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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mis Padres en El Salvador

Bellow is a reflection that my mother wrote regarding my parent's time in El Salvador (check out my album "Mis Padres en El Salvador" to see some images that go along with her words).


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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cristosal Delegations and Travel


Phew!  I can finally take a breath and when I take that breath I realize I only have four more weeks back in El Salvador until I head back to the states.  I have to say I’m quite full of a mix of emotions, excitement, sadness, confusion, anticipation, you name it.

So what have I been up to these last three weeks since my last post, well my parents came, first to spend a few days with me in Suchitoto and then they joined a delegation from St. Paul’s Newburyport, where I helped out as an assistant delegation leader and translator.  It feel so lucky that my parents got the chance to know El Salvador and really understand why, despite the danger, I have fallen in love with the country and felt the need to establish routes here and volunteer my medical skills this past year.  Check out the photo album “Mis padres en El Salvador”, where you can re-live our adventures through the Guazapa Mountains, the waterfall, lake, and city sights of Suchitoto and the national park and historical revolutionary town of Cinquera.  Also, check out the photo album “St. Paul’s and San Francisco de Asis” where you can see pictures from various historical sights that we visited and photos from the commuter skills class that the St. Paul’s group (including my parents) conducted in El Pital.

Then came my week with YLA as an YLA mentor and a Cristosal delegations assistant leader.  I have to say it was an amazing week, the kids really helped me connect with my youthful energy and it was fantastic watching them learn and grow alongside youth from El Salvador.  They also managed to help me catch up with US pop culture, introducing me to “Call Me Maybe” and the British boy band “One Direction”.  I have also posted a extensive photo album from this week, called “YLA 2012” and I want to point out again that the youth kept a blog during their week in El Salvador and I really think it’s worth it to hear their stories.  Check out their blog at: http://www.diomassyouth.org/apps/blog/.

And then I was off to Utila, Honduras for “Augustinas” (the vacation week in El Salvador when everything is closed and most Salvadorans head to the beach).  Utila, is one of the Bay Islands off of Honduras and one of the best and cheapest places to get a scuba certification, so that’s what I did.  It was one of the first times that I traveled completely on my own and it was great!  Check out my photos in the album “Utila”.

While your checking out my new photos, you may also notice that there is a new album called “La Libertad con los jóvenes de El Pital”.  These photos are from a few months ago when I treated Yesenia, Lupita, and Otoniel (youth from El Pital) to a day at the beach (La Libertad Pier, El Tunco beach, and El Zonte beach) and a night in the city (two experiences that were completely new for Yesenia and very infrequent for Lupita and Otoniel) for my birthday.  I find it amazing and sad, that Yesenia who is almost 28 has lived her whole life in El Salvador and never had the chance to experience the beautiful beaches that her country has to enjoy.  I felt honored to be able open this opportunity to the three youth of El Pital and I know that for all of us it was a very special day and for me a great way to spend my birthday in El Salvador.

Friday, July 27, 2012

This week I've had the awesome opportunity to help out with the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) mission trip/pilgrimage.  To find out what we have been up to and what we've learned, check out the YLA blog (http://www.diomassyouth.org/apps/blog/) as the youth say it the best!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Charlas


Public Health “Charlas” (workshops)

The last two months of my life have been filled with giving health education workshops (or in Spanish- charlas) to kids within the public school system in El Pital, Lourdes Colon, spanning from 5th grade to 9th grade.

As I mentioned in a past blog, one of the NGO’s that I have been helping out with is Glasswing, an NGO that implements a lot of social programs within public schools in El Salvador.  One of their programs in an alcohol prevention program, aimed at delaying the age in which adolescents start drinking.

In El Pital, there is a public school, that receives little to no social assistance, and in talking to the principal about Glasswing’s alcohol prevention program, I found myself committing to implementing a series of health education charlas.  In discussing the social and health issues that affect the adolescents that attend the school in El Pital, along with teen drinking, the other major issue that became obvious was teen pregnancy, as there is a pregnant teen in both 6th and 7th grade.

So, we decided that the number one priority was education on sexual health and reproduction so May became “sex ed” month, while June became “alcohol prevention” month.

In hopes of putting a sustainable twist to the “sex ed” charlas, I asked the licensed nurse (Lic. Flamenco) who works at the ECOS-F clinic in El Pital to join me so that she can continue giving the charlas once I return to the states.  It was great having her help, but I have to say one of the toughest parts of implementing the charlas was working around her clinic schedule, which was constantly changing, and I would never know if she would actually be present to do her part of the charlas with me. 

Using a combination of different sexual health and reproduction curriculums, I planed a series of four sessions, with the first session being focused on gender and sexual health anatomy, the second, fertilization and the reality of teen pregnancy, the third, making a life plan and family planning, and the fourth, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.

We held the “sex ed” charlas in the church (which was a bit quieter than the classrooms), where each grade (5th-9th) would pass through for a 75minute session.  I have to say it was quite an experience teaching “sex ed” in Spanish within the public school system of El Salvador.  The kids did pay attention and I think they got a lot out of it but we were constantly reminding them to pay attention and save the note passing for recess time.  We had an anonymous questions box, and I have to say I was pretty impressed by the thoughtfulness of some of the questions.

Now about the alcohol prevention program; it is a program that is split into four sessions that is designed to teach teens about the consequences of drinking and strategies to help teens make the decision not to drink.  I was very lucky to have a volunteer (Matt Baron- second year medical student) to help me both plan and implement the charlas.  Because, we needed access to a white board we decided to do the sessions within the classroom, which logistically was easier than doing the charlas in the church, but noise wise, it was a nightmare.  The way the classrooms are set up in El Pital there is just a constant high level of noise and I have to say, I have a huge amount of respect for the teachers that teach within this environment, five days a week from 7:30-5:00pm every day.  I would definitely have to think more than twice before becoming a teacher in El Salvador.

The coolest part of the alcohol prevention program, is that after the four sessions, we chose two kids from each grade to work together and design a drama about the consequences of drinking alcohol and the various strategies that teens can use to say “no” to under age drinking.  It was just so amazing watching them work together and come up with a drama that was very well thought out and put together. The drama was performed for the younger grades and the parents.

So now as we enter the month of July, I am raping up my epoch of charlas and I now enter a there week span of delegations that I will be helping out with.  I’m very excited as the first delegation, is a group from the Episcopal church St. Pauls in Newburyport, MA, a church that was very supportive as I made my plans to come to El Salvador with YASC.  My parents will also be coming with the St. Pauls group, which is even more exciting for me.  The second delegation that I will be helping out with is the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), a diocesan youth group from Boston, MA, that has been coming to El Salvador for pilgrimage/mission every summer since 2005 and for each trip that they have made in the past I have accompanied them in the role of a mentor; so it will be great to be able to fill this role again for the 8th consecutive summer.

Although I may not have much time to personally blog over the next three weeks, the St. Paul’s group may be using my blog to post about their experiences in El Salvador, so keep any eye out.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Anglican Women's Retreat



About a month ago now, I had the opportunity to join a group of energetic, lively, and spiritual women on a women’s retreat with the Anglican church to “Cielo Mar”, the Anglican retreat center on the ocean.  Although a simple and rustic retreat center, in which no one could sleep on the top beds because of fear of falling through the wooden slabs on to the person sleeping bellow, it was the perfect place for a group of women to relax, let loose a little, and get some work done (elect a new Anglican women’s committee).  For me it was an amazing opportunity to become more connected with the El Salvadoran Anglican church on more of a diocesan level, as I got to connect with various women from all of the different Anglican churches around El Salvador.  It also gave me an opportunity to build stronger friendships with the women from San Francisco de Asis (the church in El Pital, which is the congregation which I would call my home congregation here in El Salvador).  It was very sweet how the women from San Francisco de Asis looked after me, making sure that I felt comfortable and included. 

Some of my favorite memories from the retreat were the evening talent show, the evening prayer service, everybody sleeping on cots covering all of the floor space, and the bus ride back to the city from the beach.  For the talent show, me, Luisa, and Mary Lou (the two women representatives from San Francisco de Asis), picked a song about the silly things that couples can fight over, and lip synched and acted out a skit.  I was the man, so I dressed up by drawing a distinguished mustache with Mary Lou’s eyeliner.  The evening prayer service was just very beautiful and tranquil, as we started out in the courtyard around a fire and then slowly lit candles, one at a time using the fire as the starting flame.  I have to say, the bus ride home was probably my favorite memory, as the women decided that they wanted to finish the retreat off with a dance party, so they asked the bus driver to crank up the music and then everybody stood up in the aisle and twisted, turned, and shook.  Overall it was an awesome weekend!

Monday, June 18, 2012

More on Photo Albums


So since I’ve been back from Nicaragua, I’ve been very intentional on taking advantage of my weekends and exploring El Salvador and I have the pictures to prove it.  There is one album that was taken prior to my trip to Nicaragua as they are pictures from David Copley and crew’s (Elizabeth and Jason) visit, which I didn’t receive until I arrived back, so I’ll start with that one and then otherwise go in order as they appear in picasa.

David Copley and Crew in El Salvador-  I was very lucky and had a big part of the YASC personnel team come and visit me at the end of April.  Specifically I got to spend three days with David, Elizabeth, and Jason and it was quite a pleasure getting to show them what I’m doing and where I’m working.  They also had the opportunity to spend a whole day traveling around with Bishop Barahona, learning about the work of the Anglican church here in El Salvador and various volunteer opportunities for the future.  I know for me it was quite a treat having them visit and I think overall it was a productive trip.

“Art and FMLN in Suchitoto” & “Despedida in Suchitoto”-  Suchitoto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suchitoto) is a very pleasant old colonial city in El Salvador and I have had the pleasure of visiting it on several occasions.  In the album “Art and FMLN in Suchitoto” you will see images from my friends photography exhibit of various murals throughout El Salvador (she is here as a Fulbright, studying murals in El Salvador) and images from the town wide celebration of the FMLN (the leftist party) victory in Suchitoto.  Check out this link for more information on the FMLN party- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farabundo_Mart%C3%AD_National_Liberation_Front.  Although a bit out order, “Despedida in Suchitoto” also displays some beautiful images in and around Suchitoto, taken as I wishing one of my good friends good bye (despedida means good bye party in Spanish).

Dia Internacional de Trabajador (Labor Day)-  In El Salvador Labor Day is celebrated on May 1, and as the linked article explains (http://www.demotix.com/news/678549/labour-day-celebrations-el-salvador) “in El Salvador, May Day or Labor Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers and has its origins in the labor union movement.”  It was quite an experience, walking with thousands of people, peacefully marching for fair rights for the Salvadoran worker.

Parque Imposible- So when you hear this description “Hasta La luna : An unforgettable journey into the heart of Imposible, truly untouristed and off-the-beaten-track, and swim in a river and its many cascades (6h)”; what do you think of?  Well, I think of adventure and that is indeed what these images display.  We hiked down to the beginning of a set of 8 waterfalls, where we proceeded to jump off cliff edges into the deep waters bellow, continuing are hike in between each waterfall and then at the end hiking all the way back up and out of Parque Imposible.  It was amazing!  To learn more about Parque Imposible and the various adventures that await there, check out this website- http://www.imposibletours.com/en/index.html.

Boquerón-  El Boquerón is the name of the crater in the center of the San Salvador Volcano, smack dab in the middle of the city of San Salvador.  I have to stay it’s quite a treat living in a city and having a volcano that you can hike around and be surrounded by nature and beautiful views (you can pretty much see all of El Salvador) just a few minutes drive away.  See this Wikipedia article for more details about the volcano and the mystery of El Boquerón (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Salvador_(volcano)).

Monday, May 7, 2012

The story for the photos


New Photo Albums

I feel like pictures often say more than words, so I want to direct your attention to a bunch of new albums that I have posted over the last few months.  To see the pictures, all you have to do is click on the photo link to the right.

Going in chronological order (so oldest to newest) I’m going to say a little bit about each album:

El Salvador Elections 2012- On Sunday March 11, I had the unique opportunity to serve as an international observer of the El Salvadoran elections, in which mayors and members of the legislator were elected.  We had to be at the poles at 5AM and stayed until 11pm at night.  Are major function was to observe and note any thing that seemed out of order (for instance two people within the voting booth, the poll gates opening late and closing early, voters trying to use false identification or table members turning away voters with proper identification, ect.) and then as a team, we as Cristosal compiled a report.  Overall it was a very long but interesting day.

Glasswing Alcohol Prevention Youth Day- As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve become involved with some volunteer activities with the NGO Glasswing International.  In return they have also been helping me plan the alcohol prevention program that I am going to facilitate in El Pital.  Part of the alcohol prevention program is a celebration activity for all of the leaders that participate and finish the program, so I helped out with the celebration for the leaders that just finished the most recent course.  The celebration activity was held at an adventure center in Lourdes Colon.  As you can see from the pictures, there were a lot of fun activities for the kids to do, rock climbing, zip line, mask making, dancing, ect. and as a helper, I also got to go flying through the sky on the zip line.

Romero Vigilia- After a morning packed with youth activities I caught the bus to Salvador del Mundo (a large monument in San Salvador) to participate in the Vigil for Monsenor Romero; which is held every year on March 24, the day that Romero was assassinated.  In memory of the amazing work that Romero did through out his short life, thousands of people come out every year to march from Salvador del Mundo to the cathedral in the center.  It was pretty amazing to be a part of this growing tradition.  Check out Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Óscar_Romero) for more information about Romero and why he is so loved in El Salvador.

Semana Santa with the Almquist hermanas- In El Salvador, everybody gets Semana Santa (Holy Week) off from work; basically every thing closes down.  I was very lucky, and my one and only sister (Celanie), who I love very much came and visited me for Semana Santa.  We had a jammed packed week:  We started with a weekend in the city and Celanie got to experience salsa dancing at La Luna and Café Late (two fun restaurants/bars that have dancing) and a concert at the UCA (the University of Central America).  From there we headed out to the beach (El Tunco), fresh water springs/water falls (Juayua), a cute older town (Ataco), and we hit up some hot springs (Agua Termales de Santa Teresa) on our way back to the city.  Next on the list was Chalatenango, where we joined my housemate Ani in a small town (Arcatao) in the countryside for a night in the campo and a hike to the river/water fall.  Then we went onto Las Palmas where we got to see some beautiful “Alfombras” , rugs that the community make in the streets for holy week, and next to El Pital (not the El Pital in Lourdes Colon where I work but a different one), the highest area in El Salvador, where we saw some amazing views and enjoyed the fresh, chilly air.  For Easter vigil (5 hours) and Easter day, Celanie had the opportunity to join me in El Pital (the community I work in) for services at San Francisco de Asis and meet the lovely people I work with day to day.  As, I said it was a jammed pack week but it was really an amazing week!

Circulo Solidario Actividades- As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I have also started volunteering a little of my time with Circulo Solidario and this album has some pictures from some the health education activities that I have helped out with.

Nicaragua-   So at the end of April, I got an amazing opportunity to spend a week traveling with one of my good friends from the Boston area (Andrea) in Nicaragua.  All I’m going to tell you on this one is the name of the cities that we visited; otherwise I think the pictures really say it all.  1.Managua, 2.Leon, 3.Granada, 4.Isla Ometepe, 5.San Juan del Sur.

Enjoy the pictures!