About El Salvador

Local life, ER mission life–
Church—The ER Mennonite church is a small, warm fellowship that meets 3 times a week. It provides Sunday school opportunities for all ages and chidren’s church. There are also semi-weekly small group meetings for the men of the church and occasional small group women’s meetings. Vacation Bible Schools and evangelistic campaigns are offered as the opportunity provides.

Christian school: The church sponsors a small Christian school that focuses on two main groups of people 1) Those who for personal beliefs choose not to send their children to public schools; and 2) special needs students who are not finding educational opportunities elsewhere.

Local life, general ER community life—El Resbaladero is a rural community, a fragment of what used to be a huge “hacienda” (ranch) which was approximately 25 miles in diameter before the land was parceled to private land owners and cooperatives. It is a highly traditional community in terms of social structure, religion, political leanings, and beliefs about health and healing.

Social structure: respect and courtesy are highly valued. In the previous generation the well-mannered children would greet their parents in the morning by folding their hands in front of their faces, bowing, and saying, “Good morning, Father/Mother”. To not do so engendered reproof.

Respect and courtesy are manifested currently by the great importance placed on titles and greetings. Any person who outranks one in age or position is addressed as “Don” (for men) and “Niña” (for women). To miss a title is to insult that person.

Greeting all passersby is a sign of respect and affection for that person. Indeed, a highly effective way to express displeasure with another is to miss greeting him/her as one passes on the street. Many subtle protocols are involved in correct greetings (from formal to informal, from cool to warm, from intimate to formal, how to interrupt a conversation to return a greeting, etc, etc). Foreigners are granted a lot of grace for missing these cues occasionally!

Religion: the area is predominately traditional Catholic in its beliefs. Masses are well-attended, especially for the two great celebrations of the year: Christmas mass and Holy Week events. Processions during the weeks before these major celebrations are part of the faithful practice of the religion. Less well-known days of celebration are also maintained. These include the Day of the Cross, when crosses are placed in the front yards and decorated in preparation for processionals. Another important feast day is the 9th day after the death of a loved one: that day is celebrated with a special mass and meal for family members and friends.

Political leanings: the years of civil war and the accompanying dangers of expressing one’s political views have rendered most people shy about expressing their political ideologies. As a whole, however, ER (albeit rural) has been uneasy about a strongly leftist agenda. In the current political climate it is acceptable to express one’s political convictions.

Health and healing: To understand the community’s perspective of health and healing, one needs to understand that the first road to the city (Santa Ana is 10 miles from ER) was built in the older generation’s memory. Until the fairly recent past, a trip to the closest medical facility entailed an entire day’s journey by oxcart.

Because of this history, people in the community have developed various attitudes toward health:
1) Ill health is always to be treated with utmost concern. To ignore it most likely means to bury a family member in the near future.
2) The older generation is expert at home remedies. The people have had more personal experience than with home remedies any physician, hospital treatment, or pharmaceutical medication. Most popular home remedies involve making teas of various leaves, barks, and roots of trees, making poultices of multiple [mostly malodorous!] ingredients, and avoiding certain foods and activities [specific to the illness or condition]. As an example, prevention of arthritis means that one avoids exposing active joints to moisture (no baths or swimming after a hot day’s work).
3) What is new is viewed as experimental, no matter what the source.
4) Immediacy is the primary marker of efficacy. (ie. if it doesn’t work right away, it is no good–it will never work.)

General El Salvador overview and demographics:

Demographics: El Salvador gained its independence from Spain Sept 15, 1821. Independence Day is still an important annual celebration. The small country is 8, 126 sq. miles in size and has an estimated population of 7.1 million (Pop. Density 823.6/ sq. mile. The country has higher than average inequality of wealth distribution (Gini coefficient). Approximately 1 million Salvadorans are estimated to reside in the United States and in Canada. Currency is the US dollar. Coffee and sugar are the main agricultural exports.                  

Climate: rainy season, moderate temperatures from May to October; dry season, a period of breezes and warmer temperatures. Climates vary depending on elevation.

History:  El Salvador has a long history of inequality of land distribution. Dissatisfaction over this inequality was a key factor in fueling the civil war which lasted from 1981-1993. In 1975, 96 percent of the rural population was estimated to have access to less than 12 acres of marginal quality land while 14 acres were necessary to provide for an average-sized family.

“Salvadoran migratory patterns have been shaped by socioeconomic problems such as insufficient land, limited job opportunities, low wages, and persistent poverty. Some Salvadorans emigrated permanently from the country, some moved within the rural area itself, and some moved to urban areas in search of a better life. Internal and external migration levels were augmented by the civil conflict of the 1980s, although family and community fragmentation and dislocation were long-standing characteristics of life for the lower class. These patterns can be traced to the latter half of the nineteenth century, when communal landholdings were dissolved to facilitate the expansion of private holdings. This action created a dispossessed labor force whose movements came to be dictated by the cycles of coffee production.

“Seasonal migrations from home communities to cash crop estates at times of harvest have been a way of life for many rural dwellers ever since coffee production came to dominate the Salvadoran economy…

“Between 1979 and 1988 as many as 500,000 Salvadorans were estimated to have reached the United States, the majority via Mexico. In overall terms, the extent of Salvadoran emigration to foreign countries was such that the United Nations (UN) in 1982 estimated that one-third of the work force had left the country.”

From : http://countrystudies.us/el-salvador/32.htm, accessed July 3, 2008

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The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed... Luke 4:17