Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catch up and El Salvador Retorspect

Hi everybody. Sorry this post is a long time coming, I have just been super busy, and havent found a lot of time to write. So the last time I posted I had just got home from a two week Immersion in El Salvador, but I couldnt write about it because I was flying down to Socal the next day. I was in Socal mainly for a waterpolo recruitment trip, it was a ton of fun, and I talked to the coaches at Occidental, LMU, and Chapman. However, my dads favorite soccer team from England (Burnley is you are wondering) were playing in Ventura, so he was happy to tag along on my little college excursion. Yet, thats not important in contrast to El Salvador. I spent two weeks in El Salvador with a group of 7 other students and two teachers. The trip was run through my high school, and the idea of the program was to immerse yourself in the country, so that you can understand the lives of the people, and the challenges they face in their daily lives. In short the trip was life changing, eye opening, and I feel it has changed the very foundation of my life. For a little bit of background info; El Salvador was engulfed in a brutal civil war for most of the 1980's. Around the end of the 70's the people of the country began to ask the oppresive government for some rights, and started to protest and rise up. Ronald Regan ( I hope his soul burns in hell) saw the people asking for rights as a communist uprising, and began to send 1.5 million dollars a day to the oppresive evil dictatorship. The results of this were obviously terrible. The government of El Salvador now had the firepower to enforce their will throughout the country. Yet, not all of the country was about to except the violent dictatorship. A priest in the country by the name of Rotilio Grande began to work with the people to organize protests against the government, and encouraged them to continue to fight for their rights. However, Fr. Grande was soon gunned down by the death squads outside of a small peasant village. His murder inspired his close friend and the archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero, to take up the mantal, and continue to fight for the people. With the archbishop of the country now openly denouncing the government (religion is huge in El Salvador) tensions began to rise between the two factions, and the tensions ultimatly culminated in Romero being gunned down during a church service. Romero was killed in 1980, and the civil war began less then a year later. The civil war literally destroyed the country. The army engulfed the country into sheer terror, as people wanted to resist, but were to scared to stand up. The death of their hero, Oscar Romero, being the constant reminder. Then some people formed a guerilla force and began to live in the hills, engaging the army in occasional conflict. This guerilla forces called themselves the FMLN. This continued for about a decade, and the two factions began to engage in peace talks, however they were only for show, and had very little meaning. However, as the talks continued the FMLN launched a final offensive all over the country, and captured many key cities. The Army feaing they would lose the war began to take the peace talks much more seriously, and a few months later the peace accords were signed. One more note before I start my reflection on the trip, In El Salvador Oscar Romero is a national hero. Imagine of people view MLKJ in the states, and multiply it by 1000. You cannot walk 500 yards without seeing Romero's face on something, be it a mural, building, or local artisan crafts. He was truly a great man, and the people worship him so. Now on to my trip.
So I left SFO airport with 7 fellow students and 2 teachers, very early on the 4th of July. The trip at that point felt like a dream. El Salvador is so far off, and were really going were phrases I heard repitedly during our early mourning trip. Then later that night, arriving in the country still felt surreal, and we had a hard time grasping our new surroundings. The next few days were extreamly interesting, we bonded as a group, went to a lot of presentations of the state of the country, and finally heard a lot of horror stories about the civil war. One presentation that stood out in particular was on immigration. Essentially, the people of El Salvador arent leaving for the states because they want to, but because they have to in order to support their families. The average monthly wage in El Salvador is 250 dollars, the average illegal working in the states send up 300 dollars a month. If an illegal worker can send up a fraction of their pay, and that fraction is still higher then the average monthly income in El Salvador, they have no choice but to move to the states. About 500 people leave El Salvador for the United States everyday, and about 40% of them make it. The rest are either deported or killed. If this trend doesnt change, El Salvador will be empty in just a few generations. (Just for context El Salvador is about the size of Massachusetts and has the population of the SF Bay Area.) On the topic of the civil war, we heard a story from Alicia a member of COMADRES. COMADRES is an organization that was founded by a group of mothers during the war who just wanted to work together to find all the missing people the death squads took away. The talk was shocking yet gave us a vivid picture of what these people went through. Alicia talked about how were son was taken off the bus and shot, just because he had a copy of the new testament on him. The new testament was supposedly the "propaganda of the guerillas". This moment along with meeting Romero, inspired Alicia to co-found COMADRES in order to search for the missing people. However, the army did now approve of her activities, and let her know it. Alicia then talked about how the death squads came into her home, raped her and her daughter, beat up the family, and left them all for dead. Then some years later, after COMADRES had grown by leaps and bounds, the army kidnapped and tortured her for weeks. She descriped electric torture, rape, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation as just some of the things they would do to her. Then after a certain amount of time (Alicia doesnt know how long she was held, but she figures it was at least a few weeks) the army beat her and dumped her in a ditch on the side of the road, again leaving her for dead. The talk was incredibly moving, and everone in the room incuding Alicia was crying at the end of it. It was something I will never forget. Before you ask, yes, this is the same group the Bono met with during his trip to El Salvador, and the talk inspired him to write two songs for the Joshua Tree album (Mothers of the Disappeared and Bullet the Blue Sky). After a few days in San Salvador we went out about 30 minutes into the country side and lived in a village for 5 days. We lived with the people, at that homestay is something I will never forget. The family I lived with had nothing. The house was made of pueblo and sheet metal. The mother ran a little tortilla shop and made about a dollar a day profit, the dad worked in the capital from monday to saturday 4am to 6pm. The daughter Jessica was the most adorable little girl you have ever met and played a mean game of uno. The son gave up his room to one of the teachers on the trip and myself without a single complain or wimper. This family faces such hardships; poverty, lack of opportunity in their home country, yet they have one thing many families in the states lack, and that is honest love and compassion for one another. This family lives in poverty and works so hard to improve their daily lives, and at the same time they are the most loving and welcoming family I have ever met. The homestay was life changing in ever meaning of the word, and I will not forget those 5 days for the rest of my days.
Then after the homestay we all returned to San Salvador. Over the next few days we attended more meetings and talks, however the most interesting part occured on our second to last day when we visited the Jesuit school in San Salvador. The school could have been SI, it was so shocking. Everyone spoke english, they knew all the hollywood movies, we all listened to the same music, and watched the same tv shows. In a country were 60% of the country lives in deep poverty, seeing a school so comparable to my own was shocking. This school clearly illustrates the great contrast in terms of the economy. About 98% of El Salvador lives in poverty, yet 2% of the population are extreamly wealthy, there is absolutly no middle class in the country. During the trip I visited the nicest shopping mall I have ever seen, and 100 yards from the entrence of the mall was a shanty town. It was appaling to see how great a contrast there was withing the country, and how desperatly the people there need an even distrapution of wealth. Then a few days after the Jesuit school visit we went up, and just like that the trip was over. However, the further I got from the country the more I began to think about it. Here goes the reflection.
I have been home for just over a week now, and I feel like I have had just enough time to process all I experienced so here it goes. El Salvador needs two kinds of aid. The first and most important being social justice, the second and far less important being charity. Social Justice is needed in the country to mainly deal with the political situation. After the civil war, the army (Arena party) stayed in power through corruption and fraud, all while the FMLN (ex-guerillas) began to garner strong support from the majority of the people. Arena saw the FMLN beginning to rise in power and stepped up its methods of corruption, in order to remain in power. This continued for many years, until the FMLN won the presidencey in 2009. Now out of power Arean was employed the gangs of El Salvador to cause trouble to make it appear like the FMLN cant control the country. This may sound ridiculouse, but it is the truth, and the worst part is that FMLN cannot do a thing about it, beause the court system is so corrupt. Now, were does social justice come into this? This trip made me realize that I live a life filled with privilage. I have a great education, access to many information, and can have a voice in my government. The trip made me realize that I need to take advantage of all the privilege I can, not for my own self indulgence, but for the people less fortunate then I. So when I am in a position of power, when I have the opportunity to work towards change, I can remember the people of El Salvador, their stories, their pain, and not only work towards my own ends, but that I work to improve lives of people around the world. Don't get me wrong, charity is important. Sending $100 a month to a family in El Salvador will brighten their lives like you have no idea, but that is not the answer. If we want to bring change to the country and improve the situation for future generations, we need to recognize the privilege we have, and take full advantage of it, so that when we in a position of power we can bring change to the world. We can be the heroes we desire, we can bring change, we just have to have the willpower and drive to it. Our lives arent the only ones at risk, if we fail to change the current situation thoughout the world, we are endangering a lot more lives then just our own.

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