Thursday, July 25, 2019

Housing Project 2019-Paso Puente Community

“We have lived for 18 years with many difficulties. A dignified home will mean better life and better studies.  I have had to study in deplorable conditions. My notebooks and important materials and books have been ruined and gotten wet in our shacks.   We get sick from the humidity.   The whole community has to share one water faucet, and it takes all day to fill a barrel of water.  We sleep in fear because of the insecure nature of our shelter. We are marginalized by outsiders, who say only delinquents and thieves live in shanty towns.  This project will improve our lives at all levels. We cannot afford to build our own homes, so this project is an enormous blessing.”  Community Member

   Berta’s home December 2018                                   Berta’s home July 2019

San Salvador July 24, 2019

Dear Friends,

As our supporters, you have followed—and helped make possible—the great, hard-won success of the Romero Community.  From securing legal title to their land; to building 65 dignified homes, a library, training center, and playground; to working toward electrifying those buildings and accessing potable water; to having access to higher education and leadership development; to cultivating organic vegetables and indigo for income—the Romero Community has demonstrated what an empowered community can do with international solidarity. Not surprisingly, neighboring communities have noticed and been inspired.
Some very recent developments since the election of President Nayib Bukele are extremely positive and exciting—and also pose a challenge!

We are writing you because we need your support to build dignified homes with the community of Paso Puente, Tonacatepeque, across the street from Romero Community. The Paso Puente Community squatted on government lands in 2002, after being displaced by the 2001 earthquakes and having nowhere to go. Finally, in 2014, the Salvadoran Government granted them title to their land. The 153 families live in extreme poverty and squalid conditions—with homes made out of old tin and plastic, no potable water, and no sewage.  The zone is an area of high risk for youth because of the insecure conditions.

The CIS and the Romero Community began to work with Paso Puente three years ago, to develop their organization; with St. Elizabeth Parish, to organize a CIS Scholarships and Leadership Development Program for Paso Puente’s students; and with Agua Viva, to dig one well with a hand pump for the community to share and have water to drink. We also began to organize, together with the local clinic, art-therapy courses to promote creativity, to keep youth off the streets, and to follow up with kids dealing with the trauma of being witnesses or victims of violence. 

We knew Paso Puente desperately needed dignified housing, but realized it would not be possible to undertake a project without the full participation and trust of the community.  We accompanied the community on numerous occasions to request potable water from the government, but each time they were turned down.  Last year, CIS counseled families to apply for a government-housing subsidy. The Salvadoran Government asked CIS to identify the 15 families most in need and applied the subsidy in March of this year. Still, it was not enough to complete the houses. (The identified families were mostly single mothers living on about $3 per day from washing other people’s clothes, and some had up to seven children.) The CIS received a donation from the Inti-Raymi Fund to complement and finish what the families had built with the government subsidy. This pilot project enabled CIS to identify more children who were not going to school, to build trust, and to identify skilled laborers in the community.  

To our surprise and delight, the new government of Nayib Bukele has prioritized development in the most excluded areas of El Salvador, and this includes Paso Puente Community. This is an effort to stem the flow of migration and include families in the social fabric who have been excluded, so they do not join the gangs. The Local Development Minister, Maria Chichilco, the Housing, Public Works, and Social Fabric Ministers, and the President of the Water Utility all visited the community—as well as Romero Community and surrounding areas. The officials offered to build homes for the families, but the families would have to pay $40-$60 per month for twenty years. Based on our experience and knowing the families, I told the ministers it would be impossible for most. Then I went out on a limb and asked if they would be willing to provide the same subsidy to build the base of the home; the CIS would ask for donations to complete the homes, and the community would put in the unskilled labor and coordinate all the paper work. The Minister of Housing, Michelle Sol, immediately said Yes!  Within a few days, a team arrived to verify the applications and approved the construction of 54 homes!  The government has also agreed to put in potable water, roads, and drainage in both Paso Puente and Romero!  ¡Gracias a Dios!

So you can readily appreciate both the excitement—rather breath-taking, to be honest—and the challenge we are feeling at the CIS!

Here’s how it will work:
Each family will be disbursed a government grant of $3,500—50% as early as next week, and 50% when they have completed the walls of their home, allowing installation of windows and doors.  The government has also committed to installing potable water, streets, and drainage (both in Romero and Paso Puente), and eventually sewage.

The CIS will oversee the installation of electricity, tile floor, roof, bathroom, and a big sink that is used for washing dishes, clothes, and bathing—until potable water is installed.  The Minister of Housing also asked CIS to oversee the construction of the part of the home they are financing. The CIS budget is $4,000 per home.  

We are asking everyone to dig deep into their pockets and donate for social and economic justice, security, and the health of one family for a life-time:

·         $4,000 will complete a government-subsidized home.

Or, if you cannot donate to complete a home, consider funding part of the home: 
·         $1,360 will build a bathroom, sink, shower, and toilet;
·         $1,200 will pay for the roof;
·         $620 will pay for a tile floor;
·         $420 will pay for electric installation;
·         $300 will install a cement sink; or 
·         $100 will pay for supervision and unforeseen expenses.

When do we need the money?

As soon as possible, but we foresee the project taking a year to complete with the installation of water and sewage, so if you cannot give right away or can give some funds now and some later, please let us know.

How to make a donation: Tax deductible donations can be made payable to and mailed to:
Los Olivos CIS (in U.S. dollars) / PO Box 76 / Westmont, 
IL 60559-0076, USA
Debit/credit card donations can be made online:
For more information: Toll free number in U.S.:  1-866-887-2665: 
El Salvador:  ++ 503-2226-5362

I’ll close with a note from one of our most faithful partners:

Dear friend and family of CIS,

I am so excited and thrilled with the opportunity to partner once again with the community in El Salvador and CIS. We have been blessed with many generous donors to realize our dreams of dignified living for the people in our communities. With God's help, we were able to build homes for the Romero Community and to partner with the people to provide homes and shelter. It is truly the work of God, and God has called us all to be co-creators in building the kingdom of God.

The cry of the poor has reached the ears of God and ours as well; with joy and enthusiasm we will pledge our support to the construction of homes in the community of Paso Puente. You have our support and pledge; I invite all who read this note to join us in this effort, for it is of God. Together let us make the kingdom of God a reality on earth.

Fr. Gerald Waris and communities in Kansas City


Thank you and Blessings,

Leslie Schuld, for the CIS, LOS OLIVOS CIS 

Monday, July 15, 2019

What the US Media Gets Wrong About El Salvador

Article written by Elisabet Eppes 
Spanish Student and English School Volunteer at CIS

I recently returned to the US after volunteering and taking classes at el Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) for 11 weeks. I had an incredible experience at CIS, and I would highly recommend CIS to people interested in learning Spanish and/or volunteering in a Spanish-speaking country.

When I decided that I wanted to take Spanish classes at CIS last fall, some of my family and friends were worried and discouraged me from choosing El Salvador as the place to learn Spanish. As you probably know, the mainstream US news paints a rather bleak picture of El Salvador, not to mention the US State Department’s travel advisory. Articles in US news outlets that focus on El Salvador tend to define the country in terms of statistical superlatives: “a homicide rate among the world’s highest for a country not at war”; “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman”; “the most water-stressed nation in Central America”; etc. And while these statistics are true—many Salvadorans do suffer from poverty, violence, and lack of access to basic resources—like all statistics, they fail to paint a complete picture. The picture these statistics paint is one of constant violence, desperation, and chaos. But that is simply not the El Salvador I experienced.

Granted, I did spend the bulk of my time in the capital, San Salvador, where gang activity is less visible than in other parts of the country. Also, the citizens of San Salvador have much greater access to water and other resources than residents of the countryside. Even so, in the broader narrative about El Salvador, the capital is often included as a place that is violent and unsafe.

The country I experienced, contrary to the morbid statistics, was vibrant, loving, and passionate about social and political causes. One of the first things that stuck out to me during my first few weeks in El Salvador was the warmth and kindness of the people. Whether it was my host family, the people who work for CIS, or my Salvadoran students, the people I met were extremely friendly and generous with their time.

When people discovered that I was only going to be in El Salvador for three months, they would take it upon themselves to ensure that I had an amazing time while I was there—offering to take me on excursions, showing me around San Salvador, giving me recommendations for things to see and do. Considering how short my visit was, I developed several strong friendships that I hope will continue well into the future.

Another aspect of El Salvador that became clear from the outset of my trip was the political passion of the people. On my very first day in the country, I had the opportunity to join a march celebrating Saint Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador from 1977-1980 and one of the most cherished historical figures in El Salvador. Even though the event was not explicitly political, the people marched to urge the government and their fellow citizens to continue advancing Monseñor Romero’s fight for equality and social justice.

I continued to learn about the political realities of El Salvador through my Spanish classes at CIS, including the ways in which grassroots movements are pushing for justice for women, LGBTI people, workers, farmers, refugees, and Salvadoran youth. My Spanish teachers also placed the current realities in El Salvador into the country’s historical context of revolutionary struggle. El Salvador has a long way to go with regard to both formal and informal respect for the rights of people with marginalized identities, but I am glad that CIS highlighted the movements that are fighting for these rights.

About midway through my trip, I had the great honor of participating in one of the marches celebrating International Workers’ Day. It was incredible to see all of the different unions, student organizations, and worker associations come together to advance the intersectional struggles for better treatment of workers, public ownership of water, better housing, and others.

One of the great things about CIS is that in addition to taking classes and volunteering, I was able to participate in a number of social and political excursions led by a member of the CIS staff. CIS organized trips to Panchimalco, Izalco, and the Mayan ruins during my 11-week visit. During each excursion, our CIS tour guide provided historical and contemporary context and answered all the questions my fellow volunteers and I had. Going on these excursions allowed me to experience parts of El Salvador outside of the capital that I otherwise may not have had the opportunity to visit.

On these visits, as well as in San Salvador itself, I was exposed to the culture and beauty of El Salvador. I fell in love with the food, art, and music, and was in awe of the natural landscapes – the mountains and volcanoes, the vibrant trees and flowers, the colorful birds and insects. Even though El Salvador has suffered from massive deforestation, the vegetation that remains is lush and vivid.

One of the main reasons I chose CIS as the place I wanted to learn Spanish and volunteer was their emphasis on popular education techniques based on concepts pioneered by Brazilian scholar, Paulo Freire. Unlike more traditional teaching techniques, popular education involves a process of mutual teaching and learning and focuses on the development of critical consciousness so that participants are empowered to transform their lives. Being able to apply these techniques with my students was an extremely rewarding experience for me, and has improved my skills as an educator. My students taught me a lot about the realities of life in El Salvador and stretched me to think in different ways during political discussions. A number of my students were inspired to volunteer with CIS as a result of taking English classes there.

Even though I only volunteered as an English teacher at CIS, it was nice to be teaching and learning at an organization doing such great work outside of San Salvador. I had the opportunity to learn about the CIS Clean Water program, Salvadoran Enterprises for Women, Election Observations, the Youth Scholarship Program, and home-building efforts in the Romero Community. When I come back to CIS in the future I would love to get involved in some of these other efforts.

I want to encourage other people from the US that may be interested in volunteering or taking classes at CIS to do so! If safety is a concern for you, please know that I did not feel unsafe at all during my three months in San Salvador. I did take precautions like not walking around alone at night, paying attention to my surroundings, and traveling with other people as much as possible, but these are precautions I would take in any large city. CIS takes good care of its students and volunteers, and any trepidation I might have had before coming to CIS melted away within the first few weeks of being in El Salvador.

Please keep in mind that the ways El Salvador is portrayed by the US media and government are flawed and often racist. Statistics could never tell the full story of any country, and this is especially true of a country like El Salvador. I cannot wait to come back to CIS in the future as a student and volunteer.

Clean Water for the World / CIS / University of Toledo engineering students Water Purifier Installation Report

Location: Fe y Alegría School, La Chacra, San Salvador 
Installation Date: March 5, 2019 
Report written by Cameron Clark, Brethren Volunteer Service / CIS volunteer
This Saturday I visited the Fe y Alegría Catholic School in the community of La Chacra, San Salvador with a delegation from the University of Toledo. The delegation was made up of engineering students who have helped design some of the water filters that the CIS water program together with Clean Water for the World provides, so they came to help install their own design at an underprivileged school in this poor community on the outskirts of the city.

We arrived at the school at 9 in the morning and were met by the school principal. We met with him in a conference room and talked about the history of the school and the community’s needs over coffee and snacks. He was very grateful for the delegation’s and the CIS’ support for what he described as a “marginalized community”.

He told us that the school’s enrollment has fallen from a peak of around 1000 students due to violence. The school is currently responsible for the health and safety of 432 students, and they have recently been struggling with a typhoid outbreak because of a clean water shortage in the community. The school also struggles to meet other needs of the community. They are blessed by cooperation with a sisterhood of nuns who run an after school program for numerous students whose parents work late hours.

After all our questions were answered, we toured some of the facilities and examined an existing filter that serves the grade school students before relocating to the kindergarten, a separate facility where we were to install a new water purifier. We found that the kindergarten already had a filter installed, similar in function but different in design from the ones CIS and Clean Water for the World install. The principal explained that this filter often broke down and the company that installed it didn’t often venture into the community for repairs because of safety concerns.

Luis and the delegation got to work replacing the old filter with a more reliable model.

After a few hours’ work, we celebrated a job well

After the installation, the principal brought us to the public water source. Families who don’t have water in their homes get water from a public reservoir fed by a pipeline from a stream up the hill. Like most water in the country, the spring is contaminated, and worse yet, the flow of water has decreased rapidly in the last decade due to climate change, and it can no longer meet the community’s needs on its own.

Finally, we returned to the grade school, where we were all treated to lunch and had a chance to hang out with the students. Some even came to practice their English.