A modern day Exodus

The Exodus is a fundamental part of the history of the Jewish faith. As a child, and even during my time at university, I was encapsulated by the story of a people who left the place in which they were enslaved to go back to their homeland.

Flowers in Guarjila

Flowers in Guarjila

The Exodus story often left me wondering how many other Exodus stories are out there in the world but not accounted for. How many communities have been made to flee from their homes, only to return when it is either safe to do so, or through sheer strength and determination? This interest is one that I feel has come to fruition during this week here in Guarjila.

Visiting a community who were deeply scarred by the effects of the civil war in El Salvador, fled to become refugees in Honduras, only to return in 1987 to the barren desert and to start again, has shown me that the Exodus story still remains in our world today and that, more importantly, just like Moses and the Jewish people, a faith in the providence that God offers is so fundamental in the story of freedom and return.

The promised land - looking towards Guarjila from Suchitoto

The promised land – looking towards Guarjila from Suchitoto

The history of Guarjila and what it has become today is a fundamental part and characteristic of the people who live there. They have come through adversity to establish a home. So why visit a place such as this with CAFOD? What role does CAFOD have there? Like all CAFOD projects, the importance of community is fundamental, and the Ana Manganaro Health Clinic is a fundamental reason why CAFOD has such an active involvement in a place like Guarjila.

The story of the Exodus is so enchanting because it has characters that you look towards and admire, namely Moses. This too is the case for the story of Guarjila. The characters of Sr Ana Manganaro and Fr Jon Cortina SJ are people whom I have come to admire, even in the 5 days of my visit, and are characters who are admired by each and every person of Guarjila.

The mural on the clinic wall

The mural on the clinic wall featuring Sr Ana and Archbishop Oscar Romero

This admiration in Ana and Jon is because these were two people who, on their return back to El Salvador from the refugee camp of Mesa Grande in 1987,  stuck by this community to the bitter end, just like Moses stuck by the Jewish people until his own death. That is why the community of Guarjila for me is so very special. Each and every person has a story to tell of their own life in Guarjila and their own personal adversities that they have faced. Each and every person has either been touched personally by these two inspirational characters or has heard about them and, in turn, been inspired.

James with Medalia and her son

James with Medalia and her son

For me, it is the realisation that, beyond what I saw as an amazing health clinic, there are stories which often are scarred ones. That the lives of those people in Guarjila have made a community out of nothing, and the Ana Manganaro Health Clinic is the jewel of the community. The pride that the community gets from the clinic is clear. Just outside the paediatrician’s office at the clinic, I spoke to Medalia, a mother with her child. She told me that ‘whatever doubt you have, the clinic will always help you out.’

Telma, a former refugee, who has now trained as a lab technician with CAFOD funding, and working at the clinic

Telma, a former refugee, who has now trained as a lab technician with CAFOD funding, and working at the clinic

This comfort that the clinic provides was shared by everyone we met. The pride that good health brings gives one a sense of self-worth and motivation, belief and self-content to do anything possible. What is incredible about the health clinic is that it boasts a whole host of facilities, from specialist doctors to a laboratory. To me it felt more like a hospital than a rural clinic.

James marking test tubes in the clinic's laboratory.  This lab serves 11 municipalities.

James marking test tubes in the clinic’s laboratory. This lab serves 11 municipalities.

It is therefore all the more incredible to hear that, under the current government, it has been called a model for rural health care, a model that has emerged in about 27 years since that first return of refugees from Honduras.

The community of Guarjila is rightly proud of what they have achieved and this pride has been passed down through the generations. Carlos Alfredo Alfaro Tobar is at first glance like any 22 year old who is beginning to start out in this world, but once his story is heard a little more, it becomes all the more profound. Unlike many 22 year olds, his family have all left for the US and he is left to live by himself in Guarjila. He works as an ambulance driver at the clinic, but has many other responsibilities, maybe too many in my opinion!

James and Carlos in front of the clinic

James and Carlos in front of the clinic

What is amazing about Carlos, though, is his real pride for Guarjila and also El Salvador. Unlike many young Salvadorans, he is not interested in moving to the US. Rather he hopes to make something for himself in his home country. For him, he has everything he needs in El Salvador. He has not had it easy, but he told us his motto to “go forward in spite of the adversities you face and never stop striving”. For myself, what Carlos said to me was the same motto that inspired the people of Guarjila – that even though they faced countless difficulties in their time of refuge and return, they have today rightly got what they have strived for, and are in fact striving for more.

The health clinic in Guarjila is not just a model of rural health, as the recent government has remarked, but more importantly it is a project that has come to fruition because the people of Guarjila never stopped striving to build what they aimed to build. Ironically for me, what the health clinic symbolises is something quite important.

Not only is it a place where people can go with their health problems and hopefully become better. The health clinic in Guarjila is more important than that, since it helps rebuild a scarred community from the war and give it hope and pride in the years afterwards. For me the diagnosis of the Guarjila health clinic is a healthy future after a scarred past.

The clinic at Guarjila features as one of CAFOD’s World Gifts.  Your community could support this, and other clinics like this.  More information here

We’re now recruiting for next year’s Step into the Gap programme. Closing date for applications is 31 March 2014.  More information here

10 thoughts on “A modern day Exodus

  1. What a wonderful insight again, I was on retreat this weekend with Confirmation candidates and we talked about the Holy Spirit, I really believe the Holy Spirit is working in you to spread the word through your writing and first hand experience. God Bless you James. Love Mum. Dad, Emily and Verity

  2. I have to say Jamie i am a little bit jealous! Not just of the great weather and new experiences you are having, but knowing that you are helping others along the way! Make the most of it and enjoy the swimming pools!!! Love Em x

  3. Dear Jamie,
    It seems you are enjoying yourself and the community is welcoming you in like a brother! I think what you have done will result in a big impact on everyone who is in contact with you! Good luck and enjoy the rest of your time there:)
    Love Verityx

  4. Dear Jamie, Well done to you, having read your last blog I feel so proud to know you. It is a privilege to be in your position and to be able to help and to make a small difference to people, Enjoy the time there and my God look not only after you but everybody that you meet. Maria

  5. Great writing James! It’s really humbling just to read about your experiences in El Salvador, so I can’t imagine the affect that this will have on your life! Enjoy!

  6. In reading your interesting blog, Jamie, I remembered that “j” in Spanish is pronounced “h” in English and that somehow helped. (James = Hamish also) When I was a lot younger I heard people talking about a place called “la Hoiya” in California and it took me years to discover that that was what was written on the map as “La Jolla”. Great that you make contacts that you have made. Praying every day for your welfare,


  7. Hi James, great photographs and an inspiring story well told. Have you learnt any Spanish during your visit?
    Thinking of you love Vanda and Dave x

  8. Reading your blog gives me hope for the people of Syria, and all those who are still wandering in the desert. Come Holy Spirit Come.

  9. Message from James (via Mum)

    Hello all,

    I have face timed James this evening and he wanted to say thank you to all of you for your prayers and good wishes and he is looking forward to sharing his experiences with you all on his return.

  10. Pingback: “Guarjila: A Modern Day Exodus” More News from our Gapper James | CAFOD Portsmouth

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