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Friday, July 29, 2011

Compadres reflections - Setting Context

Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some time to reflect on some of the pictures I took while we were in El Salvador this year.  My first picture is from a section of monument to civilian casualities during the war.  I chose this as the first picture because visits to the memorial, the Jesuit University and the site of the murder of Oscar Romero are essential to setting a context for our visit.  I realize now that much of our trip is about setting context. 

We need to understand the struggle of Salvadorans before and during the war.  It is essential that we know that over 70,000 civilians were killed over a 14-year period.  This is still a nation where the injuries of this war go unresolved.  There was no 'truth and reconciliation' commission here.  As Miguel says, we can forgive, but never forget, but we can't forgive until we know who we must forgive.

As I reflect on how Compadres y Comadres will work in the future, I will remember always to set context.  What has happened here?  How does this have an impact on the present?  What will the future hold?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Classes start for another day in Xela

Here is our classroom. We will spend the next five hours working on our Spanish!
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Great series of articles by Rights Action and Canadian mining practices in Guatemala and El Salvador.  Canadians robbing the poor of Latin America.


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Rights Action - July 20, 2011



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By Grahame Russell, July 2011

The Global Educator Journal (British Colombia Teachers for Global Peace & Education) Summer 2011:


On a given day, a Canadian might read the business section of her favourite newspaper or on-line news service, to check the price of gold or nickel and see how her investments are doing.


Yet, the price of metals is not only the profits they bring to company directors, shareholders and other investors, from private equity funds to pension funds like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), but also the prices that people pay in terms of environmental destruction, harm to personal health and human rights violations.


In today's global order, where trans-national companies often operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability, shareholder and investor profits go, all too often, hand in hand with environmental destruction, harm to personal health and various human rights violations.


HUDBAY MINERALS & NICKEL MINING IN GUATEMALA:Violent evictions, gang rapes & the killing of Adolfo Ich

  • The bcIMC (BC Investment Management Corporation) has $281,061,874.50, and the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) $42,000,000, invested in HudBay Minerals.

In January 2007, Skye Resources (bought by HudBay Minerals in 2008) participated in the violent evictions of a number of indigenous Mayan Qeqchi communities in the municipality of El Estor in Eastern Guatemala).  These are their ancestral lands long before mining companies arrived in the 1950s, claiming "ownership".


Hundreds of huts were burned to the ground; all personal property was destroyed or stolen; community member's crops and animals were destroyed or stolen. Hundreds of families - young and old, men and women - fled into the hills and forest for weeks, before returning to rebuild their huts and replant their subsistence crops.


In one community, Lote 8, 11 women villagers were gang-raped by private security guards, hired by HudBay Minerals (then Skye Resources), and by soldiers and police.  This atrocity is only recently coming to light.


On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich, a Mayan Qeqchi teacher and community leader in El Estor, was captured by HudBay's security guards, hacked with machetes and then shot. Hours later, family members found him dead in the company building where the security guards had dragged him.



The attempted killing of Diodora Hernandez  

  • The bcIMC (BC Investment Management Corporation) has $142,239,000, and the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) $177,000,000 invested in Goldcorp.

Since 2005, Goldcorp Inc has been operating a very profitable and harmful open-pit, cyanide leaching gold mine in the Mayan Mam region of western Guatemala; a mine strongly opposed by much of the local population.  Since 2000, they have operated a similar mine in central Honduras, with most of the same harms and violations occurring, and with the same local opposition.


At 7pm, July 7, 2010, in the rural community of Sacmuj, two men came to the small hut of Diodora Hernández asking for coffee. As Diodora was bringing them cups of coffee, one man shot her in the right eye and ran off into the night.


Miraculously, Diodora survived. After 3 months in the hospital, she is back in her community, with a prosthetic eye, still opposing the expansion of Goldcorp's mine onto her land.  Goldcorp, a Canadian-American company, acknowledged the men had worked in its mine, but deny any responsibility for the attempted assassination.



The killing of four community members


In July 2009, the body of Marcelo Rivera, a teacher and community leader, was found dumped in a well. He had been 'disappeared' weeks before. Signs of torture were found on his body, including burn marks; he was missing toe and finger nails.  On December 20, 2009, Ramiro Rivera Gomez and Felicíta Echeverría were killed. On December 26, 2009, Dora Sorto Recinos (8 months pregnant) was murdered in the community of Trinidad.


These killings occurred in the department of Cabañas, bordering Honduras, where Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Canadian-American company, wants to mine for gold. Prevented from mining by widespread opposition, Pacific Rim is now using a World Bank "mediation" procedure to sue the government of El Salvador for $100 million in "lost profits". No one has been held accountable for the killings, neither in the World Bank "mediation" process (where murder charges can't be filed), nor in any court in El Salvador or Canada.




These abuses happen because it is Canadian public policy to push for the expansion of our mining and investor interests around the world, while opposing attempts to enact enforceable civil and criminal law standards that could be used to hold our companies and investors accountable.


North American mining companies benefit from immunity from prosecution in many countries where they operate mines - like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In the sphere of international law, they operate with immunity.


And, they operate with immunity from prosecution and accountability in Canada where the major corporate and investor decisions are made. There are no criminal or civil laws on the books to hold Canadian companies and investors accountable for harm or violations caused directly or indirectly by their business operations elsewhere.


Over the past few years, there were efforts in Canada to pass legislation - Bill C-300 - that would have provided a judicial framework for some government oversight and possible sanction (withdrawal of public funds a company might be receiving) in the case of mining company wrong-doing.


Bill C-300 would not have provided for criminal law sanctions where crimes were committed; it would not have provided for civil law sanctions, or for remedies to the victims of mining company activities if wrong doings and harms were proven.  Even at that, Bill C-300 was defeated in October 2010.


Civil cases recently filed in Toronto (by Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors) - "Choc v. HudBay Minerals" (for the killing of Adolfo Ich) & "Caal v. HudBay Minerals (for the gang rape of 11 women in the community of Lote 8) - are based on common law remedies and provide a possible crack in the Canadian wall of immunity from prosecution and legal accountability, and will need substantial political and financial support.




This opposition to enacting criminal and civil legislation to hold our companies accountable is self-serving and hypocritical.  I wager that the mining company executives, investors and politicians who opposed the enactment of enforceable legislation swear by the values of democracy and the rule of law - just not when applied to their corporate and investment activities abroad.


Were these executives, investors and politicians victims themselves in their home communities of environmental and health and human rights violations caused by corporate activities, they would demand nothing less than full legal accountability and sanctions for the wrong doing and remedy for the harms and losses.




It is a public policy issue. Canadian governments, independent of which party is in power, support the expansion of Canadian mining and investor interests across the world, claiming that mining is good for "development", while ignoring or outright denying that Canadian companies have directly and indirectly caused harm and violations to communities around the world.




It is an investment issue. Investors from the wealthier sectors of society, and their private investment funds, through to a majority of Canadians with deductions paid into federal and provincial pension funds, benefit from the profits that mining companies - and other resource extraction companies and weapons producers - generate around the world.


Yet, there is little demand from investors that corporate activities be regulated by enforceable environmental, health and human rights standards.


Assurances of "responsible investing" by pension trustees and the management of bcIMC, for example, amount to little more than 'window dressing' in an attempt to hide what is really happening in the marketplace.




With notable exceptions, our media relegates corporate and investor issues to the business and financial pages and does not properly report on environmental destruction, harm to personal health and other human rights violations that Canadian companies can and do cause.




Most people would not, I believe, agree with unjust enrichment - the fact that their investments (private and/or public pension funds) benefit from corporate operations that are directly or indirectly causing environmental destruction, harm to personal health, and other human rights violations.


Until Canadian citizens hold our investment funds, corporations and government accountable to abide by enforceable environment, health and human rights standards, in all business and investment activities, at home and abroad, then the price of these metals will remain profitable for companies, shareholders and investors, and deadly for communities around the world.




Grahame Russell is a non-practising lawyer, an Adjunct Professor in the Geography Program at UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia), and author.  Since 1995, he is a co-director of Rights Action.  Rights Action funds community development, environmental defense, disaster response and human rights projects in Guatemala and Honduras, in as well as Chiapas, El Salvador and Haiti.)


To learn more about these issues, in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and about the education and activism going on across Canada and the US, contact Grahame:,  


For more information about Canadian mining related issues and struggles around the world and in Canada:




for indigenous and campesino organizations defending their communities and environmental well-being from mega-"development" projects (like mining), and working for truth, memory, justice and real democracy in Guatemala and Honduras, make check payable to "Rights Action" and mail to:


UNITED STATES:  Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887

CANADA:  552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8






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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Journey's End

This is my last blog post from El Salvador for awhile. Once I return home I will blog more as I reflect on this year's trip. I hope also to get more posts from this year's participants.
This has truly been a remarkable journey. Living with the families of San Jose las Flores was transformative. There is no other word to describe this.
We have learned so much. We have written about some of what we have been taught, but there is so much we experienced sharing in the lives of these wonderful people that still needs to be voiced.
Now on to Guatemala to work on my brutal Spanish!
The wonderful beach at Costa del Sol in San Vincente. Our last stop before home and other adventures.
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Staying with Sister Peggy

This morning we woke up to the beautiful inner court yard of Sister Peggy's hostel. Sister Peggy is an American nun who has lived in Suchitoto for 25 years. She lived through the war in one of the areas most brutally affected by the fighting.
Suchitoto was one of the centers of the resistance. Over 1000 civilians were killed in a number of massacres that took place in the surrounding countryside.
Sister Peggy was part of a group of nuns that helped resettle refugees that had lived in church compounds for years In San Salvador. The hostel we stayed in is an abandoned school that has only recently been restored. Like much of the country, they are still rebuilding.
Each encounter is like peeling another layer off an onion. Our encounter with the sister was brief, but it leaves more questions. She talked briefly about the issue of youth and those who continue to leave the country for better opportunities in the North. She talked about the lack of students in the schools. She worries about the impact of the gangs and what the new Plan Pueblo Panama road will do to communities like San Jose Las Flores.
Another layer and more to learn.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

In Suchitoto

We have moved on to Suchitoto today. We met with PROGRESO the local arm of CRIPDES and CORDES. The organization here is very strong. SALVAIDE our partner organization also funds projects here as does CIDA. Their work for women and youth is very progressive and they have done a significant amount of work on ecotourism initiatives.
The city of Suchitoto is beautiful. We met a 92 year old women who still practices the art of making Salvadoran cigars. She let me make one, but it didn't measure up to the wonderful ones she produced for us. Here in this picture you can see the church that dominates the central square. Tonight the square will come alive with music, dancing and fireworks as the town celebrates it's 137th anniversary.
We will be there!
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day at the Sumpul

Today we spent the day at the Sumpul ecotourism spot. All the teachers who we worked with for the last week and their families came with us for a day at the pool.
We had a terrific BBQ put on by Nelson and our translator Koki. Here you can see a few of the folks after lunch.
The highlight for me was sitting, throwing stones in the Sumpul. Interesting that such a tragic place can also be the scene of a perfect ending to a memorable week.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

School in the forests

Today was the last day of formal sharing sessions. The focus for our last day was on popular education. Vilma started this session off by continuing a story she had started earlier on schooling during the war.
Between 1980 and 1986, the people who remained in this area hid in the forests to avoid the army patrols. These people had very little and they had to be ready to flee at a moments notice.
Vilma became a teacher at 12. Her future husband started teaching at 11. There were 25 kids to teach from all grades. The objective was to ensure that all kids could read and write.
Children used sharp sticks to write with and flat stones to sit on. They learned the significance if words like guerra.
The kids were well behaved. To make too much noise would attract army patrols. The parents helped by digging trenches the students could drop into when the planes came.
To illustrate the school in the forests, the Salvadoran teachers did an incredible thing. They did a role play of a class in the woods including a mock attack by the army. They used fire crackers to mimic the sound if bullets. Their drawings were pictures of helicopters shooting people.
All these people were raised in similar schools. Their commitment to teaching and learning is profound.
A street mural in San Jose Las Flores
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Katie and Susan teach English

At this point in our stay there are a whole variety of things to do each afternoon. Today we were going to go for a hike, but it is way too hot. So one of the teachers, Salvatore invited us to observe his grade 9 English class.
Then the great idea- why not teach the class! Katie and Susan quickly put together a lesson on present and past simple tense.
Here is Susan at the white board in Salvatore's class. Another great unplanned encounter.
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La Represion

At some point, the repression has to be addressed. In 1980, over 600 women, children and men were slaughtered in this area. It is called the Sempul River Massacre and every teacher lost family members during this time. I asked the question during one if our sessions " how do you deal with the massacre." The answer turned into an hour and a half session where each teacher spoke of great loss. We are still trying to figure out how best to convey the feeling of that session. I don't know if we can do this. Several of the Salvadoran teachers broke down during the retelling of the stories. Two of the teachers could not say anything.
These stories are over 30 years old, but the pain exists. They all have nightmares, they sometimes flinch when a plane or helicopter flies by. In their dreams they see dead people. The mourn for the family members they have lost.
In El Salvador, family is everything. Cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters are together all of the time to celebrate or just to be together. Maybe this is one of the reasons this is such a strong community. Everyone has lost their family, the community has become the family, they all share in the collective loss.
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Chez Susan

Every day we stop by a little place right in the square. We call it Chez Susan because Susan was the first if the group to recognize this is a perfect place to sit and talk. The beer is cold and only 75 cents. Tonight the town was getting ready for a big celebration so we stayed later than usual and watched the women make papusas- you can see them in the picture.
I think we are considered regulars there now. One of the women gave each of us a papusa to try out. This is the national dish of El Salvador. Today was Katie's first and she loved it!
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Monday, July 11, 2011

21st Century Learning workshop

Here Katie Brown, one of the Canadian teachers on the Compadres trip is now conducting a workshop on 21st Century Learning using the computer program Scratch. Katie started off by setting the context by discussing the process of teaching higher order skills. The Salvadoran teachers are well aware of these methods, however until recently, they did not have the computer technology to apply some of these skills. During the workshop today Katie will take the teachers through the program. Teachers can use Scratch to teach their kids the basics of programming.
This is how Compadres works - sharing of ideas and concepts between Canadians and Salvadorans. Very rich!
This afternoon, we are going to try to install wireless cards so the computers will all be able to access the Internet.
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Our school

This is our school. We have been coming here each day for conversation with the teachers. For the last two days we have been talking about war trauma and methods to deal with this in the classroom. Very interesting, all the teachers have stories of how they were affected by the war. Every teacher lost family members in the massacres that took place in this area. More on that later.
Today we are back at the school. In the picture below, you can see most of the classrooms. In the morning, the primary students have classes. Junior intermediate are in the afternoon.
We will be doing a workshop on computer programming this morning.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

A storm in the afternoon

As the dark clouds started to build this afternoon, we decided to take refuge at "our spot" looking over the town square. It has become a place that we like to frequent for some good conversation and a cool beverage. (*note: we still haven't quite figured out whether or not this is actually a restaurant...however the owner seems more than happy to let us sit on the porch - hopefully not because she's too polite to ask us to leave). It's been about 40 minutes now and the rain has shown no sign of slowing down. And that's ok by us. There's a lovely breeze cooling things down. Thunder is rolling overhead. The weather will settle eventually, it will get warmer and warmer and warmer, and then we'll start looking forward to another cleansing rainstorm tomorrow.
- Katie
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The town square

One of our favorite places to spend time is the tiny town square in San Jose Las Flores. Every afternoon, men play cards under one of the big shade trees. Boys and girls play soccer in the old basketball court (just got hit by one if the balls), and the church bell rings each day before mass.
Right now it is Saturday afternoon around six. I just took this picture. The choir is practicing for mass, the band stand is full of kids laughing and talking and the men are still playing cards.
Nice end to a very sultry day.
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Our community kitchen

This year, San Jose Las Flores celebrates the 25th anniversary of resettlement during the war. The community has developed and prospered due in large part to the community projects started mainly by the women of the community.
One of these is the comidor comunal. The community kitchen is run by the women of the town. It serves three meals a day at very reasonable prices. Most of us eat breakfast there and we all eat lunch at the comidor. We are now regulars there and we have sampled some really great food including of course papusas.
The kitchen is a very good example of how this community pulls together to prosper in a hostile environment. As we are learning, everyone over 35 has a terrible story to tell about surviving the brutality of the war. It is good that one response of the community to their sad history is to come together to share a meal.
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Friday, July 8, 2011

Our first meeting

This morning we spent time at the elementary school. We started by observing a class - I was in a kindergarten class - very fun. The kids were very active and very happy to participate in the lesson. At 9:30 they all went off - by themselves to get a snack from the food program. This is an important program since many of the kids come to school malnourished. It is one if the programs subsidized by Holy Trinity and I hope it us one if the programs we can help out with in the future.
Later, we met with the teachers to go over some if the challenges they ate facing. This afternoon, we will meet to go over what we heard. The challenges include:
no spec Ed services for kids with learning disabilities
No counselling services
A need for good esl materials
No specialized programming in art physed, music, drama
There are others, but what really shines through is that these teachers will do whatever they can for their kids. Their spirit is an inspiration.
One final note - they select their own principals!
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At Nelson's House

Here is Nelson's house. Nelson is the principal of the school where we are spending mist of our time. This is where I am staying. My Spanish is getting much better and living with a family is a terrific way to learn about our community. Today we start a full day dialogue with the teachers. This will be a very important day!
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Schools in San Jose las Flores

Here in this picture you can see some of the work that has been done with funds from Holy Trinity High School in Ottawa. The school made a donation from funds collected by the students prior to their trip last March. The money was earmarked for computers, but the school in San Jose las Flores was given the freedom to purchase what they needed. What they needed was the wall you see here that gives the kindergarten students a secure place to learn and play. Computers were still purchased, but not as many as previously planned. Nelson, the principal of the school says that the assistance of Holy Trinity is making miracles happen at the school.
This is what can be achieved when people work in partnership. The next phase of this partnership starts tomorrow when the teachers at the school spend the day with us to scope out what we can do together over the next week and into the future.
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In San Jose Las Flores

We have made it to San Jose Las Flores. Here is Kim and Katie in the town square. Over the next few days we will be living with teachers, eating in the community kitchen and looking for ways to develop partnerships with this great community. Later today we will have our first meeting with teachers and we will meet with community leaders who will talk to us about mining.
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Concertacion des Mujeres

Today, we started by speaking again with Rosa, the current President of CRIPDES. Rosa is pictured here with Katie and Susan from our group.
Rosa spoke about the consortia of women's groups that have come together to work for gender equity in El Salvador. Much work was done in marginalized communities across the country to help women and men learn the importance of treating women with dignity and respect.
In November of 2010 a law was passed by the current Government guaranteeing equality for women. The Government has begun the construction of women's health centers in rural communities. Still there is much to be done to change attitudes and practices in a society that has traditionally seen women as inferior to men. The Concertacion will continue to work on it's three main goals:
1) promotion of women's rights
2) education of women about their rights
3) development of economic initiatives to help women become more independent Tomorrow, we move to San Jose las Flores
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Waking up in San Salvador

Waking up in San Salvador is a sequence of sounds. The first sounds to greet the day are the dogs in the street who bark to maintain their territory. That is followed by a cacophony of various bird calls - some sounding like whips and staplers, others sounding absolutely beautiful. You can hear a rooster far off in the distance. Next, voices and the sounds of trucks and motorcycles. But it's time to get up when the church bells sound at 5:30. We open the curtain and across the street we see our neighbors standing on their balcony, watching the city come to life. Kim Kramer
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

La Mineria Metalica

Today we met a representative of the Mesa National Frente a la Mineria Metalica. Discussions on mining will become a theme throughout this trip. El Salvador is the smallest, most densely populated country in Central America. However there are currently 29 exploration mining projects on hold throughout the country. Mining companies are not allowed to complete their current projects because the Government and the majority of Salvadorans do not think the country can sustain the environmental damage that would result from the exploitation of mineral resources.
El Salvador's clean water resources are scarce. It is heavily deforested. It cannot afford the loss of agricultural land that would result from mining.
As a result of the Government's refusal to allow mining to go ahead, Pacific Rim, a Canadian mining company and the Commerce Group (US) are suing El Salvador for millions of dollars in lost potential profit.
In Cabanas, four environmental activists have been killed. The most recent killing took place only three weeks ago.
You have to ask, if the people and their government don't want mining on their land why is there an issue here? The people of El Salvador have the right to determine their own future. Pacific Rim should accept this and leave.
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UCA, Romero and San Salvador

We visited Oscar Romero's tomb today along with the site of his killing his residence as well as the Jesuit University where the Jesuit priests were killed by the military during the war.
Our first day is full of memories of war. This is very important in setting context for the rest of our trip. We will be living with people who have lived through the conflict and have risen from the ashes. The community of San Jose Las Flores is living in the moment and building for the future. We need to know about the conflicts, the tragedies but we will not remain in the past, we will learn from it.
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Monday, July 4, 2011

Conversations with CRIPDES

Our schedule is a little off, but we managed to get in one meeting today -our introduction to our hosts Rosa and Bernando of CRIPDES.
Our introductory session turned into a two and a half hour conversation that ranged from mining to child soldiers during the war to alternative models of economic development. I am always amazed at the dedication of the Salvadorans who work in organizations like CRIPDES. Both Rosa and Bernando were insurgents during the war - in Bernando's case, he was eight when he got involved.
Both talked passionately about empowering women and youth through community organizing and popular education. While a great deal has been achieved in the 390 communities where CRIPDES is active, Salvadorans face threats from mining, trade policies, water privatization and other schemes.
Miguel, our guide finally had to call this great meeting to a close - both Rosa and Bernando had to leave the city to get back to their communities.
A wonderful encounter, a great way to start.
Tomorrow, more on mining.
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Casa Amistad

We have made it to San Salvador. Our home here is Casa Amistad, a wonderful place to rest and restore. The casa is home to many delegations from Canada and the States. We will be sure to meet people from all over in the next few days. We have already heard that there are two large delegations from Winnipeg that will be coming through in the next few days. We also learned that there us a delegation from Stratford involved in a really interesting project in Suchitito. More on that later.
Now a quick lunch and off to a meeting with CRIPDES.
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Boarding soon

Our group is at the Ottawa airport ready to go. This promises to be a long day, but an exciting one! Newark, Houston then San Salvador. We will be meeting Miguel, our CRIPDES contact tonight at the airport. It will be good to see Miguel - he is our main contact in El Salvador and along with Rene, he has planned out this trip.

Very different this time, we will remain in San Jose las Flores for most of the time and we will be living with families.

This will be a departure from past trips and this will provide us with many more experiences to build future trips on.


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