Last week, I traveled to Charlotte, N.C. with VOTB staff members (Roddy and Rosie) to visit our friends at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, one of our longest standing partner communities. My goal for the trip was to get to know our partners at St. Peter’s and learn more about their relationship with Ciudad Segundo Montes, where I’ll be working for the next year. We also wanted to provide our partners with an update on Segundo Montes and El Salvador and get more people from the Charlotte community involved in Voices’ activities. The trip was a success by all measures.
Our time with members of the St. Peter’s family was great. We began with one-on-one meetings with Father Joseph Sobierajski S.J., Don Caldwell, Jan Valder and Barney Offerman (our hosts). We provided them with updates on the upcoming elections in El Salvador and other current events in Segundo Montes, talked about my plans for the next year, and how we can get more people from the Church involved. We also met with St. Peter’s El Salvador Committee to plan future activities and a possible delegation to Segundo Montes in 2010.
I realized the depth of St. Peter’s commitment to Segundo Montes and Voices during our final meeting. The El Salvador Committee invited members of the St. Peter’s congregation and others from around the Charlotte community to meet us and receive an update on El Salvador and Segundo Montes. Many who came had been to El Salvador and know the people that I’ll be working with. They shared their stories, experiences, and pictures with great enthusiasm, providing me with a much greater understanding of our work in the community and the issues our partners face. They also asked very informed questions about the status of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, mining, and other important issues in El Salvador. I was comforted when Father Joe and members of St. Peter’s said they would be praying for Rosie and I while we are in El Salvador.
We also met with faculty and students from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Father David Valtierra S.J., Ginger Williams, and Kim Porter, who all teach peace and justice classes invited us to speak to their students about our work in El Salvador. We introduced Voices’ and our mission and methodology of empowerment, answered questions about partner communities, provided insight about current issues in El Salvador, and offered a number of ways that students can get involved. The students were very interested in the 2009 elections in El Salvador, and how we became interested in development work. During the meetings, Rosie made sure to point out that while most Salvadorans are up-to-date on U.S. politics, news, music, and culture, people in the U.S. generally know very little about theirs. This is true even with my family and friends – I’ve had to show most of them where El Salvador is on a map. Our time with the classes was a great success and many students came up to ask how they could get involved – hopefully I’ll have some visitors this year.
We also met with UNISAL, a small nonprofit organization run by Salvadoran women in Charlotte. UNISAL promotes opportunities for minority-owned business, awareness of the Hispanic heritage, advocates for immigrant rights, and provides a number of other services to Latinos in the Charlotte area. Our new friends at UNISAL told us in great detail about latino-discrimination in Charlotte and how many immigrants have fewer rights there than they do in El Salvador. They also shared with me stories of El Salvador and talked about their people and culture, and as evidence to how small El Salvador is, they knew many of the same people that Rosie and Roddy have gotten to know over the years.
After such a great trip to Charlotte, we are excited to head to Erie, PA next week to visit another of our partner communities!