2020 El Salvador
Our annual trip to El Salvador has come to an end, and everyone has returned home safe and sound. The focus for this trip was to assist the Salvadorans in the building of a new Community Chicken Coop, that will supply many families in San Diego, El Salvador with both food and ongoing income. They also spent time making new friends and learning about the history, culture, and people of this wonderful country.
A special thank you to Eileen Simpson of Paisley, Ontario for sending daily updates on the activities of the group, and to Jim & Brenda Patterson, whose guidance and generosity, made Otra Fe Canada possible.
Thank you to everyone for your support with this project! ¡Muchas Gracias!
El Salvador, January 18, 2020
"And tired but happy, we returned home!"
We had an very early start to the day in order to board our flight home at 7 am local time. We arrived in Toronto on schedule despite the snow. Our drive home was slow but uneventful, and we are all grateful to Matt for all of the driving he did this last week. I am sure that I speak for all of us in saying that our own beds will be a delight tonight. Deb is still in transit to Fort St. John, British Columbia and we wish her continued safe traveling.
We brought Otoniel Pleités, the agronomist for San Salvador, home with us, and I am sure the cold and snow will be quite a shock to him. He is here for a month, and will be making some visits to the communities of our directors and we hope that he will learn lots and enjoy his time here.
As usual, this was a great week of re-connection and will provide much thought and reflection on what we can do to provide aid to those in need. It is also an opportunity to make changes in our own lives to benefit our own families and communities. We are very fortunate, and with that comes great responsibility. Thanks for reading and for your support.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 17, 2020
"Our final day in Metapán!"
We returned the rental van last night and had arranged for a chauffeured ride for the day. Our van was to arrive at 7 this morning but ran into an accident on the highway and was more than a half hour late arriving. By the time we had all of our luggage packed into the van we were running about an hour behind.
We were served breakfast at the settlement of Monte El Padre when we arrived. This group of farmers have been receiving help from Otra Fe for 20 years now and I personally have seen a change in their attitude in the 6 or 7 years that I have known them. This group has gone from seemingly hopeless to having abundant crops and working together as a cohesive group. Definitely a success here!
After breakfast they gave a report on their crops and then Kate gave a quick dental tutorial and gave out toothbrushes to all. We then loaded into the van and headed to El Milagro.
On my first trip to El Salvador, we built chicken coops for individual families in this settlement. It was really neat to see familiar faces and also to see the chicken coops still in full production. Two years ago, we built raised garden beds here and Matt and Debbie were anxious to see how they were doing. Unfortunately, they have been completely destroyed by ants! None of the beds we had helped to build are in use. On the bright side, the soil has been saved from these gardens and they intend to amend the soil in the area that was fenced in for the gardens and plant directly into the ground come the rainy season. The raised beds lasted for almost two years and produced chilies and tomatoes in amounts that precluded purchasing from the market.
It seems like we spent the whole day eating, because we were served chicken soup and tortillas here. The men remembered Matt and his chili eating antics from two years ago and egged him on to a repeat performance. It was another hot day and after eating hot soup and eating two hot peppers, the sweat was streaming off of Matt's forehead! This group also had a successful harvest and are working well together.
After saying our goodbyes we loaded back into the van and headed off to San Salvador. By the end of the 2+ hour, journey we were all a hot mess and were more than happy to arrive at our hotel. The air conditioned rooms are a blessing. Otoniel Pleités met us here and we will be bringing him home to Canada with us to visit various areas of Ontario for the next month.
We have an early start tomorrow as our flight is at 8 am. So I will sign off now and when you next hear from me I will be back in Ontario.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 16, 2020
"Hello again from Metapán!"
We met again for breakfast at the Pollo Campero at 8 am. Ramon and Hugo were there to meet us and Felix and the students from Ahuachapán also arrived. Hugo is a friend of Ramon who has been helping out this week. He was born in El Salvador and spent several years in New Jersey so speaks English quite well. Felix brought the students over to help out with the chicken coop, however there was nothing any of us could do today to help as all of the work remaining was at a height. Samuel, the bricklayer, will continue the work on the coop and will send us pictures when it is done.
As we had time available Hugo guided us up the mountain to see a waterfall that sources from the Montecristo mountain which is where Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador all meet. It was a small waterfall by our standards, but quite pretty. The journey there did tax our passenger van and was quite steep and windy. Matt did a fantastic job of driving and got us there and back safely.
While we were up the mountain we also went to a small family owned coffee company. This family owns about 1200 square meters of land that is planted with coffee trees. Their product is considered to be high altitude coffee as it is grown at 1800 feet above sea level. The manager of the company told us that he hires family members to pick the coffee beans; they are paid $1.25 per 25 pounds of beans. On a good day they could earn $8-10!
We had a quick tutorial on how the beans are processed and roasted and then arranged for Idras to deliver 170 pounds of coffee to the hotel. We will have premium coffee beans available for purchase when we arrive home.
At this point it was time to head back to Metapán after saying goodbye to the students who had tagged along with us.
We spent the afternoon resting or checking out the market.
We had our final dinner here this evening with Ramon and will get ourselves organized to leave the hotel tomorrow. We have some community visits organized for the morning and then will head to San Salvador after lunch tomorrow.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 15, 2020
Last evening we decided to get an earlier start on the day today by having breakfast here at the hotel. We picked up some fruit and eggs etc at the grocery store and all pitched in to make breakfast before heading out to the worksite. It is just a short drive out to the farm and we have rented a large passenger van to move us around.
We left the hotel just around 8am and got a start on the day before it was too hot. We continued laying bricks for the storage area of the chicken coop until lunch time. We did take a small break in the morning to take a short drive down to the lake as recommended by a local. There is a good-sized lake not far from where we are working that has a resort on it. It is quite a lovely setting with the mountains surrounding it.
Lunch today was salad with a chicken/spaghetti dish, and after a short rest we worked for another hour. At this point the brick courses were too high for us to reach without scaffolding. We decided that it wouldn't be safe for us to all to be on the scaffolding so we left the bricklayer and his helper to finish out the afternoon. Some of us were feeling like a siesta would be a good idea so we are having a quiet afternoon before heading to the town square for a dinner of pupusas with Pastor Ramon.
Ramon explained a little of the Salvadoran history while we walked through the town square, and showed us where snipers fired on the civilians in the streets from the church tower during the Civil War. During the conflict in the 1980's dead bodies lay in the streets and became so commonplace that it ceased to have an impact on people. It's terribly hard to imagine what it would be like to have lived through a time like that. We are certainly fortunate to live in peace.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 14, 2020
The morning started around 5 am with the loud rolling of the nearby church bells. The slow chiming morphed into a rapid bonging call to worship which was impossible to sleep through. Around the same time the hotel staff started knocking about and the last hour of sleep was lost.
We all found a cup of coffee or tea before loading up the rental van to make our way to a restaurant where we met Ramon for breakfast. We then made our way out to San Diego community to start our work on the chicken coop. This is a smaller build than the one we worked on last year, however it is out in the open, at the foot of a volcano and it was blazing hot! We all were very diligent about drinking water and taking breaks out of sheer necessity. The men of the project had already laid the foundation and started the first few courses of brick. We went to work at carrying bricks, mixing mortar and filling the joints. We were all happy when it came time to break for lunch when we enjoyed chicken soup and tortillas.
We worked for an hour or so after lunch and then headed back into Metapan to meet with a potential coffee supplier suggested by Ramon. We sampled everything from espresso to frappuccino and came to the consensus that it was very good coffee that we can bring home to sell. On Thurs we will go see the plantation and pick up some beans.
From there it was back to the hotel for much needed showers and down time. An easy dinner of pizza and discussion time to help us digest all we have seen and done in the last couple days was a good way to finish the day.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 13, 2020
"Hello all from Metapán!"
This morning after a lovely breakfast at the hotel the students arrived and gave us an update on their marks and progress. There are six students currently and they are studying theology, English, law, engineering, social work and computer science. They are all progressing well in their programs and many have part time jobs as well. We did have to encourage them to be more conscientious about sending consistent monthly reports.
After our visit we set off to El Refugio to visit the women's bakery. We were sad to find that the women have had to discontinue the bakery business for various reasons, some of which is demand and cost of doing business. The women are currently looking at other ideas for a business such as child care.
We will continue to support the women if they choose to pursue this direction. We were served a tasty lunch of tacos and quesadillas and then headed off to see the ruins at Tazumel. Unfortunately the ruins were not open today so we had a look through the fence and explored the souvenir stalls.
Our next stop was the hotel in Metapán where we met Pastor Ramon and his students. The hotel is quite lovely with an outdoor courtyard that lends a Tuscan feel. The students prepared dinner for us serving up pupusas with all the trimmings. Following dinner we had a game of the ever popular and always amusing mini sticks hockey and some of the students played guitar and sang for us.
Tomorrow we are off to begin our work on the chicken coop. I suspect that it will be another hot, sunny day.
~ Eileen Simpson
El Salvador, January 12, 2020
It was a very warm day here and while we all appreciated the sun, it was a little extreme at times and we haven't had time to adapt to the temperature change. Thankfully today was spent visiting with the farmers involved with the chicken coop project from last year and seeing the gardens at the clinic that we planted three years ago.
Our first stop was at the grounds of the clinic to see the plantain and banana plants that we had helped to plant on a previous visit. The area is now almost completely filled with plants and is very productive which is so heartening to see! Banana plants reproduce quite well and this has been taken advantage of in a great way, producing a lush garden area where there was previously just open ground.
The Baptist Church out of Ohio has also been working with this group of people and has helped to start a hydroponic garden in the same area which is slowly beginning to produce some organic vegetables. The students that we support are primarily looking after these Gardens and are also teaching the primary students some of the skills necessary to grow the gardens. This will ensure that the projects will produce healthy food for generations to come.
We then went to check on the chicken coop that we worked on last year. Production is slow on getting started for a couple of reasons and there were only 75 chicks in the barn today. When we left off last year the farmers still had crops in the field to get in and then the rains came and washed out the roads so they were delayed in getting in chicks. Further delays were met when trying to source day old chicks so the farmers are only just getting back into broiler production. Happily there is a demand for the chickens so hopefully we will see this project meeting it's purpose in the next few months.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch and then a cruise through the market before attending the Sunday service with Felix's congregation. The lawyer for Otra Fe El Salvador, Angel, and his wife Roxanne joined us for dinner and we discussed the changes they have seen with the country's new president. Most of their comments are very positive, as gang violence has been checked and money is being channeled into education and health. All very encouraging to hear. It is now time to say goodnight, hope all is well at home.
~ Eileen Simpson
P.S. for those who would like to find us on a map we are west of the border of Guatemala and Honduras, north of Santa Ana.
El Salvador, January 11, 2020
"Hola from Ahuachapán!"
Yesterday Matt, Kate, Linda and I (Eileen), all from the Kincardine, Ontario area, made our way through the heavy rain that was flooding the Southwestern Ontario region, to Toronto airport to meet up with the rest of the Otra Fe group with whom we would fly to San Salvador. There we met our fearless leader, Brenda Patterson, her sister Betty McLandress, their friend Janine Lunn and her son Xavier (15), and also Debbie McGregor who had flown in from Fort St. John, British Columbia the day before. The 9 of us made our hellos and checked our bags then made our way through to our gate.
We had an uneventful flight, leaving Toronto before the threatening freezing rain. It had been 11°C when we reached the city of Toronto. Very strange for January!. When we landed here in El Salvador it was 33°C and humid. The air was smoky from the cane fields being burnt which we could see from the airplane as we made our descent.
The airport here has been completely renovated over the past couple of years and it was a fairly efficient process to make our way through immigration and meet up with our transport to the hotel. After the whole day of travel the two hour drive thru the dark, with hot, smoke-filled air flowing thru the open windows feels endless. Some of us now can recognize landmarks on the journey and can explain to the un-initiated that the sweet-funky smell that has displaced the smoke is that of fermenting coffee beans.
Happily we arrived at the hotel and got settled in and slept remarkably well despite the roar of traffic and honking horns. The bread boy has been by with his bicycle horn blaring so it must be time to rise and shine!
This morning we meet Felix for breakfast and have some community visits. I will check back this evening if time permits, to tell you about our day.
~ Eileen Simpson