Of pickup trucks and a very hungry caterpillar - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2024 newsletter

 

Josh Wetmore, El Salvador

Camila, the first happy client of our new children’s library, shows off The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Here are a few unrelated tales from the first months of 2024 to highlight the range of personal and ministry-related growth during my third year in El Salvador.

 

This exists?

One of my educational endeavors is a Saturday tutoring program. While other community members teach younger students, I spend the day working with high school students. Most of the sessions focus on math or English or sometimes science, but one of my first-year high-schoolers recently asked me for help with a history presentation she was preparing.

The problem is that, while the government creates social studies textbooks, the schools don’t usually have enough to go around so the students are left without a textbook to do their homework (this is true of science and English as well, though students do have their own math and literature books).

I promised Xiomara that I would try and find some materials to bring her on Saturday to help her prepare. I struggled to find good sources for the military history of El Salvador in the early 20th century that were in Spanish but weren’t graduate-level journal articles. I don’t even remember what I googled, but I eventually stumbled on a revelation.

It turns out, that all of the math, literature and social studies books from first grade to the end of high school are available online with free downloadable PDFs. After a few conversations, I learned that this website was originally intended for teachers and that all teachers are aware of it, but, for reasons surpassing understanding, don’t share the resource with their students.

Now all of my students know.

 

Josh riding shotgun in the pickup truck

Riding in the front seat

Parate aquí para ella.” Stop here for her.

As we rolled down El Cedro’s dirt road toward the kindergarten right before lunch, I asked the pickup truck’s driver to stop to give a ride to the woman walking down the road, carrying something on her head.

While she climbed onto the bed of the truck (a common, well-accepted and legal mode of transportation here), I was struck with how things have changed.

For the past two years, it was a common occurrence for me to sit in the backseat of that same white Mazda pickup while Sister Ana Rosa in the front seat told Don Miguel to slow down for people in the community who were going our way. I was always impressed at how often she knew the people who hopped in and how she usually knew who to stop for and who was only going a short distance and didn’t need a ride.

This time, I was in the front seat, a new driver was at the wheel, and Sister Guadalupe, a recent addition to our team at the kinder (preschool), was in the back. I was the one with the most experience in the community. I was the one who earlier asked the driver to stop because I recognized the young girl who was waiting by the side of the road with her mother and brother, knowing that they lived near where we were going, and I was the one who knew this woman could use a ride because the stretch of the road we were on didn’t have any houses on it for a good while.

I had never pictured myself in the front seat before.

 

Story time

Thanks to fellow missioners Pete and Melissa Altman, I had a whole new stack of children’s books to sort through and organize. One of my projects for 2024 has been opening up a public library out of the kinder. I’ve been using any free time I have at the kinder to sort through all of the books already there from a previous library project that went the way of the dodo years ago.

I thought I was almost done when this new and generous donation of exactly the kinds of books we didn’t have enough of showed up. So it’s back to sorting.

The school day had already ended for the little ones, and after three English lessons before lunch, I was feeling a little unmotivated toward the pile of books. Then a smiling face walked into the room. Camila is 6 years old and the granddaughter of one of the women who works at the kinder. When classes are done, this smiley, smart, curious and tough little ball of laughs often seeks me out to see what I’m up to.

Usually we draw or toss a ball around, but today we were in the library. I asked if she wanted to read a book and grabbed a Spanish translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Camila is just starting to learn how to read, so it took a while, but she did a great job of sticking with it. About halfway through, her older cousin, a first grader, came in and helped her finish the book.

The library isn’t open yet but it’s already having an impact.  


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Josh Wetmore
Josh Wetmore joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in December 2021. He teaches and tutors in the rural community of El Cedro near Zaragoza, El Salvador.