Today on the pickup ride from Guajoyo down to San Nicolas, at one stop the truck suddenly would not shift into gear. “The truck won’t move. It wants a beer” said the driver, with the laugh that spreads crinkles from the corners of his eyes. A few moments later, a beer appears from somewhere and he’s dumping it into the engine from the cabin of the truck, and sure enough, it shifted into gear and we went along our way.
Everything has a solution.
Monday was the 8th day of the month, and every 8th the Junta Directiva – community council – meets along with representatives of each committee to discuss current projects, and often to receive visitors from other organizations – like CRIPDES or the Ministry of Health – to update them on what is going on in Guajoyo, or for the visitors to update Guajoyo on upcoming opportunities.
Like many organizations, there is a committee for everything. There is one for water, youth, women, war veterans, health, pastoral care, and others that I don’t even know they exist. Whenever there is a particular issue, or the community sees that a particular area needs special attention, they create a committee. I have been impressed by the amount of initiative that members of these committees take on.
Carlitos, for example, is one of the scholarship recipients. Every Saturday he gets on a bus at the break of dawn to ride into San Salvador to attend classes all day and return in the evening. On Sundays, he dedicates the entire day (except the few hours in the afternoon when he plays in the weekly soccer game) to collecting people’s water payments. When there is work to be done – like there is now with the non-functioning water system – he heads up work teams, and on days like yesterday spends from 6am until the evening organizing and putting his own sweat and muscle into making improvements for the community.
Others are equally dedicated, Don Tonio, whose house I am living in, is the president of the War Veterans Committee, but he is often the default person to convoke people to take advantage of opportunities, such as the ALBA loans that are being offered this month. After working hard all day, he gets on his bike with a megaphone and rides up and down the streets letting people know about the chance to apply for a low-interest, subsidized ALBA loan, or if that doesn’t work, going door to door to those who he knows would benefit from such an opportunity. It is thankless, unpaid work, and joining a committee or taking on leadership is a huge responsibility and I have been impressed by the willingness of the community to step up to that responsibility.
But there is always the frustration, and I often hear people in the community saying “estamos fregados,” because it is always the same people who do all the work, and others in the community expect to benefit without participating in the organizational process. They are too busy with the demands of their own lives, or many women’s husbands won’t let them participate, or they simply are intimidated by the amount of responsibility getting involved requires.
As someone with a history of being involved (sometimes over-involved), I understand the sentiment. I know the frustration of feeling like I’m the only one doing any work, and no matter how enthusiastic I may be about opportunities to make things happen, the group of people dedicated to pursue those opportunities is always small.
But I also see a quiet humility in Don Francisco, the president of the Junta Directiva and one of the foundational members of the community since the war. I don’t know when he has time to do work for himself – cultivating corn and millet so his family can survive – because every time I see him he is working in service to the community, or to the sector, or to the department, or to the country. He is on all kinds of committees and juntas and assemblies and who knows what else, not to mention coaching one of the soccer teams. He is never rushed, in fact he is one of the slowest talkers I have known, but he has made peace with the fact that he is one of the leaders of the community, which means that he will labor so that others will benefit.
We talk a lot about development of leaders here, of securing the future of the communities by building up leaders, and I think the humility that Don Francisco lives is one of the most foundational qualities of a good leader.
But as I reflect on this, I realize how difficult it is to give of oneself in US culture. Every moment of the day is claimed by individualism – who among us (excluding the privileged class) has the luxury of spending multiple days of the week doing unpaid work? And who among the privileged class who does have that luxury do so, or do we rather work for the benefit of our families and ourselves, or for thanks or for praise? Our extra, free time is what we have to offer to community service, but here, where the days are longer and the clock is less oppressive, service can be a priority.
I don’t mean to say that it is easier to be a public servant in El Salvador, because I certainly believe that it is a grand sacrifice here as much as in the US. But I do admire and respect the culture that makes space for such a sacrifice.