In our meeting with Father Octavio, he discussed varying topics from politics, culture, and gang violence, to the health situation in El Salvador. The clear message that I got from him was the need for a new culture of humanitarianism, health as a human right, respect and solidarity. I can see subtle hints of this culture emerging here in El Salvador with institutions like Pastoral, which encompasses our partner, Pastoral de la Salud. What astounds me about this network is that much of the work could not be done without its teams of dedicated volunteers. They show incredible commitment to their communities, despite the fact that they already have other responsibilities, such as working and taking care of their families.
The work that the Pastoral does offers people a wide variety of opportunities. Pastoral de la Tierra works with volunteers and people from communities to promote sustainability in agriculture. This effort promotes better nutrition for children even if the economic situation of a family may not be able to afford it. There is also Pastoral Asistencial which offers humanitarian help to the elderly, orphans and victims of natural disasters. Then there is Pastoral de la Salud which focuses on preventative work, educational activities, and primary care. Pastoral de la Salud works in varying levels from basic primary care, clinics to hospitals. Most fascinating about this network is that all its strength stems from volunteers who devote their free time to work. This new culture that Father Octavio speaks of does not seem farfetched but attainable, especially because there already seems to be such willingness for people to take responsibility in the betterment of their communities’ situation.
It was good to see this commitment especially because often what we hear of El Salvador is its gang violence. Even if violence is a problem that cannot be ignored it also should not be the defining characteristic of El Salvador. Instead there should be a focus on this new culture of solidarity that Father Octavio pointed out, and hopefully this culture will keep getting stronger here in El Salvador and around the world. At the end of our meeting with Father Octavio he thanked us for being part of this new culture based on understanding and solidarity. He also urged us to stay committed to this culture and he said that he hoped this new culture would continue to grow.