Ron and I recently had the opportunity to accompany a delegation from St Paul's Newburyport MA to El Salvador. St Paul's, like Epiphany supported our daughter Erika in her year long medical mission through the Young Adult Service Corp (YASC) program of the national Episcopal church. Erika was one of our two guides and interpreters for the time we were there. Erika's mission, our delegation and Diocese of Eastern MA initiatives such as the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) delegations were designed and supported in El Salvador by the remarkable Cristosal Foundation. Just a little about this organization. They are closely associated with the Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador and have a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of El Salvador and its people. Their purpose is to work with groups from the US to help them understand El Salvador with the goal of 'accompanying' the under-served of El Salvador to help them-selves. Cristosal does this sometimes by providing legal council that helps displaced people file the right forms to gain rights to their lands or as is the case in El Pital, by supporting micro business opportunities.
Much of our time was spent interacting with Erika's village, El Pital and the parish of San Francisco de Asis of the Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador. You may know if you have seen any of Erika's blogs (3crowns.org) that she has been working with El Pital all year. When we first arrived in El Pital Erika introduced me to Dona Lucie, and I was greeted by a smile and infolded in an enormous hug. At once all anxiety we still harbored about Erika's safety in El Salvador vanished. This was her El Salvadoran home. Erika has worked on many things in El Pital and while there our delegation was much involved with an organization she works with for young women supported by Cristosal called JUL. JUL is especially important to these young women as they struggle with the reality of a gang centered, male dominated culture. JUL was in the process of opening a coffee shop library the women hoped to eventually make into a business but also give children a library. St. Paul’s had acquired 8 refurbished laptop computers that each of our 8 person group carried down with the intent of using them to teach computer basics to the parish and leave them for use in the cafe, again as a source of income. We had time for getting to know the parishioners of San Francisco and the young women of JUL. They gave a most organized presentation of their stories and hopes for the future. We had a wonderful full day with each of us getting to do one on one teaching of computer basics to two or more villagers.
We also got a glimpse into the health initiatives Erika has been doing. As Erika is a Nurse Practitioner, much of her focus has been on the health of the people. Although she spent the first half of her mission learning the health system in El Salvador from doctors and nurses in both a hospital and health clinic in San Salvador, early on she traveled often to El Pital for the day or weekend staying overnight first with San Francisco’s rector, Reverend Irma and eventually at Dona Lucy’s, her El Salvador family. She found an interest among the people in alternative health such as practicing Yoga and started a Yoga program. Importantly, she mentored interested women from the classes to become the instructors and our group was treated to a Yoga class lead by one of these women.
Because of its’ extreme poverty and lack of health care El Pital was one of the villages with an ECOS clinic, part of a program in its’ first year of the government of El Salvador attempting to reach such areas. The clinic’s doctor gave us a power point presentation (on one of our donated computers) to explain the strengths and hopes of the program and we visited the clinic to see its hopes and challenges i.e. a refrigerator for holding vaccines but no electricity to run it. In addition to the clinic part of the week the ECOS teams go out to remote villages for basic health care and vaccination and cervical cancer screening programs. Erika has taken part in both programs. Through the close relationship she has developed with El Pital and the San Francisco parish Erika has been instrumental in getting village acceptance of and participation in the clinics.
With the help of a intern Erika developed and got the OK to run programs for sex education and alcohol and drug use prevention in the El Pital school. We got to tour the school during class time and as we passed through it was fun to see how she jokingly scolded the kids to get working and they, with half smiles, responded. I so wished my Spanish was better. We were especially impressed with the talented and dedicated teachers of the school who work long hours for little pay with often very challenging students.
Through the remarkable programs of Cristosal we had an ‘excellent adventure’ where a day didn’t go by where we didn’t gain powerful new insight into El Salvador, her people and their problems and strengths. We got to know El Salvadorans, finding them in so many ways more like ourselves than different. Best of all we gained a real understanding of a world Erika has become a part of, something 1000 words or pictures could never have given us. We feel grateful and blessed.