On March 21, FUNDAHMER welcomed representatives from four international communities: First United Church, Crescent United Church, Cayuga, and Notre Dame High School, as well as several national communities from Morazán, La Libertad, and San Salvador for our 6th International Sister Community Conference. We had a busy schedule, and shared amazing memories and reflections with one another over the course of the five days. Here is a brief summary of what we did:
On Saturday afternoon, we quickly got ready to participate in the Vigil for Monsignor Romero. We arrived at the meeting place, “Salvador del Mundo,” and waited as the crowds gathered in anticipation of the event. There were vendors selling Romero t-shirts and posters, and there was plenty of music, including a drum group from one of the communities we work with, Santa Cecilia. There were beautiful banners with Romero´s image on them, and groups of delegates from the international community who came to walk in solidarity with the Salvadorans during this important week, commemorating Romero´s 35 martyrdom anniversary. We began the vigil and marched all the way to the cathedral in San Salvador center, where we stayed for mass given by the archbishop himself. After quite the afternoon and evening of walking and celebrating, we finally made our way home to rest up for the next day!
The theme we discussed on Sunday was the National Reality of El Salvador, and in the morning session, we were honored with the presence of Rick Jones, from Catholic Relief Services. He shared with us a variety of issues that compose the Salvadoran reality including environmental vulnerability, domestic abuse, gang violence, and immigration, creating a contextual background for the current situation of the country. After Rick finished his presentation, we broke off into community groups to examine the problems that exist within each of our communities, and to brainstorm potential solutions. What we realized when we gathered again as a whole group is that all of our communities, both those in El Salvador and those abroad, have the same issues: lack of communication and lack of solid organization. This was a revealing moment to realize that on both sides of the sister relationship there exist voids in these two aspects, and not only between sister communities, but within each individual community as well.
In the afternoon we developed the immigration facet of the national reality with the help of a Salvadoran organization called COFAMIDE (The Committee of Family Members of Disappeared and Deceased Migrants). Anita, from COFAMIDE, shared with us the realities that Salvadorans and other immigrants face when they decide to make the journey up North: imprisonment, extortion, death, rape, abuses, etc. She also shared with us the work COFAMIDE does in finding the missing and deceased migrants who have been lost along the way, some stuck in Mexican jails, others whose remains are buried in unmarked graves. After the presentation we broke off into groups once again, but this time to share with one another our experiences with immigration. It was a beautiful moment of sharing, and allowed people from different countries to get to know one another better, and to understand their struggles on a different level. As described by one participant, hearing the personal immigration stories put a face and a name to the issue. So many times we hear about immigration in the news, and it’s glossed over as if it’s a normal thing. But with the name and face and personal story of suffering at the forefront, the situation changes and puts the focus on the individual, and brings us closer to walking in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
On Monday morning we got to work exploring the theme of Food Sovereignty with FUNDAHMER´s own Mercedes Sanchez. She helped us better understand the definitions and meanings of Food Sovereignty and Food Security. The numbers startled us as we discovered how much it costs to grow the food one needs to eat…An impossible system where the farmer goes into debt, with no chance of making a profit, meaning that often times he or she will sell part of their crop to pay off a debt, or to buy something they don´t have, or, they will work making hammocks, selling them for a marginal profit, creating a system of unjust labor. After having a better understanding of the food crisis, we jumped into a conversation about sustainable solutions and family farm plans. Despite the challenges that the national reality presents us, it is important to remain hopeful that alternative, sustainable solutions are out there. We need to put the time and effort into making those alternatives become the reality; to create the shift between systems that don´t work to ones that do.
In the afternoon we began a workshop on Globalization and Solidarity with Anita Ortiz and Laurel Marshall from FUNDAHMER. They invited each sister relationship to gather together and dream about what they want for their community in the future. To begin the exercise, the two representatives from La Hacienda shared their experience in creating 3 different murals: what their community was like when they arrived to the land, what they currently have, and what they want for the future. We used this experience as a model to reflect upon the future visions of each Salvadoran community.
And already, we arrive at the last day full day of the conference, but perhaps the most important: March 24, the 35th anniversary of Romero. We left the retreat center early to make it to mass at the Hospital of Divine Providence (where Romero was assassinated), and we even got the chance to see the President of El Salvador, Salvador Sanchez Cerén speak! What a surprise! We then began the march from the Hospital to Salvador del Mundo under a burning hot morning sun. We walked among the crowds and ended up at the crypt at the cathedral, where we were expecting to enter and visit the resting place of Romero. However, the archbishop was holding mass upstairs, and decided to keep the crypt locked and closed, as to try and prevent people skipping out on his mass. Filled with much disappointment that we couldn’t go inside, we decided to take advantage of being in the area and went to see the hidden beauties of the El Rosario church the next block over. Overall, it was a wonderful morning.
In the afternoon we continued the workshop on solidarity and sister communities with Anita and Laurel. We worked very hard, and by the end of the afternoon, as a whole group, we came up with a solid definition of what a sister relationship is: It is an international relationship of mutual exchange and accompaniment among organized communities based on equality, inclusion, solidarity, friendship, and mutual respect that works for the common good, inspired by Saint Romero. And with this new community-created definition, and the inspiration from group work with individuals from different countries, and different communities, we ignited fires within ourselves to continue this work in our own communities as a way to create awareness and to create more support for the projects that are born out of the sister relationships.
The conference couldn’t have gone better, and we at FUNDAHMER are so excited and pleased with the outcome! We thank all of those who participated, both those from the international communities, and those from the communities in El Salvador. Below is a link for more pictures from the conference. Please feel free to take and use whatever photos you would like.