Students, faculty, and staff will help build homes in El Salvador during a Suffolk’s annual winter break service-learning expedition.
Following in the footsteps of the late Congressman Joe Moakley, a Suffolk Law School alumnus, the delegation will be learning about political, social, and economic issues in the Central American nation during their two weeks of travel, study, and service.
Encounters with former guerrillas and military combatants in the civil war of the 1980s gave participants a firsthand look at what was at stake, and they travel to sites significant to the 12-year conflict.
At the University of Central America, students will tour the site where six priests, a housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated, a transgression that triggered a congressional investigation led by the late Congressman John Joseph “Joe” Moakley. The armed forces were implicated, and the United States cut off military aid, leading to an eventual peace.
Working through Habitat for Humanity, the delegation will participate in construction projects in the colonial city of Suchitoto.
Alternative Winter Break trips to El Salvador have occurred annually since 2007 through the efforts of the Moakley Institute , S.O.U.L.S., Suffolk’s Organization for Uplifting Lives through Service and Suffolk’s History Department.
The Suffolk delegation had the great pleasure to meet with two activists working to fight against proposed mining in the Cabanas area of El Salvador. The organizers spoke passionately about some of the strides they have made including meeting with their legislative assembly, speaking with and organizing people to join the efforts to help protect their land and water. They also spoke of the murders of three anti-mining activists.
Specifcally, they are in opposition to the Pacific Rim Mining Company, a Canadian mining firm, effort’s to open full-scale mining operations in El Salvador. The company had previously been given permission to do mineral exploration but they have not been able to secure permits to move forward with full-scale extraction. As a result, Pacific Rim is suing the government of El Salvador for $100 million dollars, citing that although they are a Canadian firm, they are still a party to CAFTA because they have a US affiliate.
Protesters cite environmental concerns related to air pollution, the degradation of the water supply, and reducing the productivty of agricultural lands. Some of the chemicals that are used in the mining process include; cyanide, arsenic, mercury, antimony, cadmium, selenium, and thallium. These chemicals can lead to not only death but other life long health issues to the countries population, and medical assistance comes at a high cost.
In response, Pacific Rim’s website, http://www.pacrim-mining.com/s/Home.asp, had this to say after all the buzz against their mining projects and efforts and the murders of three leading activists against the mining effort between June – December 2009, “Pacific Rim Mining Corp. and its subsidiaries (collectively, “PacRim”) are environmentally and socially responsible gold mining and development companies with significant assets in El Salvador.”
To follow other current issues and topics of discussion around El Salvador news and events check out, http://www.salvaide.ca/mining.html
After 14 days of intense learning and working, the Suffolk group returns to Boston to start a new semester. As in past years, the group started in San Salvador to get a sense of the country’s current political, social and economic situation. With only a few months in office, El Salvador’s newly elected government finds there’s a lot of work ahead to combat crime, create jobs and provide basic needs to all El Salvador’s citizens including those impacted by massive mudslides in November. Our group met with ex-war combatants (guerrilas and members of the military), learned about the country’s history (pre-colonial to present) and traveled to many sites significant to the 12-year civil war including: UCA, Archbishop Romero’s residence and assassination site, and the Civil War Memorial.
The chapel at La Divina Providencia, Archbishop Romero's former home and site of his assasination.
We then headed out of the city to reconnect with our host families in El Sitio and traveled to San Vicente to start work on 2 houses with Habitat for Humanity.
Our host community, San Vicente, was among the most hard-hit by the landslides in November. Just days before the horrific news out of Haiti, we were touring neighborhoods reduced to a pile of boulders. It was hard to digest the fact that over the span of three hours, a severe rain storm resulted in over 300 people dead and left thousands more homeless in just the San Vicente area. Relief efforts were still underway when we arrived and rebuilding will surely take several years.
Viewing the aftermath of the mudslides in Verra Paz, ES
Now that we’re back in Boston, the Suffolk delegation will strive to keep the spotlight on El Salvador. The late Congressman Joe Moakley aptly summarized our ongoing obligation to the country of El Salvador:
Indirectly we’re responsible for a lot of damage that’s been done in that country…. We’ve spent $6 billion down there helping to destroy the place… we should spend a couple of dollars putting it back together again.
The El Salvador group has now completed four days of construction. What once looked like a small patch of miscellaneous materials has slowly but surely transformed into the outline of homes. We’ve built up to the 12th level (of 14) of cinder blocks and now need to use scaffolding to finish up the roof.
The process of laying one cinder block at a time and filling in the cracks and holes with the various cements continues as we snake our way through the maze of scaffolding. Even more challenging is pounding materials for to make the flooring.
It is exciting to see how far we have come in just a few days of construction. We hope to finish the 14th, and final, level of the walls and starting framing the roof.
Hello from El Salvador’s AWB trip 2010! We have now completed two full work days of constructing homes. There are two sites that are three minutes away from one another. The group is split up evenly to work on building two homes for a large family that are currently sharing one home that has reached its capacity.
It is incredible what the masons are capable of creating with what few resources they have. The homes are build out of cement cinder blocks, two different types of cement (which is all mixed by hand) to fill in the cracks and holes and steel wire reinforcement. It is a tedious procedure laying a layer of cement, a layer or cinder blocks, filling in the cracks and holes with the chispa and mezcla, the two different types of cement and then starting the process over again.
To lay down the flooring we mix a special type of dirt, 7 wheel barrels full at a time, and a bag of cement. We mix this with shovels and our brute strength! This mixture is then carried in by the bucket load into a room and stomped down, after water is continuously added. To stomp it there is a stick that is attached to a round cement barrel shaped thing. We pick it up and drop it down until the floor is stiff and even. It is then repeated several more times.
The sun shines brightly throughout the day on our backs. The sweat drips from our foreheads. it is about 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit but on the work site it is not stop work, singing, joking and good times. The work we are doing is hard but it benefits the families for a lifetime! These work sites are these people homes.
Hello from the El Salvador AWB trip 2010! We have had an exciting first week. We arrived in the capital, San Salvador, on January 3rd and went right into full throttle. The first three days were spent at Hotel Mariscal. During those few days we met with a current politician of the FMLN party, a nun who is the caretaker of the home and church where Archbishop Romero was assassinated in 1980 and the UCA, University of Central America, where six priests, a house keeper and her daughter were assassinated. The last event is what triggered the Moakley investigation, a Suffolk alum.
We then moved onto the beautiful colonial city of Suchitoto ware we stayed for two nights. The mayor’s secretary took the time to speak with us about how the municipality is governed. Both of the days we took time go and visit the families in El Sitio, a town ware previous Suffolk AWB trips have worked. There was a tournament soccer match that the group was invited to watch. Our last night there we dined at the incredible La Casa Del Escultor. The restaurant is owned by an Argentinean man and his wife and operated out of their home. During the day, the dining area doubles as the owners work area where he makes stunning sculptures and other pieces of art.
On Friday, January 8 we left for San Vicente to meet up with Habitat for Humanity to begin our service half of the trip. The first day we were given an introduction of what we were going to be working on and we had an opportunity to meet the families who would be moving into the homes that we are building.
On Saturday and Sunday we were taken around the area to see where the land slide had done the most destruction. The areas that were destroyed are still fresh from the damages considering it only occurred within the past two months.
Leonel Gomez in El Salvador
Leonel Gomez, an activist and investigator, recently passed away in San Salvador. He contributed much to the Moakley Commission’s congressional investigation into the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of San Salvador in 1989. Suffolk delegations had the chance to meet this remarkable man during earlier trips to El Salvador . The Washington Post recently published an obituary.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of murders in El Salvador that led to a congressional investigation, U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern related his role in the Moakley Commission, which found that the Salvadoran military had slain six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in an effort to quell the liberation theology movement.
McGovern, then an aide to Congressman John Joseph “Joe” Moakley, told anecdotes from his work as chief investigator. The Moakley Commission report led to the cessation of U.S. aid to the Salvadoran military and eventually to peace in the Central American country.
The day after his meeting with the students, McGovern was headed to El Salvador with his family for a solemn reunion and to receive an honorary degree from the University of Central America, where the slayings took place. Link to press release.