For me the title ‘The People’s Puentecitos’ is really quite apt with how this week has been, not that I have been transformed into some Marxist revolutionary, but rather I have seen what a true community is. Last week I had a full immersion experience into the differing communities that I shall be working with whilst here in El Salvador, and therefore I finished off with the prevailing feeling of journeying. This week, however, has been different. The community of Puentecitos is a proper community. It is vibrant, full of stories and most importantly, it is proud.
For the duration of this week I have been both living and working with the CAFOD partner JDS, the Jesuit Development Service. From their base camp in Jujutla, just 10 minutes up the road from Puentecitos, their commitment to develop the neighbouring communities, whether through co-operative farming or the local radio station is successful. Through their work and especially with what I have experienced in Puentecitos, hope, self-confidence and motivation to achieve is inscribed within each and every person of the community. Though often economically poor, this need not be a restriction and therefore making the most of the here and now is a common trait for the people of Puentecitos.
The projects that I have visited this week have all come to fruition because of that sense of self-worth and motivation that the JDS emphasises and the togetherness and effort of the people to get the work off the ground.
On Tuesday we met an incredible lady named Sibia Vasquez. With the help of the JDS, Sibia and her community group have a flourishing chicken farm, as well as a bakery and thriving vegetable patch which helps them live sustainably. Sibia’s work has been going on for 7 years with the JDS. Last September herself, along with 6 other women and 2 men have their own co-operative. They trade and share the produce that they have in a way that makes sure that it does not go outside of the community. For Sibia the pride she gets from what she is doing is clear, and even more so is that she is working alongside other women. For her this is important, not only because she feels pride when the profits are shared out at the end of the year, but even more so because ‘as women we believe in ourselves.’ It is her motivation to succeed that makes the work that Sibia does successful, whilst her faith gives her strength and illumination.
This week I feel I have been fortunate enough not only to have met Sibia, but also to meet two differing families, that in their own unique ways have had a real effect on me, the families Fidel Ramos and Daniel-Vicente.
The family of Fidel Ramos for me is what makes the family unit so important, and in the case of the community of Puentecitos they are an illustration of what a difference our donations can make. The JDS, along with the families’ own self-drive, have the resources required to farm crops, as well as breed animals. Though this is an important part of Fidel and his family’s life the pride they have gained from the result of what they do is really humbling.
For Fidel personally he has a dream, the rebuilding of the community’s Chapel which was damaged severely 8 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 6 months the people of Puentecitos have raised a staggering $1034.75, over a quarter of the $4000 goal. For Fidel, the reason this is so important is because the chapel is the House of God. Inspired by John Paul II, the whole community of Puentecitos is together in rebuilding the chapel since it will enable them to be evangelisers in the wider community.
Not only is the chapel a dream of Fidel’s but he and his wife Julia also have dreams for their 6 children. Sarita, the oldest of the 6 is in her second year at university studying agriculture. Not only is she studying at the most prestigious farming college in El Salvador, but she managed to do so by gaining a scholarship that was highly competitive and difficult to get. Obviously Fidel and Julia, as well as Sarita, are proud of what she has achieved, her self-motivation and drive to achieve, but what is also so rewarding to hear is Sarita’s emphasis on the opportunity a good education offers, as well as Fidel’s and Julia’s knowledge of the need of a good education. The opportunity it offers is the dream that the family holds onto, that each child can gain an education that enables them to become independent and working adults.
I want to finish off this blog with something that Daniel-Vicente said to me, an admirable father from Puentecitos who astonishingly told me and the group that we were the first ever visitors he had ever had. His family are really struggling with the poverty they find themselves in. His wife is a housewife in San Salvador, and he is left to look after his 4 children with the help of his mother. To get money he works as a carpenter, though often he thinks about moving to Guatemala to find work. He works hard, but often for very little. What really struck me though about Daniel was what a great father he was. The affection and love that the children showed to him was beautiful, and he knew that to move to Guatemala would mean he would have to leave his children. But he had hope. We left with his message that he had always had a vision, ‘never to be defeated, even if you were feeling as if you were defeated.’
Oscar Romero once famously said, ‘aspire to be more, not to have more.’ The people of Puentecitos are a living example of this message, through the help of the JDS, and the strong visions and beliefs that they have. They aim to be more in what and who they are, as well as in what they can achieve. To have more would be against their motto to achieve and work together. Maybe that message of Romero’s and the way that the people of Puentecitos live their lives could be something in which we could learn from?
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.
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Did you know you can buy a Romero cross here?