Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent 1 - Hope

Okay, so my last week's blog wasn't one of my best.  There were a number of reasons - I was tired, I was rushed and I had been feeling a bit hopeless.  The problems in El Salvador are so entrenched and complicated and serious.  There are so many injustices that people live with every day.  It just felt overwhelming and I wasn't ready to share it yet.  I needed some time to process some specific situations and the impact that general life here was having on my soul.  So I cranked the required blog but it didn't gel as well as some others.

Last week there was a conference here of people working with grass roots communities in Central and South America, Mexico and Cuba.  Quite frankly, I was very irritable and found much of it tedious.  I had a huge problem with a number of the accents and found the sessions very hard to follow.  On Friday my boss Gilma  asked if I would support another staff person at an event in the afternoon.  I suspect she sensed my restlessness.   I readily agreed.  When it was time to go, there were some problems with my transportation.  The person I was supposed to go with left without me.  Eventually there was some conversations and they figured out how to get me to the event.  I thought I was going to an event to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against women in Santa Marta, but I ended up at the closing of the Literacy Circles in Sensuntepeque.  I arrived, grumbling to myself, that this was just another example of how little I understand in this culture and I was in a generally foul mood.

I was asked to take pictures.  There were a lot of children present and so I started taking pictures of groups of kids.  I've never done this before and in generally avoid the kids because they don't get my Spanish at all.  However, this was a good day and they laughed at my Spanish and I generally got better, happier pictures.  I would take a picture of a group of kids and show them the picture and then generally there was another looking like they wanted their picture taken.  There was some connection and I realized after a while that I was feeling better.

Then the event started.  It was MC'd by a young man named Denis.  He is quite remarkable to me.  He is 18 and a dedicated, charismatic and passionate community leader and eloquent speaker.  He is a facilitator of a literacy circle in his home community.  He always has a smile and a "hello" for me.  His English does not expand much beyond that, but he really tries to communicate with me, speaking Spanish slowly and clearly.  It is easier now, but he tried really hard when it was really tough to have a conversation with me.  For that reason he will always be very special to me.

Then Juan, the leader of the team that organizes the literacy program, spoke.  He is a teacher and former principal.  He spoke about the importance of being about to read and the worlds that having this skill opens up.  I started to cry.  After feeling hopeless for a while, I had found a little bit of hope.   I thought, no matter what life throws at these people, they now have basic literacy and numeracy skills.  No one can take that away from them.

In the end 140 certificates were presented to people in literacy programs in a number of very small, rural, and poor areas around the ADES office.  There were a lot of older people (50+) who got certificates.   Many of these folks just smiled from ear to ear when their name was called.  They all had children and grandchildren there with them.  I was near the front because I was taking pictures and I was wearing an ADES t-shirt.  I got a number of hugs and thanks you from the participants too.  I hugged back and said "felicitaciones" (congratulations).  There was also some younger people and people in between.  One of the most moving presentations was to a group of people with disabilities.  There are very few services (medical or social) for people with disabilities.  What an accomplishment for the people in this group.  Everyone in the Literacy Program has a story and Carmen the co-ordinator would whisper different things to me as people got their certificates.  So much adversity.  It just makes the successes that much sweeter.

So on  a Friday afternoon, in a well worn, jammed packed meeting room in El Salvador, I found hope.   People and situations can change.  Things can move in a positive direction.  The facilitators come from the same communities as the learners.  Salvadorians are helping Salvadorians, in this small but effective program in rural Northern El Salvadorian.  While ADES receives some money from organizations in Spain to help coordinate the program, this is not a foreign aid program.

Once again I have been reminded that when it all seems hopeless, I need to look around me.  I need to see the people in and around my life.  They truly are amazing and little by little they are making this world a little bit better, a little more just and little fairer for themselves, their children and their communities.  For this opportunity to accompany people in El Salvador, I am deeply blessed.

May you each find hope this week.

Children waiting for the program to begin
Literacy Group Facilitators - Denis is in front with the white shirt

One of the Literacy Circles 

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