The first year we brought students down was in 1999. CEBES was not much into the delegation business at that time, so there was more encouragement to create a “sister” relationship. I was a bit hesitant as I did not know if BC could sustain something like that: students turn over each year, and who knew what my plans would be 4-5 years in the future. I did see incredible value, though, in being able to visit and stay in a community, and to carry on the relationship beyond the week.
That first year I met Samuel Guzman from El Ocotillo while we were in Perquin, and he came with us to El Mozote. The following year I requested that our itinerary include a community stay and said I would like to do that in Ocotillo with Samuel since he had ties to CEBES. The rest is history!
Aside from our sister community relationship with El Ocotillo, we also have a relationship to a lesser extent with the urban community of Santa Cecilia. During annual visits to El Salvador in March, the BostonCollege delegation spends about three days and two nights in El Ocotillo, and usually a half-day in Santa Cecilia.
The model that has been established through the years with Fundahmer is a model that we strive to establish for the other seven trips that our Arrupe Program sponsors: one in which a sister community can be established. I’m excited that BC and Fundahmer have established such connections, and for the possibilities these long-standing connections provide. This is at the heart of what it means to live in solidarity.
I believe that our most positive contribution to our Salvadoran sister community has been the funds we have raised for the scholarship program that Fundahmer coordinates. Other projects have included the school computers, sewing machines, musical instruments and school supplies.
One challenge we experience with our El Salvador trip is that our post-trip experience, although improving, is still relatively limited. Students come back to campus with only about six weeks or so before final exams and for many, graduation. It’s difficult for them to process their experience, which is always very powerful, even transformational, and to keep focused on the relationship they’ve begun. I’ve wondered if it would be wise to move this trip to our winter break, which would give students more time to process and support, in appropriate ways through Fundahmer, our sister communities.
On our side, the most important thing we receive from the relationship is that we have the opportunity to meet, get to know and learn from such committed, competent and empowered people.
We have had so many important experiences and memories: walking through El Mozote with Rufina Amaya and her granddaughter; meeting Samuel before he died; experiencing the whole El Ocotillo community, especially Carmen; experiencing the kids from Santa Cecilia, especially Giovanni and Nancy; meeting Roberto D’Aubuisson’s son with Rubin Zamora; working with Jose, Anita, Armando and everyone at Fundahmer.
For the future, I would hope we with the Arrupe program could continue our delegation visits and institutionalize into our program a way for our students who return from the trip to stay connected and support Fundahmer and our sister communities in El Salvador in a more pronounced way.