I have now been a Maryknoll lay missioner for 10 years, and I still love what I do! I continue working on agricultural and environmental issues in the rural parish of Monte San Juan, about an hour outside of San Salvador, and continue to enjoy sharing in the life of the people here in El Salvador, who have become like family.
The easiest changes to see are the children growing up. But there is also other progress, as was evidenced by the comment of a recent visitor, who said that our Monte San Juan appeared to be the least littered community they’d seen in El Salvador. That made me proud because it was the result of the work of all of us together.
We have made an effort to collect recyclable bottles and cans and now have built and installed bins in all but the last two of the dozen villages of the town—and those remaining two will finish building theirs soon. Some of the bins fill up very quickly, while in other villages it will take a little more education and encouragement to get folks to really use them. We’ve also been working to eliminate plastic drinking straws and have decreased the use of Styrofoam cups and plates.
Our environmental group has also been working with the local government to improve land use regulation and watershed protection and to promote communitywide efforts to protect the rivers and the entire environment of the town. And we hope to get regular trash collection throughout the town instituted someday.
Our agricultural group continues to promote native crops, a more diversified production, organic farming and home gardening as well as small animal production.
Besides the work, just sharing life’s journey is really what my “mission” is all about. Working together, we have built a great sense of community, as we help each other with work projects, visit when someone is sick, console each other when there are deaths in the family, and share the good times with a lot of laughter.
This past year, we lost two members of our ag ministry group, including Julia (whose land we have been using for our community organic production), and family members of several more. One of my neighbors now goes for dialysis three days a week (leaving on the first bus at 3:45 a.m. to get to the hospital in San Salvador by 6), another had to have his leg amputated, and another is still reeling from his wife taking off unannounced with their two young daughters a couple of months ago (she is probably headed to the U.S.), so I try to spend more time with them.
But there are happy times to share, too: the twins next door made their First Communions; many of our young people graduated; four new babies were born to families in our neighborhood faith-sharing group in the last few months; several of us enjoy catching up and laughing together while picking coffee at our neighbor Juan’s farm; and the parish Christmas dinner helped complete the fundraising to purchase a property adjacent to the parish that will serve for youth activities and someday maybe even a parish school.
Sometimes it seems like we just go from one fiesta to the next, but life should be a celebration! All year long, it is easy to find a reason to celebrate as a community, often with a procession. Perhaps the biggest of all this past year was the canonization of Archbishop Óscar Romero. While the actual event took place in Rome, there were lots of festivities here in his homeland, including in our parish (click here to read my report about it)
Peace and blessings from El Salvador,
Love and prayers,