James is visiting some of our partners in El Salvador as part of his Step into the Gap programme. He shares his experiences with us after week two of his journey.
For me ‘The People’s Puentecitos’ is an apt title for my experiences this week, because I have seen in Puentecitos what it means to be a proper community. Puentecitos is vibrant, full of stories, and most importantly, it is proud.
Jesuit Development Service
This week I have been both living and working with CAFOD partner JDS, the Jesuit Development Service. JDS help to develop neighbouring communities, through different schemes like co-operative farming or the local radio station.
Inscribed within each and every person in the communities where JDS works, is hope, self-confidence and motivation. Though individuals are often economically poor, this need not be a restriction. Therefore, making the most of the here and now is a common trait for the people of Puentecitos.
“As women we believe in ourselves”
On Tuesday we met an incredible lady named Sibia Vasquez. With the help of JDS, Sibia and her community group have a flourishing chicken farm. They also have a bakery and a thriving vegetable patch, which helps them live sustainably.
Me with Sibia, and one of her chickens
Last September Sibia, along with six other women and two men, set up their own co-operative. They trade and share their produce in a way that makes sure it stays within the community.
For Sibia, working alongside other women is so important, not only because she feels pride when the profits are shared out at the end of the year, but also because “as women we believe in ourselves”. It is her motivation to succeed that makes Sibia’s work successful, whilst her faith gives her strength.
This week I have been fortunate enough not only to have met Sibia, but also to meet two families that in their own unique ways have had a real effect on me.
Dreams for the future
Fidel Ramos dreams to rebuild the community’s Chapel which was severely damaged eight years ago by an earthquake. It is hard to ignore the fact that such a task needs money and in a place like Puentecitos that reality becomes even more apparent.
What is so brilliant therefore about Fidel’s dream is that it has come to fruition. Collections have started and money is being raised. In just six months the people of Puentecitos have raised a staggering $1,035, over a quarter of their $4,000 goal. For Fidel, this is so important because the chapel is the House of God.
Fidel and his wife Julia also have dreams for their six children. Sarita, the oldest of the six is in her second year at university studying agriculture. Not only is Sarita studying at the most prestigious farming college in El Salvador, but she managed to do so by gaining a highly competitive scholarship.
The family is so proud of Sarita’s self-motivation and drive to achieve. Fidel dreams that each child can gain an education that enables them to become independent and working adults.
“Never be defeated”
I want to finish off this blog with something that Daniel-Vicente said to me.
Daniel lives in Puentecitos and is really struggling with the poverty he and his family find themselves in. Daniel’s wife is working in San Salvador, and so he is left to look after his four children with the help of his mother. He works hard as a carpenter but earns very little money, and he often thinks about moving to Guatemala to find work.
Daniel Vicente at home with his family
What really struck me about Daniel was the affection and love between him and his children. He knew that moving to Guatemala would mean he would have to leave his children.
But Daniel had hope. We left with his message, “never be defeated, even if you were feeling as if you were defeated”.
Aspire not to have more, but to be more
Oscar Romero once famously said, ‘aspire not to have more, but to be more’. The people of Puentecitos are a living example of this message. They aim to be more in what and who they are, as well as in what they can achieve.
Maybe Romero’s message and the way the people of Puentecitos live their lives is something we could learn from?
To read a longer version of this blog, and hear more about James’ experiences in El Salvador, visit the CAFOD Lancaster blog.
Applications are now open for next year’s Step into the Gap programme. It’s a unique and special way to learn more about yourself and the wider world we live in. For more information click here.
Did you know you can buy a Romero cross here?
Adrian Chiles visited Sibia too and discovered the benefits of the amazing Chirpy Chickens World Gift. See the film clip here