When possible, SHARE project managers take along other SHARE volunteers on the monitoring trips. Here is an account of one week spent monitoring literacy and agriculture projects in El Salvador with Les, project manager and two Board members.
Tuesday March 24th from El Salvador
Our group of Trish, John, Les and I met in southern partner’s office for a meeting with key project and organizational staff. Carlos, head of the organization, our southern partner, explained how they work across the whole country, how they work with the Department of Agriculture and Ministry of Education and how they have organized themselves. Ana showed us the documentation from the Ministry of Education and confirmed again that this work with SHARE is a most wonderful program for hundreds of people. She stresses again that this has been a very valuable program for their people. They feel they are eradicating illiteracy in the membership.
However, hundreds of the younger students now want to complete junior high grades 7,8,9.
Les opened the 6 hockey bags and it felt a little like Christmas. We had 2 sewing machines and lots of good material, toys and note books and school supplies all donated by various Canadian groups.
Then we drove out of the city and off the highways to Comunidad SHARE, a new community of 135 families displaced in October 2005 by the Santa Ana volcanic eruption. Here we saw the sewing centre that SHARE has supported with $2500 (a few other donations were added to get this up and running). SHARE's money renovated the building, an Interchurch Council of Canada grant bought one industrial machine and a couple of Canadian garage sales at my sister’s house in London Ontario put money toward another industrial machine. Women are selling the goods and the business is going o.k. There is a need for 3 specialized machines to sew certain products i.e. a surger machine to do specialized hems, a machine for embroidery and one more industrial machine to replace the old treadle machine. The women are making children's clothes, school uniforms, aprons and bed sheets. I'm bringing you all back an apron.
We were served rice, chicken, tortillas and cho cho soup on the porch of the sewing centre.
We toured the day care/community centre (SHARE sourced funding for this) and since Les' last visit in August the interior walls have been added. The SHARE literacy circles meet in one room in the evenings now. A community member had taught 4 young teens to sing songs in English for us and perform a little skit showing off their English skills. There is a school nearby for children up to grade 6 but there are not always enough seats so some kids don’t attend school, I was told. The kids are allowed to sit in and learn to read in the SHARE literacy circle.
We toured the streets of the community. Houses of all sorts are going up, black plastic, and sticks with clay daub to fill between. I think they said there were about 60 families now settling on the land there. There are several new SHARE stoves and I learned that they consider these to be kitchens as there is a shelf for a working area. There were a few small raised garden beds though it is the dry season and these are being watered. One woman had a small cho cho garden growing near where she does her laundry so the gray water was used for watering the cho cho plants.
We did not get to the back of the community to see the SHARE chicken enterprises because we were now behind schedule but we could hear them and saw lots of free range roosters around. I was disappointed in this but didn't realize we had missed this until we were in the trucks ready to go.
Les had a talk with the fellow who spoke English and he talked of the hope in the community now. We didn't need to hear that, we could feel the pride, joy and hope in the air.
But we were curious as to why all of the families were not settled here on their small plots. Les asked to go visit a group that is trying to save the $100 for materials to get onto their lot on Comunidad SHARE (this would be the minimum for cardboard or black plastic and sticks and a roof).
Thus we were taken to a roadside compound beside a dump. We were welcomed into the fenced in area by a lady I recognized from the other compound I visited on my first trip here 2 years ago. There was no hope here, just a very sick baby, dirty under fed children, some adult women trying their best and a couple of skinny old people. One old man looked quite sick but he hobbled out to meet us. This was quite an overwhelming experience for me. But I was glad to meet them for now I understood the joy and hope on Comunidad SHARE and I realized what a great thing we have done to get families onto a piece of land and out of the dump here.
On our way home we felt we needed to give Ana some funds to buy medicine for the sick baby and old man. (Ana later sent me an email thanking me for the help saying the money was used to take the old man to the hospital and give him a comfortable last few days.)
Wednesday in El Salvador
On Wednesday we saw a wonderful SHARE funded cattle herd run cooperatively by 12 families. There were healthy dairy cattle, over 50, many small calves. These families have title to 400 manzanas and are now trying to improve the quality of their herd. We saw another herd nearby on land that the southern partner rents from this group. A sustainability plan is for the organization to have some enterprises with groups of farmers that generate funds to make their offices and work sustainable.
We drove on to visit a group of families wanting to complete a greenhouse project. Another foundation had come in and started the project with them then abandoned them before completion. SHARE is supporting this green house completion. Again fragile hope here.
This has been my first visit when Eloy has been the translator and I am seeing the value of having him. He is so respected by the organization here, he knows their work and understands us as well. We have had lots of time to discuss the current work, past projects and the upcoming project. It has been valuable for us to do this.
We are off today to visit 3 literacy circles. Last night Luis told us it would be a difficult day that we would be walking 8 km into visit a group. After much joking and questioning, Trish asking if it would all be uphill and Eloy saying isn't there a closer one (several times), and finally he stated he wasn’t walking that far in the heat. Finally, Luis called Ana and got his story straight. No we would not be walking 8 kms apparently. There is a literacy group 8 km off the road but Ana knows better than to drag us that far so we are not visiting that group. So we will see what happens tomorrow.
Thursday in El Salvador
Just when you think that our hosts and partners here can’t top that day’s adventure - they do!
On Thursday we sped again out of San Salvador into the most fertile valley of El Salvador past the San Vincente volcano and the cement canals that bring the water down the mountains to irrigate the fertile soil here.
In the late morning we met some of the members of a SHARE literacy group under a tree where they regularly meet in the afternoon. The ladies of this group were shy but the older folks were willing to speak up and expressed thanks for the literacy work here. Maria said that now she doesn’t have the shame of going into an office and having to put her finger print or her X sign on a paper. She can now read signs and directions. But would I be able to get her a pair of glasses? Another Maria thanked us as well and asked would we please continue our support. These were warm friendly people.
Trish took a picture of a good looking young man and in her high school Spanish told him the photo was for the chiquitas (girls) in Canada. Then she found out he was the young teacher’s husband.
After rice pudding (arroz con leche), we all walked to the group’s garden plots. Here, irrigated by the water canals and the hand dug shallow ditches that run along the fields were several productive fields of various vegetables and fruits, several kinds of beans, melons, bananas and a flower (laroco) that is harvested for pupusas, the Salvadoran national food. (The cook at the hotel here is preparing me a pupusa (pancake with filling) tonight with these flowers in it.) Ten families that are in the literacy group run the productive gardens started with a $600 loan from SHARE’s micro credit fund. I am starting to understand how this is a holistic development approach for the farm workers’ families, an approach which includes health and work on stopping violence against women as well as the agriculture enterprises and education that SHARE funds.
Then off we walked again to a nearby house for coconut milk straight from the cocoanut. After drinking the milk you passed your cocoanut to the guy with the machete and he chopped it in half so you could eat the pulp. There was only one spoon for all of us and I was the third on the spoon and Trish the fourth. We certainly have learned to go with the flow.
Friday in El Salvador: S.H.A.R.E. Safari
My left hand has red welts and a blister tonight from an afternoon ride, hanging so tightly onto the hand grip above the window of the Toyota four wheel drive truck. But I have made progress from my first visit to El Salvador....I was not petrified the whole afternoon during this trip up the mountain as I was on my first visit here. I enjoyed today’s adventure.
We visited a literacy group high on a mountain side, first whizzing way too fast for my comfort out of the city and south to the Pacific Ocean. Then south along the coast and off the main road to a cobblestone road (very bumpy at a break neck speed) and finally to what I knew might be coming.... a dirt road that would rival any other in Central America for the bumps and rocks and dips. As the SHARE project managers say, “You know you are heading to a SHARE project when they put the truck into 4 wheel drive.” We jolted along climbing in four wheel drive and curving along the slopes looking out the windows at the hillsides with milpa farms on slopes so steep you might wonder if the farmer would fall off planting his corn.
At last we arrived at the end of the road where a village of milpa farmers live and found the home, the site of a SHARE literacy group. The group usually meets at 6 in the evening but came out to meet us in the afternoon. It was hard to get a picture without including a nursing child. After looking at the books, thank you’s, speeches and apologies for their rough road and hot honey buns we saw the group's little chicken and rooster pen, their small agriculture enterprise.
After the drive down the mountain we sped along the highway meeting cattle herds coming home for the night. They were (thankfully) road warriors. Then off the paved road again and down another back road, through streams, and past a few more cattle herds, more road warriors, then past an oxen cart before we found the end of the road and the SHARE cattle herd in their night time enclosure which was just past the clothes line a few feet from the house. Small calves were tethered around the house's yard so we watched our step. The children found mangoes to feed the cows so I could get a good picture.
The living conditions of the campesinos here might surprise many people and my pictures do not show the real poverty level and the living conditions of these families. I think these are the folks who live on a dollar a day or the price of my daily Tim Horton's coffee, surviving on the mangoes and other fruits and the corn and beans they grow. Thankfully the families have lots of milk and cheese now and perhaps a subsidy from a family member who has found a job somewhere.
If you ever wondered if SHARE was working with the poorest of the farmers and at the end of the road I can tell you that we are, judging from today's SHARE Safari.
A great adventure but Saturday topped it by far.
Saturday - Mangroves and Shrimp
We headed out of the city in 3 trucks today in another direction. The pace was slower today (but sped up again on the way home. Leo seems to like to drive 120 km per hour, swerving past cows, carts, bikes, buses and people walking, not to mention the dogs.) We arrived at a site where a cooperative of members run a shrimp farm. There were several large ponds with water coming in from the ocean through the mangroves. A young technician explained the process and showed off the site to us. He acknowledges the work of the 2 women there who feed the shrimp. At a second pond site another member spoke about how they were needing improvements to make their pond more productive, like the first site. A pump and water gates are needed to control the temperature of the water.
We stopped for lunch in a very humble shack by this pond. But what a spread: large BBQ shrimp, a shrimp soup, a mixed ceviche, clams, tortillas and another shrimp dish. The hens circled and picked up bits of shrimp shells we threw to them. Trish and I asked for the banjo (toilet) and had to make a few considerations as there was no door.
I thought we were done here but I should have known that there was a further purpose to this visit.
We walked past some large ponds and behind the mangrove swamp to see a high hoe and bulldozer at work. The organization is digging a pond to expand the production and the talk of course was would SHARE be able to help? (You'll hear about this from Les.)
Now the second treat of the day, .about 9 people piled into a motor boat and had an hour’s ride through the mangroves. We could see 2 misty volcanoes in the distance past the miles of mangrove trees. I wondered if our driver would find his way back as one mangrove looks like the others.
As I said, another day, another great Salvadoran adventure.
Tomorrow we fly home.