Back from El Salvador!

{One of countless murals depicting former Archbishop Oscar Romero}

I’m back just in time for seeding in the greenhouse! I spent the last 6 weeks in El Salvador, which definitely didn’t have any of the cold or snow that Wisconsin was getting, though towards the end there, it seemed like the weather wasn’t all that different! First things first – everybody (everybody!) upon hearing I was heading to El Salvador asked why? Isn’t it so dangerous? Some basic info helps – yes, there is violence, and yes, there are certainly plenty of problems in El Salvador. But that’s the case in so many places in this country, too, and a steady news feed of violence every day creates a misleading impression, even as I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of so many problems there. But what I really took away from my visit was that there are so many people working to create real, lasting, significant change in their communities and their country. It is thoroughly inspiring stuff! It’s also such a relief to be back. Honestly, the most challenging part for me was living in a big city again, with all of its characteristically big city realities such as traffic, noise, and garbage. Nothing like the country air, open space, and the contented moo-ing of cows across the road!

{The Ceiba tree – one of the most impressive in all of Central America}

So, other than practicing lots and lots of Spanish, I learned a ton about the history of El Salvador (something with no small involvement on the part of the US). Going there, I knew embarrassingly little, but we talked about everything from the early years of the country under colonial rule to the rough and tumble 20th century of farmer uprisings and civil war to the present day (now 25 years after the signing of the peace accords that ended the civil war). Quite possibly the most impressive personality I learned about was Archbishop Oscar Romero – a man of incredible humility, faith, courage, and humanity. I can’t even begin to go into his legacy here, but look him up if you don’t know, or even if you think you do.

{Members of Community Romero seeding indigo!}

I was studying Spanish at the Center for Exchange and Solidarity – an incredible institution that does so much more than language instruction. They work with women to develop and manage their own businesses, they advocate in support of human rights, they provide filters and instruction on how to maintain them for communities without access to potable water, they support communities coming together to create a dignified, safe, fulfilling life for themselves, all in the face of incredible challenges (lack of resources, political corruption, violence from the gangs and the police, etc. etc.). I met a group of women who have recently begun growing indigo for processing it into dye (see above photo). While there’s not a lot happening right now since it’s the dry season (i.e. there is NO rain from November to April or May; everything survives off of the morning dew), we managed to collect a bucket worth of seeds for expanding production next season.

{A mural in the Museum of Anthropology depicting some of El Salvador’s recent history}

Romero Community (named after the former archbishop) is a group north of the capital that has been struggling for 15 years to secure access to their own land in the face of violent intimidation from the gangs, the police, and surrounding landowners. In the past year they constructed 75 concrete houses, are currently finishing up a community center where they will offer gathering space and classes, and have plans to build a church on site as well. All this starting with ramshackle houses made of laminate and tin. They have a budding agricultural production co-op that will grow indigo (just planted hundreds of plants!), along with vegetables, to both raise money as a business and provide food for the community. They are constructing football fields on their former homesites to provide recreational opportunities for children in the area, they have offered scholarships to former gang members to help them access opportunities in life, and they are always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need. They don’t just want these things for themselves, but to better everybody’s lives in whatever way they can.

Long story short, check out CIS and think about supporting their incredible work! And back here at the ranch, we’ll be starting our first little onion seedlings this week!

-Dennis, 2/28/17