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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Last post from Sister Shelley

A final note from Sister Shelley to the staff back home in Ottawa

Well here we are on our second last. Today is a visit to the cathedral where the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero is located and the rest of the day at the beach.

All are gone except me and one kid from Trinity who is sick! I am staying home to kid sit. Most have been sick but with a strenuous schedule, extreme heat, culture and the lack of what we are used to on all accounts has probably accounted for this. Myself and one other teacher from Trinity and a couple of kids have not been affected so far. Cross your fingers.

The trip has been exceptional as a learning experience. Last evening during our reflection time the kids were concerned about the “stupid” questions they will be asked when they return home. How does one communicate an experience like this? It is not a holiday just because it is taking place in a southern country. It is difficult. It is heart-wrenching and it causes each to reflect on what is really necessary for life. How does one communicate what it is like to experience a people who create life, sustain life and nurture its growth and development by ensuring that all are included, all are important and all are equally loved by God? How does one communicate the experience of a community that, in many ways, does in a normal day much of what we do, yet at the same time have absolutely nothing except for the food they grow to eat, the clothing that is donated to wear and the play they engage in that is creative as they do not have the “toys” to use normally necessary for such entertainment? How do you communicate the experience of the youth they have met in both communities? Youth who get up at 4:30 a..m to help in the fields before school, who come back at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast then head to school from 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. and after that they spend time in groups completing their homework then return home to help again in the fields or in their “house.” (Houses are a relative term!) People here go to bed at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. at the latest. How do you communicate the experience of listening to the hopes and dreams of so many young people who would love to go to university but know it is beyond their reach? Their parents are subsistence farmers and the youth live with the reality they, too, may well become the same.

Our kids experienced the reality of engaging with their peers who are as intelligent, articulate, hopeful,  with dreams and plans as they have, BUT have none of the opportunities our kids have. So . . . they return hopefully changed. They return hopefully eager to keep the experience alive by becoming active agents of change. Margaret Mead said something to the effect that it only takes a small group of committed people to make change and that in fact  is the only thing that has ever worked..

So, yes, it has been a wonderful trip, but is it “fun?” That depends on how you define the word fun. We have lived with dirt everywhere, lack of water, creepy crawlies, heat, fatigue, inability to communicate as we would like to,  etc., etc. But we have shared life with people have welcomed us so openly and warmly, people who have told us this is now our home and we are welcome here anytime. And what was asked of us? To remain in solidarity, to share THEIR story of hope, of longing, of a story filled with the power of a God who suffers with the poor and the power of community!

The group has just left for the beach. They are unable to go to the cathedral Miguel has just informed us as the former rebel forces have taken it over  in protest of the many abuses of the people and injustice and the lack of movement on these many issues.  There has been an incidence with the Archbishop of San Salvador thus the reason for the takeover. Story best left out of an email! Enough to say there are right wing and left wing the world over!

Love, Shelley

Monday, February 20, 2012

Last day in El Salvador

Jasmine C.
So today is the last day here in El Salvador. After all we have been through, I feel that this trip was worth while. Even though many of the groups that talked to us were from different places, they all shared the same goal and vision that they wish one day will become reality. They all believe that with the help with all of their community, they can recreate their home and give their youth a brighter future.
For example, the organization at San Salvador, called Cripdes, assists other organizations to create scholarships and different youth programs so that they may be able to create path to their goal. They also have programs for women. Cripdes and its local community partners work really hard to create a better future for many people, as does the committees in San Jose and Cinquera. When I get back, I know what I`m going to tell everyone at home. We can all work together and build a better vision for everyone.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Here, education is not wasted.

Here is the latest blog post from the students of Holy Trinity and St. FX

Education. In Western culture, it is as commonplace and taken for granted as the weather, yet it's finer points are debated endlessly in our assemblies and parliaments. We quibble over school hours, which extra-curricular activity should get funding, which books to buy and study. For our students, it's a yawn-filled rite of passage, redeemed only by their friends and the occasional interesting course. It's a precursor to the rest of our lives, a prologue that everyone must read before properly beginning their tale.

But how often do we consider the state of education elsewhere in the world? In El Salvador, education isn't merely an ordeal that must be endured to attain your chosen career. It's far more than that. It's the faint, vulnerable hope for a better future, an escape from poverty and physical labour, a path to salvation. Here, students don't come to class baked, ignore homework, or reject the concept of studying and working hard for a better grade. Here, all homework is mandatory to avoid failure, studying is essential and exhausting levels of work are never in question. Here, students toil and pray that all their labour will be enough, that their dreams will finally be fulfilled and their families will no longer have to go hungry.
Here, education is not wasted.

The primary junior school is San Jose las Flores

Sister Shelley in Cinquera

More information is now coming on on the Holy Trinity St. Francis Xavier trip. In this blog, I have included a short video clip from the students and part of a message from Sister Shelley after their visit to Cinquera.

 Much has changed in Cinquera. Wi-fi being one nice addition. Another is a new museum depicting their history and struggle.
But what I really want to share with you is a meeting we just completed with their youth reps on the community organizing committee. Last year they were just about to run out of scholarship money and were so worried that their students would not be able to complete their year. Then our money arrived from SFX and 20 students were able to complete their year of which 4 graduated.
I cannot impress upon us all how important our contribution is.
In Latin America education is not just a hope and a fulfillment for an individual. It is also gift for the community! These students all return to the community and participate in it's growth and development. Thus the computer grad established the system here, the agricultural grad develops sustainable
Land for the people to own and grow crops to feed their families, the communications grad has developed a radio station- great for politics and ensuring the FMLN get elected next month! The tourism grad has developed packages and works with tour guides who will bring tourists to this Eco-friendly area of which it is. All goes back to the community! So please bake those cakes this weekend
as this community and it's people need you. I cannot thank you enough! You are their partners! I just get to travel to a continent that I love!
The kids are great and "are getting it!"
By the way, all the scholars pay back 50% of their loan which provides more scholarships for others.
Back to San Salvador tomorrow.

Love, Shelley

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Our students are back in El Salvador!

Students from Holy Trinity High School and St. Francis Xavier (Ottawa) are back in El Salvador.  Here is an excerpt of the material they are currently recording

Tuesday Night (by Melissa): Tonight we went to the dance at the town square that was raising money for the St. Valentines Festival on the 19th . After the dance, when we were dripping of sweat, I headed over to the park to play with Fernando, Nelson's son (Nelson is the principal of the school in San Jose Las Flores). Playing on the see-saw reminded me of the theme song of the 2010 winter Olympics ''I believe''. I find the whole song relates to the El Sal experience, but these verses in particular:

You willed me to be all I can be
now nothing can stop me
I believe in the power that comes
From a world brought together as one
I believe together we'll find
I believe in the power of you and I.

The kids at the park willed it to be the best I can be. Seeing their little smiling faces gave me an unstoppable amount of determination and motivation. People from different countries coming together to do such a simple activity together like playing in the park showed me that we have brought the world together. Through interaction with others, we have the power to make a change.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Where are we heading...

    Yesterday, I put a note out to our e-mail list to over forty people who have expressed interest in Compadres y Comadres or who have gone in the past.  A really good group!

    two of our participants from last year - Katie and Susanne
    In the note, I let everyone know that we won't be going to El Salvador this year.  We simply do not have enough people able to commit at this time.  We really need at least five people to make this financially viable.

    Not this year.

    I received some very nice notes today from past and future participants expressing their regret that we won't be going.  I have to say - no worries!

    We have a really good concept and we work with exceptional people here in Canada and in El Salvador.  When you work with good people, good things eventually will happen - just not yet.

    I have to say that the experience last year really changed me.  I hope I was able to express this adequately in the blog posts, but it was a transforming experience.  Living with the teachers and sharing their stories was really special.  It reminded me a little of the trips we used to do with students in the Dominican.  You really learn a great deal when you live and eat with families.  In some way, you become part of their household and part of their story.

    Nelson's house, where I lived

    So, we will do this next year.  I am confident that we will have some great people with us in a year from now.  We always have some irons in the fire that might help us move to a more sustainable program.

    We have been talking with St. Paul's University and our school board for over a year now about the possibility of offering an additional qualification credit for taking part in the program - once this link is firmly established we will be able to offer something very attractive to our Catholic teachers in Ontario.

    We will also be presenting Compadres y Comadres at a number of gatherings and conferences in the Spring.  As we do this, we will be opening up this experience to brand new audiences.  

    We have a really good idea - we may need just a bit more time.

    So, thanks for all the kind notes, but don't despair - we will have a trip and some of you will be flying to El Salvador before you know it!

    As for me, I will be off to Guatemala to give my Spanish a good workout!

    back soon!

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Looking to the future - making connections

    I spent a good part of the day today with Elia Saikaly, a true adventurer with a passion for connecting with people through grand adventures.  He has climbed Everest several times and has climbed mountains on most continents.  Elia's stories are truly inspiring, but he never loses his ability to connect to the individual.  Today at the end of the day, students, even at the grade 1 level were truly thankful that they had had the opportunity to hear his stories.

    Elia on his last adventure
    You don't always hear that kind of appreciation from kids that young.

    The ability to connect is a true gift, maybe one of the most important gifts that one can possess.

    There is a link, I think, between what Elia did today at our school and what I experienced last summer when we were in El Salvador.  What passed between us was something special.  It involved the telling of stories, sometimes very painful, but stories that needed to be shared.  A true story that is shared is a gift, it brings people together in ways that can never be forgotten.  Once you share these stories your life is never the same.  Your life path changes.

    I think what happened to me today as I listened to Elia was something special.  In some way, it was like being back in El Salvador as I listened to the stories of quiet courage from the teachers of San Jose las Flores.  I really think that a bond was created then that I really can't go back on.  They shared something essential to what makes them who they are.

    I have to go back.

    If there are people who want to come with me that is great.  But even if there is no group, I have to honour the connections I made to the people of San Jose las Flores.  Maybe there will be others who haven't heard about our experience who still want to come.

    you have to listen to the stories

    Maybe students from the University of Ottawa where I will be speaking in a few weeks.  Maybe it will be other teachers attending the EOCCC conference in April.  Whoever it is, it is important to keep going back, keep making the connections.  That is what we are about.

    As Oscar Romero quoted:

    This is what we are about.
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promises.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities

    Our seeds will grow some day.

    Thanks Elia for your inspiration!