Despite the title of today's blog, I want to start off with accomplishments...As part of my responsibilities as an "Overseas Personnel" of the United Church of Canada, I am requested to annually write 4 "Letters for Overseas". This is a way to share with a broader audience within the Church about my experiences in El Salvador. I am deeply honoured that my first letter is currently posted on the front page of the United Church web site (www.united-church.ca). Please take a look, read it and share the information. People in El Salvador desperately need Canadians to know about the mining issues here and to be talking about them in Canada. These are not only issues here. The front page of the Toronto Star today (May 25th) has a story about the horrific impact of Barrack Gold in Tanzania. The vast majority of the mining companies around the world are Canadian, a fact I was not aware of prepare for my work here.
The situation for staff at Radio Victoria has worsened. Death threats continue to be received and there are lots of other actions taking place with the aim of intimidating and creating fear. After living with this for several weeks peoples nerves are becoming raw. There is a international campaign underway to both solidify international support and to raise money for increased security measures and to relocate one family temporarily to another country. For more information read the English language blog - Voices from El Salvador (http://voiceselsalvador.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/radio-victoria-needs-your-help/). Despite all of this the mostly youth and young adults who work at Radio Victoria are continuing on their same path, staying true to their beliefs and their principles.
This week I had the opportunity to attend a forum with Supreme Court Justice Dr. Florentin Melendez, who is an expert in the Constitution of El Salvador. The Supreme Court of El Salvador has 15 Justices who work in 4 areas - criminal, civil, administrative and constitutional law. The 4 Justices in the "sala de constitutional" are very well known in El Salvador because it is clear that their allegiance is to the Law. They have made a number of rulings that have upset a number of powerful people. There is a campaign in progress that says "I support the Magistrates in the Constitutional Area of the Supreme Court" as part of a process to keep them safe. Dr. Melendez spent his Saturday morning explaining the human rights enshrined in the Constitution to a group of about 200 people from rural villages. His presentation, was clear, simple and understandable explaining to very poor farmers what their rights are. I found the whole situation fascinating. Again, I was deeply impacted by the passion, knowledge and commitment of Dr. Melendez in the face of many, many challenges.
This is part of what it means to accompany. I am "tagging along", learning a lot and then sharing it with you. I am not "doing" much but I sure am learning. Many people will not have the opportunity to live in El Salvador and so part of my job of accompanying is helping you to know the people, places and issues here. My colleagues at ADES are thrilled about my "Letter from Overseas" being posted on the UCC. It is important to them to know that people around the world are learning about the mining challenges here. This sharing about El Salvador with people from Canada is part of accompanying. However, part of accompanying is also part sharing with people in El Salvador about the culture of Canada. A very small example, I received peanut butter in a care package from home. I have been enjoying peanut butter toast for breakfast for the past two weeks. Every day I ask my house mates if they want to try some. One day Alex, said yes. He ate his toast and said, so would you eat anything else after this? In El Salvador, breakfast is the "full-meal deal" - eggs, beans, cheese, tortilla or bread, cream and coffee. Toast hardly seems like a meal. This too is accompanying.
This past week was a week of many "firsts":
*I rode in the back of a pick-up truck...not very far, not very fast and I sat down, I refused to sit on the side as many people do here. It was very pleasant. It was dark, the stars were lovely and there was a beautiful breeze. Apparently people here like the back for all these reasons and at the same time they know that it is not my culture to ride in the back, so I always get offered cabin seating. I just wanted to have this experience.
*I rode on a motorcycle...It was a small motorcycle and once again, not far and not fast. Yes I was scared and no there is not a picture!
*I stayed in the house in Guacotecti alone for one night. I was glad that two of my colleagues were in the house next door. I felt safe, but I am always glad to know that there is someone else around in case of a big insect or animal or house issues!
*I went to the Immigration Office and received my first Visa extension. As of Friday, I will have been in El Salvador for 90 days and that was the expiration of my first Visa! I have to say, I was treated much better by the Salvadorenos than the Canadian Embassy treated the woman who wanted to a visa to participate in a United Church Conference in Canada.