Violence, Gangs, Bravery, and Seeds of Hope

Tony’s pilgrimage in El Salvador with the Romero Trust continues.  He writes:

Thursday 14th Nov PM 

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El Salvador today continues to be a country of extreme inequalities with high rates of poverty. Only 145 very rich families hold the equivalent wealth of the country’s GDP.

El Salvador has also continued to suffer from violence–in particular gangs. The homicide rate is 60 deaths per 100,000 people every day.  This is compared to 1 in every 100,000 in European countries such as Spain.

Many people therefore move overseas in search of work and safety and send home remittances to support their families financially.

Today, we visited La Chacra, one of the poorest and most violent regions to the north of San Salvador.  La Chacra was previously abandoned farmland and has been occupied by a population of 30,000 people for 40 years.  Sadly the area is controlled by two really powerful and violent gangs, “18 Street and M5”

Within La Chacra is a wonderful project of hope,  Fe Algeria Education programme, run by the Poor Clare Sisters and financially supported by CAFOD and The Romero Trust.

Sr Cruz welcomes the pilgrims to the school

Sr Cruz welcomes the pilgrims to the school

We are welcomed by Sister Cruz to the School and meeting Children and parents who benefit from the project.

CAFOD project is working with parents, who have experienced years of violence and murder within their community. Projects include Counselling, increasing self confidence, and training in income generating skills such as Handcrafts, computing, electronics, painting and a bakery.

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The school, which is supported by the Romero Trust, provides a safe place for the Children to learn in away from the violent streets. The school is not only open on week day morning’s for lessons but also during the afternoons, weekends, and summer holidays for workshops and activities to keep the children off the streets and away from danger.

Both projects are promoting human development and are helping reduce violence by providing a space for sport and music and promoting human rights. There are psychologists working with the community–both as individuals and families–to reject violence, and promoting discipline, love and self confidence.

The mothers, grandmothers , children, and teachers have waited in the school hall for our arrival for over two hours. We receive talks of appreciation for our support and explanations of involvement from some of the young people. Presentations including ones from representatives from the sports teams which include men and women that have competed across the country.

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We then are entertained to some music by a young band playing drums, trumpets and guitars wearing uniforms made within the project.

An elderly grandmother Anna Julio then gets up and struggles to walk to the front to give a moving speech of thanks to us all.

Very emotionally, she says “Thank you for your support. I pray to God it will continue. Our people are poor, but very hardworking. We are so moved that there are people in the world like you who care. We know you are not rich but give from what you have and that you do not have money spare. Thank you.”

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One of the young men, Pipo, then said.  “ May God Bless you. So many of our families are broken by violence. We are grateful to God for your support of people like you. I have learned a great deal from this programme. Thank you so much to you and to Sister Ruth.”

Johan, a lay Carmelite pilgrim, stood up and responded

“ I previously wondered where our donations to CAFOD go. I have witnessed where my donations to CAFOD and the Romero Trust go and am very inspired. “

Rosa, CAFOD’s Diocesan Manager in Lancaster, then responded. “We are inspired by you and your work and you have touched our hearts. We will not forget you and we promise to tell others about you”

We were then taken around the School by Pipo, a young sports teacher who was born and lives in the community.

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Read more of Tony’s current pilgrimage to El Salvador: https://cafodwestminster.wordpress.com/tag/tonypilgrimage/

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