Every trip to Our Sister Parish of Berlin, El Salvador is a chance to connect with the community, projects and people there. After my 5 trips there, it’s very much like ‘going home’ in the sense that the people there are like family and every trip there is returning to a place where I have a rich web of relationships, history and connection. It’s not a “visit” where I’m the guest, it’s coming home to a place where I belong and have a place as part of the group. And that’s an awesome thing!
Of the many experiences I had as part of the Westminster delegation, this is just one of the stories.
The story actually started at least a year ago, when a man named Jack Boyt donated the equipment, machines and materials of his sewing business to the community and projects of Our Sister Parish. Compañeros undertook the enormous job (very ably coordinated by Blair Lawson) of getting these truckloads of goods shipped to El Salvador. It took a lot of volunteer hours to load/unload/load semi trailers and shipping containers but by July of 2005, the last of the goods were finally on their way to Berlin.
One of the things I wanted to do on my trip to Berlin this time was to find out what had happened to all those machines, industrial size bolts of material, boxes of snaps and zippers, rolls of webbing, and all the other miscellaneous pieces and parts of a sewing business.
To start off, Blanca took us to the house just up the street from the Pastoral House where the goods were being stored until they could be dispensed. The good news is that of those truckloads of goods that were sent down, the vast majority of them have been distributed to various sewing coops locally and in other communities and are currently being used. The remaining goods should be distributed soon.
The goods that have been distributed have gone to many, many small groups of women in Berlin, surrounding communities and San Salvador. We visited just two of them located in the town of Berlin.
The first place we went was to a small barrio (neighborhood) up the hill behind the high school. This is a small, local cooperative of women who make and sell many different types of hand made things to make money for their families. The day we were there, the women were working on shorts, skirts and tops for children made from some of the camouflage material shipped from Iowa.
In both locations, lighting and conditions were an issue for the women. At the first coop, the women were working with the sewing machines on wooden chairs while they sat on similar chairs and a single light bulb at the center of the room provided the only light. Several times while we were there, when the women needed to thread the sewing machines, they would call over one of their daughters…a girl of about 7 or 8…to put the thread through the eye of the needle for them. The women mentioned the need for glasses several times while we were there. I felt extremely blessed that this was something we could actually help with!
It just so happened (that is, if you believe in coincidence…) that the delegation had brought a couple of boxes of reading glasses with them. A local craft store in Des Moines had several bins of reading glasses of varying powers on sale for $1 each just before the delegation left. A few generous donations allowed us to arrive with about 100 pairs. There could not have been a more fitting or useful donation!
The day we were to leave for San Salvador and the plane that would take us back home; the women from the coop came to the Pastoral House to “shop” for glasses. Without an eye doctor or exams, it was a process of trial and error to find a pair of glasses that would help each individual. But there was definitely a party atmosphere in the Casa as the women tried on various pairs. They were so excited at the prospect of seeing! Not to mention what that does for their ability to do work like sewing and continue to provide for their families.
Being part of that and sharing in the joy these women experienced was just one of the many ways I was enriched and blessed by this trip to Berlin. And that pales in comparison to the ways lives have been enriched and blessed in El Salvador through the donations of sewing materials/equipment and even in something so simple as $1 pair of reading glasses.