Friday, June 14, 2013

New Places, New Faces

The past couple of days we’ve spent getting to know more of the communities where Pastoral works. Two days ago, we started out in a meeting with the priest in San Jose Villanueva. It was a very frustrating experience, actually. He was uninterested in Pastoral de la Salud, let alone GlobeMed. A new priest, he had come to Villanueva, an impoverished parish, from one where there was much more money, and he seemed disdainful about the move. Though his disinterest was clear, Margarita told us later that at the very least, he knows of Pastoral de la Salud’s existence and can open the door to our partner to continue doing work in the community (“as long as he doesn’t get in the way, it doesn’t matter”).

After a meeting with Ruth and Margarita about playing a more active role on GROW, we spent the afternoon in La Serena on a child nutrition project. A couple of months ago, the children under 5 years old of La Serena were measured and weighed and compared to a growth curve. The 15 families with the children who were most undernourished were then chosen to participate in a follow-up study, in which the children’s health is monitored every two months and the mothers receive nutrition advice. In return, the families have agreed to create a family garden. The project is taking place in five communities, and the children in La Serena were well fed, but it was still fun to watch the children be measured.

Yesterday, we had a very full day. We started out meeting the priest of the parish in Santo Tomás, who was much more interested in service projects than the priest the day before. He and the director of Pastoral Social, another division of the whole Pastoral network, explained to us a social and health project taking place in the parish in which a group of fifth and sixth graders are working on their own community garden. The idea is to keep the children out of trouble and to teach them important agricultural skills and nutrition. We visited this garden, where the schoolchildren gave a short presentation about building the garden and using organic fertilizer. They’re being supervised by a few nutrition students from the university. We helped pick fresh radishes from the garden and dig a new plot for planting in the near future.

After that, we went to Santiago, another town where Pastoral de la Salud has projects. We met with volunteers over a lunch of caldo de gallina india, pollo, arroz, y ensalada. They told us of the projects in distributing food staples, promoting oral health, educating community members about HIV and other diseases, and providing psychiatric services that they’re working on. There are at least eight communities where they hope to bring these services and education projects. Though the projects are moving slowly because of little funding, the volunteers were optimistic that they could make important progress, especially in the upcoming years.

We went with the volunteers on a short walk around the parish, and then to a coffee cooperative. It is owned by one of the parish members, and it is the only coffee co-op in El Salvador whose president is a woman. We met the president of this small plantation, and she was clearly a fierce lady with a lot of fight in her. We just saw the packaging plant, and on Sunday, we’ll go back to see the farm. It was another great day!

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