SHU Delegation Builds Foundations for Two Churches in War-Torn El Salvador

News Story:

A delegation of 15 students from varied academic backgrounds spent spring break in El Salvador helping to build churches and improve community healthcare — continuing an annual tradition that began nearly a decade ago.

This was the 9th annual trip to the Town of Tierra Blanca, which means “White Land,” a community plagued by war, poverty, earthquakes, and severe health disparities. On their return, the delegation created a Web site to collect donations to help the people there who live in poverty.

 “Students have an opportunity to learn and to give something to another culture,” said Assistant Professor of Education Maria Lizano-DiMare, Ed.D. “They’re really ambassadors for the university.”

Lizano-DiMare met with the students once per week for eight weeks prior to the trip to provide them with a background about El Salvador’s history, people, geography, and the needs of its citizens. Lizano-DiMare, other faculty, and the students also use the time to raise funds for the trip. Any money they raise is used to support the local communities. The students raised $5,800 prior to this year’s trip.

While there, they helped build the foundations for two Catholic churches being constructed in the villages of San Pedro and La Hacienda. The SHU delegation split into two groups to assist the engineers and construction workers at each site. Each day they worked from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., in nearly 100-degree heat and high humidity to clear brush, dig trenches, remove rocks, and begin pouring cement.

“When we left, they were starting to pour the cement,” Lizano-DiMare said. “We’re helping them, but in a way they’re helping us keep our perspective.”

“The entire delegation turned out to be exceptional,” wrote Sister Elena Jaramillo in a letter to Dr. Anthony J. Cernera, SHU president. “The physical work they took on helping to build the foundation for two chapels at two different sites simply amazed the construction crew.”

Poor residents of Tierra Blanca are so grateful for the return of the delegation each year that they purchased expensive bottled Coca Cola to give to them upon their arrival because they know that Americans enjoy cola.

In the afternoons the group visited health clinics, community organizations and local farmers.

They discussed agricultural issues with the farmers and learned about the market for corn. In Tierra Blanca, 300 families plant crops on one parcel of land but are not able to earn large profits because they owe significant sums to banks. An average farmer earns $4 per day and must work in intense heat and humidity. With that $4 they must repay their loans, buy school books for their children, purchase healthcare, and food.

“It’s a challenge,” Lizano-DiMare said. “That’s really eye-opening for a lot of students who at home buy a coffee for $2.  It’s very tough for these people to make it.”

Students also spent time with local children enrolled in an art class and visited health clinics to learn about the healthcare delivery system in the impoverished Central American country.

“These are challenges they’ve never been faced with,” Lizano-DiMare said. “They learned to stretch their boundaries and open their minds. I think they learned to appreciate what they have in the United States. Sometimes we take things for granted.”