Friday, October 1, 2010

On Beginning at SHARE

This reflection was written by Bethany Loberg, our new Grassroots Sistering Coordinator.  Bethany writes about her first few months at SHARE with our summer delegations.

I arrived in El Salvador in the midst of Tropical Storm Agatha and began at SHARE the last day of May. My new room and various other parts of Casa Clara had flooded, and visits out to the various regions the SHARE Grassroots program partners with hung in the air due to intense flooding. My house mates and I knew the flooding at our house was only a minor nuisance compared to communities settled on flood planes and families living in houses cobbled together from sheets of tin and cardboard boxes.

In spite of being greeted by torrential downpours and the resulting national emergency, I felt excited to begin at SHARE, as I saw coming SHARE as a continuation of a path that has called me for much of my life. Social justice and human rights have caught my attention for as long as I can remember. I became more and more drawn to U.S. Foreign policy towards Latin America in particular from eighth grade on, through my participation in the School of the Americas protest in Ft. Benning Georgia, and the local SOA Watch group. 

I also went to Nicaragua when I was fifteen, on a Witness for Peace teen delegation exploring the economic impacts of globalization on the Nicaraguan people. Staying with a Nicaraguans in their homes and learning directly about issues I had only read about broke me open and hit me deeper than I thought possible. I knew from then on that I wanted to work with delegations in Central America.

I first came to El Salvador in the summer of 2007, through CRISPAZ's Summer Immersion Program in which I lived with a family in a rural community and accompanied a local development organization. I returned half a year later for an eight month internship. And now I find myself drawn back once again.

Upon returning I found myself whisked into a whirlwind of activity, immersing myself in SHARE's work, history and vision, planning and accompanying delegations, and visiting our incredible counterparts. At the same time, returning has been a long slow walk of making new friends, learning new bus routes, renewing old friendships, missing my family dearly, finding a rhythm. Even though I am returning to a place that is somewhat familiar, transitions are always a process. Each time I move, I am reminded of the importance of reaching out and weaving a web of support, and establishing healthy patterns for myself.

I began this summer's whirlwind planning and accompanying an overlapping series of delegations. Following a flurry of phone calls, emails, and itinerary adjustments, together Danielle and I welcomed groups from Cretin Derham Hall (CDH) in St. Paul Minnesota, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Milwaukee, and Eastern Michigan University. Each group brought its own flavor and energy; each filled with joy, excitement, and apprehension to be in El Salvador, to visit communities, try the food, and learn from Salvadoran individuals and organizations dedicating their lives to their communities.

The students from Cretin Derham Hall brought an effervescent energy and profound curiosity, peppering speakers with thoughtful questions. While students in the July group came from various different social circles, already by the third night they had woven a tight bond of support and understanding. Student after student expressed her gratitude for the group, and his ability to voice all his feelings and be listened to and embraced.

Students on the August delegation expressed shock, discomfort, and anger upon learning the U.S. role in the Salvadoran Civil War. After hearing Madre Guadalupe of the Committee of Families of the Disappeared share her testimony of her husband's murder for his work as a community organizer and catechist in the early 1980s, and her tireless efforts to find and document the disappeared, and, the war no longer seemed a distant part of the past. Visiting El Mozote in the following days and listening to a woman who was eleven at the time of the massacre and happened to be away picking coffee that day, the war further became a living, breathing presence amidst which flesh and blood people lived, killed, suffered, and died.

Knowing that the U.S. Government gave approximately $1 million a day to the forces that killed nearly 1,000 civilian men women and children in that community alone tore at everyone's hearts. One student, Emma Sievers, said that having a vote and a voice in the U.S. took on a whole new meaning for her. Another commented "I can now understand how big on an impact the policies of the USA have on the rest of the world. Even though the American people may not realize their power, they are responsible for their actions."

Bethany in the community with EMU
While delegates learned of the deep wounds of El Salvador's past and many current struggles, they also shared moments of joy and laughter, especially during visits to rural communities. In each of the communities a swarm of grinning children with welcome signs met the delegation at the community entrance. Students from CDH's August group group joined the youth of 19 de Junio in a squelchy game of soccer in the muddy field, laughing each time another person fell down and cheering for each goal. Though only elected two weeks before, the community council seamlessly coordinated every moment of our stay, led by their president, compañera Jesus, a stocky woman with one arm.

With St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, in Rutilio Grande, the community leadership councils prepared everything from a cultural presentation to a community tour, to a celebration of the word, to meetings with all of the leadership committees: directive, women, youth, health, church, and education. The central community council included both women and youth as well as men. Youth in the community expressed their excitement about their radio project and involvement in the community council.

The examples of youth and community leaders shone through the shadows, touching our hearts and lifting our spirits. Frequently they spoke the example of El Salvador's martyrs constantly surfaced as role models and roots for hope, particularly Oscar Romero. As we visited Monsignor Romero's little house at the Divina Providencia, walked along the train tracks in La Chacra, an economically impoverished urban community, and spoke with members of the Christian Base Community, El Pueblo de Dios en Camino (The People of God on the Journey), I could palpably sense Romero's spirit, rising up, embracing, challenging, and calling us.

Through each group I had the opportunity to glimpse fresh perspectives on the pungent tangle of love and shadows that is El Salvador. I love serving as a link for Salvadorans and North Americans to connect and slowly transform each other.

I love SHARE's model of accompaniment, values, and counterparts. I love that the delegations are rooted in long term sister relationships combining visits, projects, and advocacy. I believe these relationships allow for an ongoing dialogue between peoples that builds a deeper base for long term change both for Salvadorans and for North Americans. Additionally, the projects are not just one time construction projects, but include training in organizing, communication, gender, and other themes and skills that women and youth will carry with them through their lives. Skills that will allow them to continue giving back to their communities and families, work for their rights, and to
supplement their incomes to meet their basic needs. I look forward to watching these seeds of change begin to sprout.

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