I feel really privileged to be working with CAFOD – I was saying this at the Source (YMT’s monthly youth event at St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle – it’s epic, check it out if you get a chance!) in the run up to our flight out – because CAFOD really puts in work at the ground roots to make a change. Unlike other charities and fundraising organisations that raise money, go to the country in question, do some work in the country and then leave again, it’s been my experience that CAFOD, as well as providing emergency aid, really see the importance of long term development. That it’s about empowering people. And here I am getting to be a part of it!
So after having the initial run around to Puentecitos, Guarjila and Arcatao to meet those we would be spending time with in the coming weeks, we found ourselves in a village in the west of El Salvador. From our time spent in this village, Puentecitos – which means little bridges in Spanish; how apt when we’re stepping into the gap, the UK and El Salvador bridging the gap! I’m feeling uplifted. We got the chance to see and be face to face with the work that CAFOD has been a part of and has enabled. We met families that are involved with the Jesuit Development Service (JDS) (a CAFOD partner here in El Salvador), families that although economically poor, were taking action, using initiative.
One of these families was a family of eight – Fidel (the father), Julia (the mother), three girls and three boys. Fidel’s family is very active in the community, heading up the project of extending their chapel/church. At the moment it isn’t big enough that everyone can fit into for mass. We were present for a mass and there was a crowd of people standing outside and this is the case at every mass! (At my home parish that usually only happens at a Holy Communion or Confirmation service!) There’s something that Fidel said that I really connected with and that I want to share with you. He said, “I didn’t really have the courage to start the building project because it’s expensive. Last year we began to get organised and talk to people about the project to see if we could work together.”
It’s usually the case, isn’t it, that the thing you fear going for – the risky options you could take that, if they worked, would be great but have many potential barriers – if you go for, you soar!
Living as a community, as part of a unit in which people love and care for each other, as opposed to being individualistic and fending by yourself for yourself (which is often encouraged in our society/lifted high like a trophy to be sought after), is really valued here and I feel it’s a strength that the more developed countries of our world have come to lack.
Fidel also said “People living with very little money supported us and then we thought, “Why can’t we do the project we dreamed of?!” Yes Fidel! “I want to say, I’m really happy, the community is really happy and we’re keen to work hard.” Since they started work on Saturday, the men and women haven’t stopped working. What inspiration, eh?
We spent some time doing manual labour! Helping to sort out the ground in preparation for the extension. It was so good to be able to lend our muscle to the cause!
We had an unplanned interview with the father of the family across the road from Fidel’s family, who hadn’t had any involvement with the JDS team and their work. Also economically poor, but, in contrast, struggling because it appeared and sounded like he wasn’t equipped to change his situation because of something within himself. It seemed where Fidel was pushing forward, he had given up. The JDS challenges people to break out of their passive nature, the “victim” ideology. I can say with confidence that the support and advice that enable families to achieve their goals, to live fully, is what the JDS and CAFOD are giving, what you, Hexham and Newcastle are giving! How awesome is that? Without you, it wouldn’t work. If I was in Fidel’s shoes, or those of the JDS team, I don’t know that I could achieve such results – I raise my imaginary hat to them – what role models!
During our Advent Retreat Days at YMT, the young people from our primary schools decorated paper chickens that we, the youth ministry team had made with our masterfully origami-skilled fingers. They wrote little messages inside them – “Qué Dios te bendiga” (May God bless you) – and we brought them over to the young people here – that they might know that in Hexham and Newcastle, we knew that they were stuggling at the moment (See Adrian Chiles in action at the chicken farm here: http://www.cafod.org.uk/News/UK-News/Adrian-Chiles-world-gifts ) and that we care and we would be thinking of them and praying for them.
We met the chickens and the chickens met our paper chickens!
Sivia, who heads up/owns the chicken farm has worked several years with the JDS and is part of a women’s group that works together, farming and producing different crops and cooking traditional foods (Mmmm!). Sivia told us how JDS came to the community and how she found it really hard to get to grips with their work proposals. Since then though, she said “We’ve woken up and become really interested in different projects and initiatives. Before JDS, it was corn, sweetcorn and beans – that was all we had. Since JDS, we began to imagine new projects and they told us we could be more creative in the way that we farmed.”
Sivia and the other women of the group always dedicate their work to God and ask for his blessing. “We say, “Lord, we’re going to do this work. We put it all into your hands and we pray that it’ll be solved”. She adds, with a grin, “Thanks to God, it all sells.”
A long blog, but one well worth reading!
Community is everything to the people of Puentecitos and it’s the same for our Gappers. At YMT, they live and work closely with each other, telling school pupils about the love of God.
Could you do the same?
The first Step into the Gap is to go to http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year for more information.