Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Say no to US intervention in the Salvadoran elections - Sign the petition!

The Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marisol Arqueta, is already lobbying the US to intervene in the upcoming Salvadoran elections.

In her speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), last September 18th, she stated that "Losing El Salvador (if the opposition wins) will be a lose-lose situation for the national security of both El Salvador and the United States". She exhorted the US to "do more" and to "pay close attention".

Please sign the petition asking President Saca:
  • To ensure that public employees do not use their positions to influence public opinion on who should win the elections;
  • To ask the Foreign Affairs Minister to explain her statements;
  • To respect the sovereignty of the Salvadoran people to choose their leaders freely.
To read or listen to the Minister's speech, please visit the AEIs website and click on "Events", then "Event Materials", "Past Events", and "The perils of populism: Hot spots in Latin America".
SHARE Foundation is collecting signatures that we will send to President Saca. If you want to sign SHARE Foundation's petition, please contact the SHARE Foundation and list your name, city, and state at sharedc@share-elsalvador.org or call us at 202-319-5542 by Friday, October 10, 2008.

Para la carta en Español, visitenos en nuestro sitio de web (www.share-elsalvador.org)

Lead contamination hurts the poor

In the small community of Sitio del Niño, the inhabitants are living in a contaminated environment. The source of this contamination stems from the battery production of the company, Baterías de El Salvador (Record). Lead from the battery production has polluted the water, the air, and the surrounding environment of the community. Thus, the health security in the community is highly threatened.

Water is a vital necessity for daily life, and is crucial for health and sanitation. Tests of the water carried out by the department of environment indicate that the level of lead in the water was three times above the permitted level by international standards. Unfortunately, the lead from the fabric has spread out through the whole ecosystem. This means that soil, vegetation, and houses are infected by lead. Researchers from the University of El Salvador measured that soils and houses located in a 700 perimeter from the fabric contained levels of lead from ten to fiftheen times higher than the permitted level.

The health impact of this contamiation is serious. The department of health informs that 120 children have proven high levels of lead in their blood. The total number of affected people is not verified, but estimates tell that the majority of the 1500 people in the community are affected. The health consequences varies between people, but children seems to be most vulnerable to the contamination. Children suffers from headache, pain in the stomach, nausea, among others. More long-term consequences are belated learning abilities, anemia, and even death.

This is specifically hard for the poor due to several factors. They cannot afford remedies preventing them from the contamination, like water in bottles. It is not feasible for everyone to purchase health services. The government does not prioritize the community although the situation for the people is grave and they have proven results carried out by the departments.

Water can only be obtained from wells, due to the lack of potable water in the area. Boiling this water does not remove particles from metals like lead. Consequently, the people are forced to use this water in their daily life because water bottles are normally too expensive for them. This means that they will have contaminated water through their food, their washing, etc.

Even if an increasing number of people has received treatment for their injuries caused by contamination, this is not an opportunity easily accesible for everyone. Not everyone can afford it.

Despite the fact that the fabric was shut down a year ago, the inhabitants are still living in their environmentally degraded community. The government has not launched any measures to move the people out of the area. There are actually large areas of unused land in the country, but nothing happens. In addition to the lead contamination, there are also a large portion of toxic waste dumped by the fabric. None of these toxics have been removed by the authorities.

The battery company's leadership consisted of several members from the influential Lacayo family, which is currently escaping persecution from Interpol. The former finance minister Miguel Lacayo served as the director of the company, but the arm of the judiciary has in a strange manner managed to miss him. The case is now moving slowly forward in the judicial system. The judge has now prolonged the investigation of the case with six months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

12 year old Theresa Reflects on her SHARE Delegation

Looking out at the dim city lights announcing that we were close to landing in San Salvador, I felt a surge of excitement. This would be my first trip out of the country: my first time in a nation where the language was different from my own, where I was told we would encounter shocking poverty, the kindest of people, and extreme weather, where the population had been scarred by the brutality of war and violence. Was I afraid? Uncertain? Some of each, truthfully, but primarily thrilled to have the chance to immerse myself in a different lifestyle; so much looking forward to meeting the people, practicing my Spanish, and just having an adventure. And what a wonderful adventure it was!
Our time in Nueva Trinidad was, in my opinion, the best half of the trip by far. From the moment the stuffy van pulled into the village center, greeted by a crowd of smiling people, I could feel that these people were special. The second day in the village we took a hike up to see an area that was threatened by mining. Though armed only with the meager vocabulary I had acquired in my elementary and middle school Spanish classes, my sister and I were able to strike up a small conversation with some of the girls. Mostly it was us just asking them what their favorite color or animal was, or if they played soccer, or telling them about our pets at home, but it we found that the unpretentiousness of our exchange didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what we were saying (we could have been talking gibberish for all we knew) or that we were Americans or for that matter that we just seemed so different. We were just talking, and listening. And from that simple interaction we became friends.
Also in the village we participated in visits with the elderly. It was interesting yet so heartwrenching to hear their stories: of their families, of the violence they had witnessed, of their struggle to resettle in Chalatenango after the war and the present hardships that they faced every day. On Sunday during the procession of Corpus Christi in Arcatao, I found myself another friend― a fearless young 8-year-old, Cecilia, who had attached herself to our group like a barnacle and followed us throughout the day. Again, I was in a situation where I knew barely a phrase or two in the native tongue, yet communicated so much with this girl that I found tears in my eyes when she finally had to leave.
If I have learned about or witnessed one important thing during this trip it is the power and strength and beauty of the human spirit, discovered within ourselves there and in the Salvadoran people. On our delegation I felt so content in such an entirely different place because the people made it so; with their bright smiles and deep understanding, their overly generous accommodations and hospitality, their kindness to total strangers. Just talking, even if neither side could understand the other, bridged the cultural barrier immediately. What amazed me too was just their unimpaired joy. These people, who had experienced so many horrors, had so much hope for the future, were so organized and strong! Their joy and optimistic outlook on life inspired me. Even my just smiling at a frowning toddler in the church caused him to shriek with laughter and begin chortling. One smile lead to another among the children― within five seconds of my breaking a grin they would all be beaming back at me.
While talking with some people upon our return, I encountered the query of, “Did you do any mission work, like build houses or anything?” Besides a small water testing procedure, I realized, no, we hadn’t done much physical labor. One important thing about this delegation, I had recognized, that made it as great as any mission trip, was that the purpose of our trip was not to do, but to be. In our venture we had not built a school or worked in a clinic, offered our solutions to their problems or acted as the helpers. We had met people, and listened to their stories, just to be fellow humans alongside each other. And I think that is what created a bond just as powerful as if we had provided physical assistance.
Definitely this interaction was the most dynamic element of our time in El Salvador. From Cecilia’s curious questioning about what everything, from a butterfly to the month of November, was in English, to the tearful goodbyes at 4 am to our bus driver Santos at the airport, I feel like we connected and shared with these people so much. My memories of the time in and the people of Nueva Trinidad will always be in my heart, until the next time I visit El Salvador when our friendships will be renewed in joy!

Monday, September 15, 2008

US presidential candidates on immigration issues

With an estimated 2 to 3 million Salvadorans currently in the US (both documented and undocumented combined), US policy on immigration is an issue of great interest and concern to those of us with connections to communities in El Salvador and Salvadorans living in the US. The US Salvadoran community constitutes among one third of the overall El Salvadoran population.

In an ad from the McCain campaign, Obama is accused for not staying on the side of the immigrants. The new ad is launched in battleground states with a significant number of hispanic voters. Obama and the Senate Democrats are also blamed for the immigration reform failure because of their "flawed" immigration policy.

But a closer look upon the candidates immigration policy programs, shows that the differences in policy are small. In addition, the candidates have an identical voting record on these issues from last year. The major issues for both candidates in the immigration question are border security, tougher stance on employers hiring illegal immigrants, helping undocumented immigrants into the society, and reducing the wall of bureaucracy.

The candidates will also promote family reunification and facilitate work opportunities for immigrants in sectors where labor is needed. Sen. McCain has made his plan on the latter issue more detailed than Sen. Obama and has specified worker programs for high-skilled and low-skilled workers. Sen. Obama states that he wants immigrants to fill wholes in the economy where labor is demanded.

On the issue of family reunification, Sen. Obama has been more promotive than Sen. McCain. Sen. Obama has already introduced some amendments which emphasize the importance of reunification. However, he does not present specific means to solve the problem. Sen. McCain has put this issue at the bottom of his program, and provides a fairly short description of it. Differences between the candidates can thus be seen in their priority of these means.

Nevertheless, it could be difficult to clearly point out the candidate whose program is best designed to take care of El Salvadoran immigrants and their fellows back in El Salvador. Remittances from El Salvadoran immigrants are imperative for their familiares back home, and improved working conditions for these immigrants could be of great value for them both. Separated families living on each side of the Mexico Gulf can be a tough experience, especially for children. Facilitating the process of family reunification can lead to increased stability, safety, and happiness in the lifes of those people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SHARE Photographer´s "Faces of El Salvador" Photocollage

Click below to see photographer Patrick Nau´s photocollage. The photos are taken from his summer 2008 SHARE delegation experience in San Salvador and the community of Ellacuría. Enjoy!

(Or search "Faces of El Salvador" at youtube.com)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Josh from Shawnee, KS on Learning in El Salvador

As many Good Shepherd parishioners know, our parish has had a sistering relationship with a Salvadoran community, El Buen Pastor for over 20 years. Through this we send support, both financial and spiritual, to the people of the community as well as delegations of local parishioners to El Salvador to experience what it is like living in a small, impoverished, rural community in the Salvadoran countryside and grow in brotherhood with a community so far away. Just recently I was one of the delegates who traveled to El Salvador and got to experience the country — everything from the heart-warming welcome of the Salvadoran people, to the grim reality of the mass poverty and violence that plagues the country. Looking back on this, I realize that this experience has changed my life, and the only thing left for me to do is speak to those who have not gone to El Salvador about the experience I had with our brothers and sisters in El Buen Pastor.

Our delegation spent three and a half days in the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador. This is the largest city in El Salvador and where we saw some of the true beauty of the country, as well as some of the devastating national problems that the people in El Salvador face on a daily basis. One of the things that stuck out the most is the different types of housing all over the country, from brick one-story houses to small tin and aluminum shacks that litter the green countryside. Seeing such warm, compassionate and strong people living without common luxuries that I take for granted such as running water or looking out the window of the bus and seeing hundreds upon hundreds of small shacks built out of aluminum and other trash really got me thinking about what it would be like to live in El Salvador and not have so many of the things that I have. It was very touching just to look outside at a dilapidated, poorly built house and know that an entire family lives there. It made me want to bring justice to these people who have no hope of rising up in the world without the help of others.

Another very important part of our trip to El Salvador was going to El Buen Pastor and living with the people who are so close to many people of Good Shepherd parish. Some of the community members had previously been to Good Shepherd and all of the members were very welcoming and always gave all they could to make sure we were comfortable as guests. Seeing such great, amiable people working together with so little materialistically but so much spiritually really touched me in a deep way. It showed me that you don’t have to have a lot of fancy things to be happy. These people are a true testament to working for brotherhood and solidarity with each other. Their community was one of the tightest knit communities I have ever experienced. They take care of each others’ kids and help each other with work in the community. It made me wonder why communities and neighborhoods in the United States aren’t as close-knit and caring as El Buen Pastor.

Overall, what I’ve learned from my trip to El Salvador is that the Salvadoran people still need our help, and they have so much to teach us about hospitality and brotherhood. Going to a different culture and seeing how these people live has really showed me how much we, as cultures, need each other. We all must learn from each other and help out as much as we can. We owe it to the people of El Salvador as well as ourselves. We cannot forget about those who live far away because they need our help and have so much more to show us.