A few days before the departure, Pope Francis spoke during the Angelus on Sunday, about the serious problems of this country, hardly hit by violence and social injustice. The tragic news of the daily murders, in continues rise, affecting more areas of El Salvador due to the presence of “maras”, were very worrying. However, we didn’t give up willing to win our fear and we went ahead, convinced to live a different summer, based on solidarity in favour of the needy.
Our humanitarian mission had two different stages. The first, in the school “Mano Amiga – VIS” located near San Luis La Herradura, in the department (as they call it there Regions) La Paz, about an hour drive from the capital, San Salvador. The second stage of the mission took place in a small fishing community called “La Colorada”, in tropical mangroves at the mouth of the River Lempa.
The school “Complejo Educational Catolico Mano Amiga – San Antonio”, run by two years by VIS Foundation, welcomes about 400 students from kindergarten to high school. It is beautiful, with plenty of space for sports, bright classrooms, green gardens and a gorgeous pool, important in this country due to the hot weather. In the school reigns an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm. This is what immediately strikes! In fact, the little ones from kindergarten welcomed us when we arrived with affection and with a joy that has touched us immediately. They are extremely poor economically but with a rich humanity that impresses emotionally a European that is accustomed to the fatigue and the pessimism typical of the old continent.
In “Mano Amiga – VIS” we did so many things. The murales on a wall of the library, painting the kindergarten to make it more colorful and cute, repairing the verandas of the stairs, playing football with older students, working in the gardens, meetings on the formation of values and, even the Italian lessons, much appreciated by all students.
The two priests of the group have also devoted much time to the spiritual formation: hearing confessions, celebrate Mass, etc. In this country, in general, people are still very religious.
There was also space for training teachers of the school and a meeting with parents to talk about parenting. In short, we never stopped for a moment! At 7.00 am we had to be already in school to begin the activities … In the midst of these jobs went three days in San Salvador, the capital, to know the city and some friends who welcomed us very well and with whom we have talked about the project, including the team of VIS Foundation in this country and the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Leon Kalenga, who thanked us and he was very encouraging.
What to say! We spent two weeks in a very beautiful way. We do not want to leave but even the students didn’t want us to go insisting to let us stay but we had to leave because the last week was expected to be spent it in the mangroves, along with a small community of fishermen. So then we left for this new adventure.
After half an hour by car, we took a boat that brought us inside the tropical mangroves at the mouth of the River Lempa; right in the community further away from “civilization” and closer to the Pacific Ocean. It took an hour by boat until we arrived; once there, we were hosted by a family living on the outskirts of the “Colorada”, in a house that is located on one of the small channels of the mangroves. One word to sum up the place: paradise! Everything was exuberant vegetation and virgin, everything was fascinating between iguanas, exotic birds and a large variety of fishes.
We began to work! The small community of about a hundred souls asked us first to repair the church of the village. We redid the roof and painted with great care all the religious structure. Immediately a group of volunteers of the place joined us. We were fifteen and we created a good team work and built a sincere friendship. Then we went to school, practically adjacent to the church, and we painted the whole, from outside and from within. The American School of San Salvador gave us the funds to acquire all the material.
While we were in the mangroves, we heard about the death of the priest in charge of the area, Fr. Abel. He was well known for his work in favour of the needy, especially the young victims of the “maras” and for founding a religious congregation, the Missionaries of Christ Crucified. The next day, therefore, we took a boat and we went to the crowded funeral. There we could greet the Bishop of Zacatecoluca, Mons. Elías Samuel, who is the diocesan ordinary in the area where we were doing the mission. We met him and explained our work; he was very polite, thanked us and blessed us.
As anecdotal, during our stay in the “Colorada”, we ate iguanas or “garrobos” as people call them. It was not bad but there is definitely better! we didn’t miss, also, our day of fishing; we got along quite well and this allowed us to taste the fishes of the area that are really tasty.
The priests who were with us have celebrated Mass in the “Colorada”, the Sunday before our departure, and it was an opportunity to inaugurate in the new church. There was joy among the people of the community that were full of enthusiasm! Something that has stolen our heart! We did not want to go! While the days passed, our desire to stay there increased!
In short, here’s our brief history of the experience we have had in this wonderful country of Central America. Maybe we can not express well the beauty of this mission but we tried. We look forward to coming back to them, see them and embrace them. We hope you can do it next year.
Humanitarian missions are a gift that changes your life. Our life has been improved and we are grateful to the VIS Foundation for the opportunity that it gave us and the people we met that were wonderful. We won’t forget!