Day 2 (3/22/2018) by Rachel Grotheer
Our team started our trip with a dramatic transition: from snow and ice to sun and heat! Jon Synder, one of the founders of Mission to El Salvador (MTES), picked us up at the airport and drove us through the city to the MTES offices, sharing with us facts on the way. Right away we noticed many people on the side of the road selling food and trinkets, even wading through stopped traffic to sell various objects. Jon then explained the economic situation in the country. He told us that minimum wage is about $8 a day or $300 a month. Even a doctor only makes about $800-$1000 a month, and yet the cost of living here is not much different than in the US (gas is $3.06/gallon, for example). With such a disparity between the income level and the cost of living, it is no wonder we saw so many trying to boost their income. We also noticed that every building has locked gates, is covered in barbed wire, and often there is an armed guard out front. All that said, we also were greeted by a beautiful country, and very friendly people. Jon and the team tried to lessen our initial culture shock by feeding us hamburgers the first night!
Our first day, Jon took us to the MTES office and explained more about the work MTES does. They have three micro-enterprises to increase opportunities for residents of the city to be employed. We saw several people working for one of them, making beautiful greeting cards, detailed with strips of colored paper. Across the street is another one of the enterprises, a small bakery selling sweet breads (hopefully we will try some soon!). The third entreprise is run by the women in the “Free the Girls” program, who had been trafficked. They sell new or gently used bras, giving them an opportunity to earn an income without having to interact with a man again.
We spent the rest of the day doing various work projects around the offices. Jim and Eric worked on putting up drywall to provide a more private space for the card-making enterprise. Sean and Paul worked on hanging electric fans in the at area. Rachel started painting trim and doorways in the offices. We will continue these projects throughout the week. I, (Rachel), was particularly struck by the joy and faith with which the employees and volunteers at MTES carry out their work. I was even interrupted in my work halfway the morning to join with five of them in prayer. They truly cover their work in prayer, as several prayers were said throughout the day, as different activities began.
After lunch, we worked with the El Faro (The Lighthouse) program, where clients of MTES (who struggle with addiction and homelessness) can come in, get their hair cut, play games, hear a short devotional and enjoy a meal. Eric and Rachel heated up several pizzas (in a very hot kitchen) with another volunteer from Germany. The rest of the team sat at tables with the clients, chatting and playing games with them. MTES is committed to three principles- dignity, respect, and love - and we really saw the MTES staff embody that in this time. They had a cake to celebrate all the February and March birthdays, they knew the clients by name and greeted them with a smile and handshake, they shared from the Bible that each person in the room was created in God’s image, that God said “it is good” when we created human beings, and that, in Jesus, we can all be God’s children.
We are about to enjoy a traditional Salvadoran dish “pupusas”, and then to go prepare and distribute about 300 meals to the homeless in the city. A long day, but it has been great so far to see the tireless effort the whole MTES staff puts into showing respect, dignity, and love to each person that crosses their path.