The Invisible Hand

Today and yesterday I am in San Salvador, attending the 2nd of 7 workshops that make up the MPR-12 School of Political Formation, which is attended by leaders of NGOs and communities all around the country.  The training is meant to provide a broad understanding of the current social/political/economic situation in the country, and guide participants through questions that lead to each individual developing his/her critiques and ideas for the country.

This month’s topic: Tax reform and Pubic-Private associations.

The public-private association law is one that the United States has been pressuring El Salvador to approve, using development funds (through the millennium fund) as leverage, basically saying “if you don’t pass this law, we won’t be very inclined to give you money through this fund.”

What the law does is opens the door for currently state-run entities to be transferred over to private operation.  Things like water, healthcare, the port, highways, and the national university.  The argument of the right wing (in El Salvador and in USA) is that private-run companies are more efficient and provide better service/products.  But our critique is that privatization means expanding opportunities for the rich to continue getting richer, while putting vulnerable populations at risk.

Let’s take the national university for example.  As a state-run entity, its goal is to provide affordable, quality education.  The monthly dues at this university are around $4, and it is highly competitive with demanding but quality professors.  If it were privatized, chances are the cost would go up, and any profit from the university would go to build up the riches of the owner of the university (who most certainly is already very rich, to be able to afford to have bought the university) But if the university was having problems, wasn’t being managed well, or needed investment, that would fall on the state.

In short, privatization does the following:

  1. Limit accessibility for the poor
  2. Bring more riches to the already rich
  3. Require investment from the state without providing profit to the state

We talk about privatization in the US and here in El Salvador as the answer to inefficiently run state entities.  This kind of thinking comes from a deeply rooted faith in the ‘invisible hand’ of capitalism – that within the capitalist business model, natural occurrences like competitiveness and supply and demand will regulate costs and demand quality service from the entity providing the service or product.  But time has shown that this ‘invisible hand’ plays favorites, and is being well manicured by the rich oligarchy.

So why does the US want so badly for El Salvador to pass this law?  Because it opens the door for foreign entities to come in and provide these services.  The deeper that US companies and institutions have their hands into El Salvador’s pocket, the more the US can control the country.   The US is a big fan of putting at risk the sovereignty of smaller, weaker countries like El Salvador.

Clean

They say Guajoyo is clean, that the epidemicof gang violence has not penetrated this community, but within the nocturnal walls, conversations of the people of Guajoyo suggest otherwise.  Everybody lives in fear; prudent parents don’t let their children out of their sight after dark, and nobody goes to isolated parts alone.  Part of it is the fear of the gangs that control neighboring communities – that is why we can no longer hold dances in the community, because they always attract gang members from San Nicolas who come to start problems with the youth here.  But there is a definite fear of the young people of Guajoyo.

7th and 8th grade boys, at the ripe age to be influenced by or to reject gangs

7th and 8th grade boys, at the ripe age to be influenced by or to reject gangs

They call them imitators, fanatics: those young people who find gangster style and lifestyle edgy and alluring.  They wear baggy clothes and belts with marijuana paraphernalia, and they paint giant “18”s on the school and community buildings.  The 18s (diezyocho) is one of the two gangs that have the most power in El Salvador, and the tactic is too effective to be accidental.  Neighboring communities will be controlled by different gangs – San Nicolas is the MS 13, and Guajoyo is the 18s.  This means that neighbors become enemies, and small groups grow in size and influence in response to the fear of their neighbors, simply because they belong to the opposing gang.

The fanatics in Guajoyo are young people, usually age 14-20, who have this mysterious aura about them, which intrigues younger kids.  Not only that, but adults are afraid of them.  If a group of kids paints a big 18 on a wall, everyone knows who did it, but because of the fear that is associated with gangs, the adults and leaders – including parents – are afraid to say anything to these young people.  If you publicly oppose gang members, you put yourself in danger.  So even though Guajoyo is “clean” – there have not been violent acts here in the community – I would argue that the presence of this silencing fear is as bad as the presence of violence itself.

Different communities respond differently to this kind of situation, and unfortunately most options lead to further problems.  Here in Guajoyo, parents fear for their children and don’t want them to be touched by the influence of gangs, so they tell them to withdraw.  If there is a problem on the soccer field, they tell their son to stop going.  If dances are breeding grounds for gang tension, they stop having them.  If these imitators roam about at night, then parents make sure their kids are in the house before dark, not out spending time with their friends or getting involved in other activities.  But I fear that this kind of withdraw just gives them more power, and creates a vacuum for true gang violence to enter the community.

We say that Guajoyo is clean, we put on a nice face for the outside world, but the truth is that this is a community dirtied by fear, and  I hope the community has the courage to face it rather than withdraw. 

A visit from home

The Austin Delegation (from left to right) Vic, me, Jennifer, and John in front of a map showing immigration routes from El Salvador to the north.

The Austin Delegation (from left to right) Vic, me, Jennifer, and John in front of a map showing immigration routes from El Salvador to the north.

On Thursday, May 9 a group of 3 members from the Austin sister cities committee arrived in El Salvador for a week of basking in, gulping down, and weaving the solidarity that makes up the work of Sister Cities.  I have written in the past about how delegations are very special times for me, full of inspiring moments, renewed energy and enthusiasm, and gratitude for new relationships; and this delegation was all of those things.  But this delegation was also extra special to me, coming from my home in Austin, and coming to my home in Guajoyo.  Needless to say, this week has been fully inspiring and refreshing and fun and exhausting and wonderful.  Our conversations were so rich, and I wish I could just transcribe a few of them here, but my memory doesn’t serve me that well.  So I’ll try the best I can to offer some sort of summary.

"Welcome in the name of all the people of the community of Guajoyo, where you plant a seed that today blooms into a flower that will later become fruit"

“Welcome in the name of all the people of the community of Guajoyo, where you plant a seed that today blooms into a flower that will later become fruit”

The first part of the trip was spent in Guajoyo, 3 days jam packed with meetings, sharing meals in different homes, visiting projects, and even a dip in the Lempa River.  It is so exciting to share a place that has become home with new eyes, because I am able to see it in a new way as well, and what a beautiful sight.  I saw again the warm hospitality and the eagerness to treat new friends with dignity and honor that characterizes Guajoyo.  But mostly I was again impressed by the incredible accomplishments of a community that was started 22 years ago and was made up of people from all over the area who came together with the common mission of starting over with new life after a time of unimaginable death.  As I live my normal day-to-day life in Guajoyo it is easy to forget that 22 years ago this land was barren, there were no houses, no school, no crops, no health clinic, just an abandoned dirt road winding solemnly into the creases of the hills.  Now there is a thriving community of over 600 people, a school that serves 3 communities, a health clinic, a community building complex, a break dance group, a theater troupe,  a mill, fields of various crops, 3 churches, public transportation, and a decent number of houses that are at least rain and wind proof.  And all that accomplished by the efforts of a population of hard-headed communist rebels (at least that’s how they were seen by most of the world around when the war ended) who hardly see a dollar pass through their hands in a day.  Can you believe it?

The young generation in El Salvador.

The young generation in El Salvador.

But there have been and continue to be gargantuan obstacles along the way, especially with the ever-approaching threat of gang violence and social deterioration.  The situation is kind of simple: you have a country full of hardworking people who do not have access to opportunities to work.  There are no jobs and agriculture is quickly crumbling, and it costs more to cultivate a field of corn than the finished crop is worth.  So you have all these people, and so so many young people, who are without options and without hope, and some of them find that through gangs they gain a sense of power and an ability to attain the things they need — money to buy food and clothes and shelter.  And then others faced with this grim future risk their lives to migrate to the United States, where they have to live in hiding but at least they can work and feel productive and save enough money so family members back in El Salvador can buy a bag of beans to eat.  But all these dismembered families created by so many people going north mean that the social fabric that used to be the strength and base of the country is threadbare, and so many are falling through.

The president of the community council and the coordinator of the community mill work together to start the 10 horsepower engine to show off their new mill

The president of the community council and the coordinator of the community mill work together to start the 10 horsepower engine to show off their new mill

And you can see it when you go to a community like Guajoyo.  You see these kids who work their butts off to grow their family’s crops and go to school, and maybe if they’re lucky they get to go to high school, and maybe if they’re really lucky they get to go to the university.  But at the end of the day there is no work in Guajoyo, and the situation for small agricultural producers becomes grimer by the day, and even the possibility of subsistence farming — growing the basic grains consumed by the family — will soon be impossible.  And you realize how huge the need is to have something to work towards, something to give a ray of hope, and that in a community like this the people will grab ahold of that hope and run with it.

That’s why Sister Cities funds small projects, projects that in the scheme of things are not that big.  A few thousand dollars for a corn mill, a couple thousand to outfit a cyber cafe, a few hundred to throw a party commemorating the repopulation of the community.  But these small projects are a huge benefit to the communities.  They create a space around which to work, and they are small footholds on the ever-upward climb that seems to be eternally vertical for this community.  But coming with this delegation and hearing updates on the projects, touring the projects, and having conversations with people from their community about things they are proud of, what they are concerned about, and what they hope out of life, it is clear that these small contributions are hugely impactful.  And that is why an organization like Sister Cities is so beautiful, because imcredible things are done with relatively small amounts of money.  The organization is the heart of what has propelled this community forward, and part of what projects give is something to organize around, to keep the momentum going.

As we were driving to the airport to drop the Austin crew off, we were reflecting on the ways that engaging with the disparities and injustice in the world is a liberating experience.  In the end, the goal of everyone, regardless of where they come from, is to be more alive, and when we engage with the suffering of our neighbors or begin to question the cost of our own comfort, those struggles make us more alive.  But it´s not something you can impose on someone.  I would love to think that anyone who reads this blog might have the same soul-shifting experience that I am having, but I know it is different for everyone.  But I hope that each of us — each of you — is able to engage in the world in some way that makes you more alive and that makes you uncomfortable with the injustice around us.  Because really, if you´re not uncomfortable about something, you´re probably not paying attention.

USA [ooh-sah]

I’m not catholic myself, so I don’t know how much of this is a Latin American thing and how much is a Catholic thing, but you Catholic readers out there can help me out with that.  When someone wants to thank God for something or ask for something, they can hold a vigilia , a vigil, a service at the church that goes late into the night and is full of singing, prayers, rosaries, scripture, etc.

On Sunday Elena, one of the church ladies and one of my host mom’s closest friends, held a vigilia giving thanks that her two sons arrived safely to the United States.  In addition, it was also the birthday of one of the sons; he turned 22 on Sunday.

The majority of families here in Guajoyo have family members in the United States, and it is because of the money those family members send back that this community is able to grow.  Remesas accounted for $3,911,000, a significant sum in a country with a population of just over 6 million.  In Guajoyo, where there is a decent house, it is because it was bought with money from the US or because it was given through a project.  Even for those who are lucky enough to find work here in Guajoyo, it is impossible to earn enough to even dream of building a decent house.  Those who are less lucky live in shacks made of mud and sticks, houses that are prone to a multitude of diseases and health problems.

To a visitor, Guajoyo feels like a rustic paradise.  Life’s needs are simpler, things move at a slower pace, everybody knows everybody, and it seems to exist outside the whirlwind of consumerism.  But I have been here long enough and have talked to enough people to know that what little people do have has been bought with great suffering, and the desire to work and be productive is systematically denied.

When I first came here, one of my goals was to try to talk people out of migrating to the US.  I thought, maybe once they see their community through a stranger’s eyes and learn about the dangers of immigration they will decide to stay here and make things work, become agents of change in their communities.

But I sort of get it now, and I can’t bring myself to try to convince people otherwise anymore.  There is no employment in the area, and young people faced with no viable options to provide for and protect their families turn to gangs.  Anybody who has a good roof over their heads bought it with money from USA, and with changes in economic policies and the political climate, the ability just to put food on the plate is far fetched for many.

So all you can do is hold your breath when yet another of the young people of  Guajoyo start that northward journey.  And when they make it, you light a candle to the God who gives rain to your crops and who puts fruit in the trees, and you thank him.

And we thank Him.

A week (or two) in photos

Folk dance show/competition held at the school in Guajoyo.  Each grade level presented a dance, and the winners were: Kinder 1st place, 2nd grade 2nd place; 8th grade 3rd place!!!

Folk dance show/competition held at the school in Guajoyo. Each grade level presented a dance, and the winners were: Kinder 1st place, 2nd grade 2nd place; 8th grade 3rd place!!!

Chunga and I were the only ladies on the work team of about 15 who made the 1 hour treck up to the spring where water for the communities is filtered and delivered downstream in pipes.  Community members put in hours of work maintaining the system in order to pay the expense of a home water connection.

Chunga and I were the only ladies on the work team of about 15 who made the 1 hour treck up to the spring where water for the communities is filtered and delivered downstream in pipes. Community members put in hours of work maintaining the system in order to pay the expense of a home water connection.

 

Walking bass. Every afternoon in May, the community celebrates Las Flores, thanking Mary, the mother of all, for the earth's bounty.

Walking bass.
Every afternoon in May, the community celebrates Las Flores, thanking Mary, the mother of all, for the earth’s bounty.

 

Carrying the  altar with Mary and the Flowers of May

Carrying the altar with Mary and the Flowers of May

 

At the annual Labor Day March, held every 1st of May in commemoration of the massacre in Chicago, which we in the US don't even celebrate.

At the annual Labor Day March, held every 1st of May in commemoration of the massacre in Chicago, which we in the US don’t even celebrate.

 

At the Labor Day March, thousands upon thousands of people filtered into the central plaza throughout the course of the afternoon, carrying banners and shouting what it is they demand of their nation and their government.

At the Labor Day March, thousands upon thousands of people filtered into the central plaza throughout the course of the afternoon, carrying banners and shouting what it is they demand of their nation and their government.

 

MPR-12 Political Formation School.  Over the course of 6 months in 2 day sessions each month, community members and leaders in a variety of social organizations attend this school to become equipped to be better leaders in their communities and in the country.  Here we are learning about Capitalism and social classes.

MPR-12 Political Formation School. Over the course of 6 months in 2 day sessions each month, community members and leaders in a variety of social organizations attend this school to become equipped to be better leaders in their communities and in the country. Here we are learning about Capitalism and social classes.

 

Quesadillas: a sweet bread made of rice, cheese, whey, and sugar.  The neighbors came running when the smell reached their noses this past Saturday morning

Quesadillas: a sweet bread made of rice, cheese, whey, and sugar. The neighbors came running when the smell reached their noses this past Saturday morning

 

Carrying a load of firewood up the street to the neighbor's house where we borrowed a woodburning oven to make quesadillas.

Carrying a load of firewood up the street to the neighbor’s house where we borrowed a woodburning oven to make quesadillas.

 

Soccer Tournament!  The entire month of May, weekday afternoons at 4 you will find most of the community's youth at the soccer field watching or participating in a "quick soccer" tournament, the final rounds are coming up soon.

Soccer Tournament! The entire month of May, weekday afternoons at 4 you will find most of the community’s youth at the soccer field watching or participating in a “quick soccer” tournament, the final rounds are coming up soon.

 

Teresa, vice-president of the Women's Committee, hands out rolls of chicken wire to women who were selected to receive the material to protect their chickens from disease.

Teresa, vice-president of the Women’s Committee, hands out rolls of chicken wire to women who were selected to receive the material to protect their chickens from disease.

 

Paulina, president of the Women's Committee, makes her point at the Women's Assembly, which was attended by about 70 women.  This committee is in charge of running the community mill, among other projects.

Paulina, president of the Women’s Committee, makes her point at the Women’s Assembly, which was attended by about 70 women. This committee is in charge of running the community mill, among other projects.

Puppies!

Puppies!

 

This weekend was the fourth in a series of 12 theater workshops held for the youth in Guajoyo. The group has collaborated to create their own original work, to be presented to the delegation coming from Austin later this week.

This weekend was the fourth in a series of 12 theater workshops held for the youth in Guajoyo. The group has collaborated to create their own original work, to be presented to the delegation coming from Austin later this week.

 

Defeat

After several blogs that have been very event-based, this one is going to be a bit more reflective, a bit more globalized, a little bit Jesus-y.  So hold onto your pants, everyone.

The Holy Week activities celebrated in Guajoyo were much more in-depth than I had ever experienced, and I really saw easter in a very different way.  It was such an impactful experience that I was left reflecting on it for weeks, and only just now able to express somewhat concretely, because it has to do with a feeling that is so profound that it takes giants to make it budge: hopelessness.

When Jesus was killed, his body lowered from the cross and stowed away in a tomb, it felt a lot like defeat.  All those people who had put their hope in him walked away thinking “well shit, I guess I was wrong.”  1 point for Evil, none for Good.  Jesus, for all his good intentions, was unable to defeat death and the power of the rich/religious/powerful/__insert adjective here__.  They had hoped for a world that was better, but instead, the bad guys won yet again.  If Jesus, the son of God couldn’t defeat the bad guys, what hope did they have?

I have had moments of sheet hopelessness here, overwhelmed by the profundity of the problems that cause people to go hungry and gang violence to rob the lives of youths and corporate greed to rape the earth and leave it like a used paper towel.  Not just moments, weeks, months.  The bad guys keep winning, it feels like.  I wrote in my journal one day that I am fighting in this lucha not because I think it can be won, but because I simply have to fight even for a losing cause if I believe it is a good one.  But I did not see the hope of victory.

But as I was walking down the candlelit road following the body of Christ to be buried, I realized that Good Friday is a day all about that hopelessness, of feeling abandoned by God, of the sinking feeling that Evil will always beat Good.

But then two days later his body was no longer there, and it wasn’t as if Jesus said “Satan, you may have beat me on Friday, but I’ll show you come Sunday!”  No, he had already won when they killed him, it was by dying that he overcame death, it could not touch him.

But for the people at his feet on the cross, or anxiously waiting for the news in their homes, what could his death be interpreted as other than defeat?  But even in what they saw as defeat Jesus had already won.  The places where I feel like Evil is winning, that good is being wrung out and made to be an endangered species, Good is winning.  The faith that Jesus gave us on the cross is that the fight for what is Good is a winning fight, and that even when it looks like defeat, the very defeat is victory.

Here in El Salvador, we’re fighting so that everybody has the same right to healthy food; we’re fighting so that profit will not take priority over clean water; we’re fighting so that young people do not feel the need to take by force and violence within the harmful structures of gangs.  But the rich keep getting richer, the environment keeps getting abused, and people keep being treated like a disposable resource, and what does that mean for the hope that Good will overcome?

Well, what I hope and believe it means is that even where we feel like we’re being defeated Goodness is winning.  I think it has something to do with the fact that where the fight is fought, we’re already winning.  The fact that there are thousands of people in this country who work day in and day out to fight for what is just and right and good for their country and their people is a victory, and the day will come when we see that we’ve been winning all along.

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What people in power think about reality…

Two weeks ago two Sister Cities delegations were in El Salvador at the same time, and took advantage of the coincidence to schedule a meeting with the US Embassy to discuss some important issues.  The 6 gringas from sister cities were met by the press representative for the US ambassador  a representative of US AIDE, and representatives of the Peace Corps.  It was productive in some moments, and eye-opening in others, revealing the kinds of thoughts that people of influence have about this country that has captured my heart.

Mauricio Funes, current president and winner of the 2009 elections.  He is the first FMLN president in El Salvador

Mauricio Funes, current president and winner of the 2009 elections. He is the first FMLN president in El Salvador

First, the gringas came with the request (demand, order…) that US declare neutrality in the upcoming 2014 elections in El Salvador.  The right wing party is highly favored by the United States, largely because it is the party that has historically played the puppet to the United States, supporting trade policies that open doors for US businesses to make money off of El Salvador and maintain a political environment that was pleasing to the US.  Previous governments have publicly stated that if elections in El Salvador did not go in favor of the right wing party, the US would withdraw certain supports.  This kind of threat undermines the sovereignty of El Salvador and continues the cycles of oppression that maintains the rich in power and the poor with nothing.   In 2009 Obama promised that the US would respect the decision made by the Salvadoran people in the elections, and the result was the first president from the FMLN (left wing party formed during the war by guerrilla forces). The good news is that the embassy sees no difficulties in declaring neutrality again, we just hope they are punctual in making that declaration.

Don Tonio of the community council with an elderly community member who has no children to take care of him.  The community works to make sure he has water and tortillas to eat at the very least.

Don Tonio of the community council with an elderly community member who has no children to take care of him. The community works to make sure he has water and tortillas to eat at the very least.

Another key issue the gringas wanted to discuss in this meeting is the US support of the Public Private Association Law, which would open the doors to privatize important public institutions such as water systems, public universities, health systems, and more.  Based on the outcomes of privatization here and other latin american countries in the past, this is the sort of policy that benefits those who are already wealthy and brings suffering to the poor, limiting access to important services needed by all, regardless of income.

Smooth, newly paved highway in San Jose Las Flores, Chalatenango.  This is a major trade route to deliver goods from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

Smooth, newly paved highway in San Jose Las Flores, Chalatenango. This is a major trade route to deliver goods from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

The United States gives large amounts of foreign aid through the Millennium Fund, funds that in El Salvador have generally gone to building better roads (to transport maquila-made products, mining products, sugar cane, etc).  It is a sum of money that the country would regret to lose.  But the US government is now saying that if the Public Private Association Law is not passed, they will not approve funds for the Millennium Funds to El Salvador.  This kind of manipulation undermines El Salvador’s sovereignty, using fear of international pressure to undermine the democratic process.  The representative from the embassy saw no problem with that.  The representative said that since it is US tax payer money, the US has every right to make whatever conditions they want for who will and will not receive the funds.  I wonder if China told us they would only loan us money if the US approved a law allowing Chinese companies to privatize our water and electricity systems if the US would see anything wrong with that…

The US AIDE representative told them her vision for El Salvador.  “37% of El Salvador isn’t suitable for farming, so we don’t see a future in agriculture for El Salvador,” she began.  I chuckled hearing that.  I wonder if she has ever driven across this country or met any of the thousands of farmers for whom agriculture is, as a matter of fact, survival.  What she meant and didn’t say is that she sees more of a future in things like maquilas — large factories that make mass quantities of textiles or parts to be exported and that generally have horrible wages and even worse working conditions.

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Millet harvest

“But what about all the people already in the agricultural sector?” they asked her.  “We’re thinking cocoa,” she responded.  Because having a cash crop — especially the highly controversial, highly exploitative crop of cocoa — has proven a viable economic solution for economically struggling countries. The Peace Corps representative eagerly chimed in to mention the ways that Corps volunteers would be serving the region.  “We’re focusing on instilling a sense of volunteerism and democracy,” she said eagerly and without irony.  But the irony is that, from what I have seen, these people who take communal issues into their own hands and have ownership in the political processes on local, regional, and national levels — and all without pay — know a bit more about volunteerism and democracy than even the best intentioned Peace Corps volunteer.

The community corn mill, run by the totally volunteer-based Women's Committee in Guajoyo

The community corn mill, run by the totally volunteer-based Women’s Committee in Guajoyo

I wasn’t in the meeting myself, but when I heard about all that was said, I was struck by the overwhelming impression that these very important people who make very important decisions know very little about the people in the country they are making decisions for.  The United States continues to exert great power in El Salvador, in more ways than are directly visible.  These people do have influence.

But if they had lived in Guajoyo for a few weeks they would realize that it’s not transitioning to export cash crops that will help poor farming families, it’s the ability to grow the food they themselves eat rather than being bought out by foreign mega-companies.  They might realize also that turning services like water, electricity, and university education into a business means turning them into yet another monopoly card for the uber-rich of El Salvador to control and benefit from, pulling the greatest profit possible, whatever the cost.  They might even notice that the fact that small communities come together to put in a system of potable water or to decide how to deal with community security issues or to educate their neighbors about health threats means that these kinds of systems might know a thing or two about democracy and volunteerism.

So what is it that happens then, do only ignorant people make it into positions of power, or does their power make them ignorant?

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Gilma

Last week I rode a motorcycle for the first time, bouncing along the dirt roads that wrap around pastures and sugar cane fields and cinderblock houses where people swung low in their hammocks greeting the day.  I was on my way to visit Gilma, the wife of the late Freddy, a CRIPDES staff member who was killed last year as an innocent victim of the senseless violence that plagues El Salvador.

Gilma and her daughter

Gilma and her daughter

I know few details about Freddy’s death; it is still fresh enough and the unanswered questions still hang in the air like a stale odor.   I do know that as he was waiting for the bus one day when he was caught by a bullet fired by someone that had nothing to do with him.  He left behind a wife and three children, and an overwhelming sense of shock at the senseless of his death and uncertainty about how to carry on.

But the thing about people who are organized is that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, and Freddy’s death was felt by all of CRIPDES and the communities he worked with.  CRIPDES and other organizations/groups have worked together to support Gilma and the kids to overcome the shock of the sudden necessity of functioning as a one-parent family.

Thanks to funds given through Sister Cities, CRIPDES and CORDES have helped Gilma install a small fish pond in front of her house, an enclosed chicken coup, a new latrine, and they have helped her diversity and fortify her production of all sorts of fruits and veggies for consumption and for selling so she and her family can continue to survive.

But the thing that Gilma and Luis kept repeating over and over is that these projects don’t make life easier, they bring more work.  That is something that not all recipients of projects are aware of, that things that are given bring with them a whole new workload.  Gilma will now have 30 or so hens to take care of, fish to change the water for and feed and make sure they don’t overpopulate, more crops to keep up with and manage, not to mention the labor she puts in to building the projects themselves.

And maybe the immense increase in workload has been a help in itself for Gilma, who deals daily with the weight of grief.  The business of maintaining these projects propels her forward, gives her something to hope for.  She has an air of strength about her, from the force in her arms to the intensity of her eyes, and I know that this is one project that is given to the hands of someone who is more than capable.