The dry season has ended. Gracias a Dios! El Salvador has two seasons, wet (winter) and dry (summer). We have not seen rain since early last November. But now, each evening, there is a collective feeling of anticipation of the incoming rain. In the late afternoons, after teaching my seventh grade English class, I usually wander up to el campo, (the field) where the top of a hill has been cleared off. The young men from town are usually playing a serious game of soccer. Last night younger girls had a side game of softball. I join others who sit on large rocks and watch the games. The smaller children get bored with watching and climb trees, picking the pods that the trees produce and throwing them to other children on the ground. The children on the ground use rocks to break the pods open and suck out the sweet juice that surrounds the seeds inside. I've tried the juice. It's really not worth the energy it takes to retrieve, but seed juice really isn't what motivates the children to action. It's got something to do with the unity of our all being there. The wind blowing the dust from the soccer game into our faces. The way we can laugh, for the relief of ... something. For many people here I'm sure that part of it is the sense of peace. Ten years ago there was no way children or young men could play in an open field like they do now. Today children who are too young to remember use sticks to draw hop-scotch in the dust. A little later we feel the few drops of rain and can smile because there is the feeling of something different, something better, in the air.
I teach a lot of English, mostly to children. It's not uncommon for me to walk down the street and have children sing out to me, "Good Morning, Teacher. Good Morning, Teacher. How are you?..." I'm surprised by how quickly my second grade class is learning the days of the week. And my third grade students like me to give a color in Spanish, and they all quickly try to give the color in English - each wanting to be the first to know it. My ninth grade class, a small class which I spend seven hours a week with, are amazing. They understand concepts so quickly that I'm struggling to keep up.
Education is the key for the future of El Salvador. It is through education that we learn to see beyond the next corn or coffee harvest and into long term economic stability. Education is what allows the individual to take ownership of his or her own future.
I'm glad I can have the opportunity to help encourage education to people here. I don't have great hopes of my students all learning English in the next six months (though, like I said, my ninth grade class is pretty spectacular). However, my teaching opens my student's minds to what could be learned. I hope to plant curiosity to motivate them to want to continue their education. However in a country like El Salvador, instilling curiosity is not enough. Here in San Francisco the school only goes as far as the ninth grade. If a student wants to go any farther he or she has to travel to another town. Other towns have public schools as far as the 12th grade. The problem is the traveling expenses. The children of a farm family don't have the extra money it costs to ride the bus to and from other towns. So, with Fr. Rafael's help, I am trying to address the needs these students have. The project we are setting up is a sponsorship where an individual, family, or group in the United States will cover the additional cost it takes for a Salvadoran student in the rural areas to go to high school. A relationship will be set up between the student and the people in the United States who are helping. The idea is to begin the relationship now with letters and pictures. The actual financial contribution will not begin until next January when the next school year begins. The additional cost to send one student to high school is about $30 a month. With that they get transportation and other needs such as food, notebooks and uniform. If anyone is interested in beginning a relationship like this, please contact my parents (John and Rita L.), who can then get in contact with Fr. Rafael and me. I am doing well. I love (and am challenged by) the delicate balance between being motivated to take action, and discovering the peace and beauty that comes from simply being present. I'm living with people who have little control over their lives. There is so much I have to learn still. You hear a lot about the systemic problems of under- developed countries. I don't want to pretend that I have a sense of all that, at least not from the perspective that I'm given of rural Salvadoran farmers. Education empowers, and hopefully those who are educated can work to address the systemic problems found in these countries.