes have 40-50 students for 45 minutes or an hour and 15 minutes once a week. I had (generally) less than 8 students for an hour, 5 days a week. The methods I used simply wouldn’t work on the high school scale and schedule.

In other news, work on the chapel/sewing house continues. About half the wall around the second story is completed and today they’re pouring the concrete for the steps. I suspect that by the time I leave, all the second story walls will be finished and they may have started on the roof.

Pouring the concrete for the second story floor was quite the project. They brought in extra workers and formed a bucket brigade up a ladder from the ground. 4 or 5 guys would work on making and mixing the concrete and filling 5-gallon buckets. The buckets (about 2/3 full) would be passed to a Cezar (one of my high school students in the adult classes) who would pass the bucket up to his younger brother, Javier (also one of my afternoon students) who would pass it to the men on the upper floor who would pour the concrete then toss the bucket back to the ground where it could be filled again. They had a total of about 6 buckets always in motion so there was no real rest for the bucket passers.

It was very heavy, very hard work. The people would rotate jobs occasionally to spell the people passing the buckets up the ladder. They worked through lunch and into the afternoon to get all the concrete poured at once then knocked off for the day. Needless to say, Cezar and Javier didn’t attend class that afternoon. By the time they’d cleaned up and eaten something they were too wiped to do much else…and they live in canton Alejandria, a 45 minute walk from the Parish House.