Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Our Compassion Trip to El Salvador

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El Salvador is a beautiful country with lush countryside and mountain views. It is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. El Salvador is bordered by Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east.
Coffee is grown in the higher areas, but we did not see any in our travels. The coffee we were served in the hotel was exceptional and we bought some to bring home.
The Lempa River, source of 70 percent of the country's drinking water is seriously polluted. The scarcity of safe drinking water is a major concern in the country.
Salvadorans are warm, gregarious and family-oriented people.
Native flowers and scrubs dot the landscape and bring beauty to the country.  But the effects of poverty are seen everywhere. My husband said, "El Salvador is like a beautiful child with a dirty face."
Compassion began its work in El Salvador in 1977, and to date 60,501 children have been ministered to by 270 churches across the country which have provided nutrition, health care and  encouragement. At Compassion centers, children are given educational assistance designed to keep them engaged with school. Older children learn skills like tailoring, baking, poultry production or fish farming, which provide them income-earning opportunities.


El Salvador has been steadily recovering from it's 12 year civil war in the 1980's. Approximately 75,000 people were killed in the war and many forests were destroyed. Still, food shortages and a lack of educational opportunities plague its people. Sponsored children experience these realities daily but at the Compassion centers, there is hope.
The majority of Compassion's centers in El Salvador are in crowded cities where unemployment and violent gang activity are rampant. Compassion offers a safe haven from this violence, while older children can learn practical job skills.


My husband and I became acquainted with the work of Compassion International  in 2007.  We were so moved by the enormous need to help children in poverty that we began sponsoring a child in 2007. We were given a little boy who was four years old living in El Salvador. We began writing him letters and they were translated by Compassion workers. Our child wrote us back and we have his letters and drawings and have watched him grow and mature.

These are a few of the pictures of our sponsored child through the years. The last photo on the right is the last picture we have of him before our trip.

 Now, having seen the work of two Compassion Centers,  I know what our child experienced for the last ten years. His home is very much like the children you will see in the following pics.  Compassion children receive shoes, uniforms, annual medical and dental check-ups, and nutritious meals and snacks when they attend centers. 
Children age 11 and under attend three hours a day, three days a week. Children age 12 to 14  go to the center twice a week, two hours a day. Children age 15 and older attend once a week for four hours.
Mothers and fathers are encouraged to attend a monthly "Parents School "where they learn about practical topics including discipline, encouragement and health.

This is our group arriving at the first Compassion Center we visited.

I had no idea what to expect.
We received an overwhelming welcome the first day. The children of all ages were singing and clapping and reaching out to shake our hands and hugging us. They were so loving. At the end of the line, a child took each of us by the hand, gave us a flower and accompanied us inside the church.  I can not describe to you how heartwarming this was! I was blown away!
Please notice the concertina barbed wire on top of the wall. We noticed it to be a common site most everywhere in El Salvador.
Hope this movie works.

The children performed skits (here, the parable of the lost sheep) and sang for us, as did the Center workers.  The Center workers were like a great praise team. Their songs brought tears to our eyes and the joy on their faces was contagious.  Of course they sang and spoke entirely in Spanish. 
Do you see the writing on the back of the blue shirts? Children with tags are children needing sponsors.

We toured the facility and were impressed with the behavior of the children.

The sponsors served the children lunch that the center workers had prepared. It was extremely hot and the sweet children sat patiently for their turn.

You could hear memory work being recited in every classroom as we entered each room.

 The computer lab was the only room that was air conditioned. What a nice respite for us!

These children stole our hearts.
Again, notice the names on the back of the yellow shirt. This child needs a sponsor.
Aren't these girls adorable?

 We ate two lunches at the Center. The Center ladies worked for hours preparing our lunch.
It had to be especially hot grilling meat in this small area.

The pastor, his wife, church deacons and Center workers worked tirelessly to make our tour rewarding. The vision and love this pastor and church has is beyond amazing. 

We were served pupusas,  cakes of cornmeal or rice filled with beans, cheese and pork rinds and a salad of cabbage, carrots, onions and beetroot called curtido. Papusa is one of El Salvador's national dishes. I also ate them for breakfast at the hotel several times. 


This is a group picture of all the Sponsor Tour Group, Center workers, Church Pastor, and Compassion Staff. Bottom left is our tour leader, Claudia, who did a fantastic job. Jeff, center back row was the Co-leader and also did a great job. The logistics of guiding  and coordinating around 35 people on a trip touring facilities in a foreign country for four days was enormous. My thanks to them for all the behind the scenes work. They took care of us physically, spiritually and emotionally preparing us for culture shock and what to expect.  There were 13 Compassion staffers from  compassion headquarters in Colorado Springs on the tour, too. Our Tour Guide, Juan, was from El Salvador Compassion headquarters. I believe he made this picture so he is not in the photo. Juan also did a fantastic job and had the energy and enthusiasm of three people! Four young girls from the U.S. were part of the tour, two accompanying their parents and two cousins accompanying their grandmother. These young girls and the young translators inspired us and kept us smiling. They had a awesome time on the bus laughing and swapping stories.


This is a selfie of our translators and guide, Juan, holding his arms up.

We met our sponsored child the last day we were there.  Before we would meet him, we would visit two Compassion Centers and two homes of children in the program.
 Here is the first home we visited. The two ladies in red tee shirts were Compassion Center workers. We walked to the home which was near the Center. 


The sponsors on our tour were from: Ohio, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Nebraska, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, and Illinois. Some sponsor more than one child.
This is the mother and her twin boys that attend the Compassion Center.
We were graciously invited into her home and allowed to take pictures. The ceilings were very low and it was rather dark inside. They did have a ceiling light but she turned it off because of the heat.
The home had one bedroom with two double beds. The husband works two jobs and was not home at the time of our visit.
She loves growing plants and they have a few chickens.


This is where she hand washes their clothes. For inviting Compassion Sponsors into their homes Compassion provides a bag of food and supplies to the host home. In the bag, was a long rounded cylindrical item that looked like a huge candle. I learned it was soap for washing clothes.

This is her kitchen. They had a small bathroom with only a toilet. 
The small courtyard allowed some flow of air and we gave her the gifts there. Apparently, for security reasons most of the houses are enclosed like small compounds and many have barbed wire along the walls.

You can see how happy she was to receive these gifts. Cooking oil, beans, milk, soap, and I noticed that a box of American Corn Flakes was one of the items.

The mother was overjoyed to receive the dish towels and hot pads and the little boy was thrilled with the crayons. It will be a long time before I forget the look of joy on her face.
We asked her how we could pray for her and she asked for prayer for one of the boys that had a bacterial infection. We prayed for her family and thanked her for inviting us into her home.



I have never witnessed such poverty.






Most buildings have tin roofs.
This  picture was made in the rural mountain area from the bus.

Most every business had armed guards in San Salvador. This man was guarding the back of the service station where our bus stopped for a restroom break. Another guard patrolled the front of the station.


 We received another enormous reception another day at a  Child Survival Center in the mountainous area of the country.
The mothers learn to crochet and they sell their handmade  items. We bought water bottle holders with a strap that were invaluable during our stay.
This is the inside of the church which was not well ventilated. I believe it was at least 95 degrees inside. They sang for us and put on a program with the children. You could tell how hard they had worked preparing the program.

This Compassion Center hosts a Child Survival Program.
Compassion's Child Survival Program helps save the lives of poverty-stricken babies and their mothers by providing prenatal care, nutritious food and supplements, infant survival training for mothers. They also provide qualified medical assistance at childbirth, ongoing health care, as well as spiritual guidance and income-generating training.

 At our second home visit, we brought fast food for lunch that the Compassion Staff procured for us. It was recommended we use straws in all cans everywhere we ate even in nicer restaurants. We also were told to only use bottled water to brush our teeth at our hotel and not to drink anything with ice. Contaminated water and produce are a constant concern for travelers in El Salvador.
Again, we had an interpreter and she was excellent.  I can't say enough good things about the interpreters most of whom were 20-25 years old. We spent a great deal of time with them and appreciated them very much. I asked two of them how they learned to speak English so well. They told me they watched movies with English sub-titles and listened to music with English lyrics. I was so impressed and couldn't imagine how long it would take me to learn to speak Spanish as well as they had mastered English.  One of them said, "if you want something bad enough you will do it." Later in their schooling they did attend English classes.  It's one thing to be able to speak another language but to translate in real time, as they did, has to be difficult. 

 Barrels collect rain water that they use to bathe and wash clothes.
You could see light through the tin roof in this little kitchen so the roof leaked when it rained. They had one bedroom which was so small I couldn't make a picture. There was also a  hammock in the hallway used for sleeping.

This young wife and mother was thrilled with the dish towels and food. Do you see the cylindrical soap in the bottom of the bag? The husband's mother and father owned the home and lived with them. You can see the mother in the background. After our meal,  the grandmother came out and gave us bananas from their trees. My husband thought it was the best banana he had ever eaten. We were told if you can peel fruit or vegetables you could eat them, but to avoid lettuce or other leafy vegetables.



I think I would prefer cooking in their outdoor kitchen.

The neighbor's house was painted green and it really cheered up this drab area. This courtyard was a good size and gave them a great area where they could escape the heat from the house. The flowers looked great against the green wall, too.
The husband climbed the orange tree in the front courtyard and picked oranges for us.  This home in the mountainous region belongs to the husband's parents and more room outside, fruit trees growing and extra hands working made it seem like they were rich compared to the first home we visited in the city. However, they are still very poor and struggle to make ends meet.
As we left our home visit these men greeted us riding on burros.


 After a fairly short drive on the bus, we arrived at a soccer field. The skies were  overcast, thankfully, after a very humid and hot morning and there was a slight breeze. A perfect afternoon for relay games and fun with the Center children.





A good time was had by all.
The view looking out from the soccer field was magnificent! 

Finally, on the last day, we meet our sponsored child, José!
 When I saw how much he had grown, I was shocked! My first thought was, he is not going to be able to wear the clothes I brought!

 And here he is! He is a sweet, courteous and grateful young man. He loved the soccer ball and other things we brought him and he was genuinely glad to see us.

My husband bought him a Spanish bible and signed it from us. The lady in the picture is the Director of the Center where he has attended all these years. She  along with a neighbor, drove him four and one half hours to meet us.  She brought a large binder full of records over the years from the center showing what had been purchased with our gifts and pictures of where he lived and pictures of his family.

He was most appreciative and thanked us over and over for our support.
Our interpreter, a Godly man, had lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more. 
We met the sponsored children at a water park. It was a great place to meet. The pool was a great ice breaker. José grew up near a river and swims like a fish!

I'm glad I made a movie of him talking that I can listen to it over and over. Our translator asked him our questions and he asked us questions. Now, when we write letters, it will be so much more personal. We gave him a photo album with his pictures I had saved and pictures of our family. We brought José gifts for his home and personal things for him. He gave us a beach towel with a map of El Salvador on it and a wooden map of the country.

I know this was very long. There is so much more. Our trip was life-changing. I'm still pondering my feelings. I will never put a load of laundry in the washing machine again that I don't remember the young mothers without washing machines.  I will never forget the children's eagerness to learn and gratefulness for a meager plate of food. I will never forget their joy amid dire circumstances.
To learn more about Compassion you can go to: www. compassion.com


References and statistics from Compassion Magazine and My Compassion Experience Trip Guide.

Blessing to you,

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