Partnering During a Pandemic - The Messenger Call
At this time, across the United States, millions of families are living under stay-at-home orders from their governors. In my state, the order allows families to go to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, and to pick up foods from restaurants. Businesses identified as "essential" remain open. Churches have been identified as "essential" and that means groups of 10 people or fewer can work in the church, keeping distances of 6 feet or more between workers. Most churches, like ours, are closed to everyone except for a few staff people. Worship is run from an empty sanctuary or a pastor's living room - sometimes live, sometimes recorded.
Our church in Milwaukee feeds people, literally, with food. We cook and serve hot meals. We provide food security for families who "shop" in our food pantry. We grow thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables which are free for the neighborhood. Individuals and families in our neighborhood need a warm place, need a safe place, and need food. We can't ignore the needs. The Covid-19 virus active case map identifies our neighborhood as a hot spot, where now illness is added to increased economic pressure on already struggling families. The church is "essential." We are working to be adaptive as the crisis and the rules keep changing. We have set up safe ways for family representatives to come and pick up food. Local stores have been gracious in providing support.
At this time, across El Salvador, all families are living under stay-at-home orders which were issued by the President prior to the arrival of the Covid-19 virus within the country's borders. I wrote a little bit about the situation in El Salvador and what it was like to leave from there about a week ago. The situation in El Salvador, like in the US, is fluid. Because everything is shut down, it is a little difficult to really know, from afar, what the realities are for Salvadoran families. A good resource for information from El Salvador in English is the blog, El Salvador Perspectives, which regularly posts news updates, statistics, and reports from the Salvadoran government.
Since our return to the US, social media has been a pretty good source of information from our sister community and friends. In fact, it is utterly amazing to me that connections are possible with folks all over El Salvador. Most of my Salvadoran friends and co-workers have cell phones and seem to have data connections. And this is how, out of the blue, I received a Messenger call from Sonia. Sonia gave me a little insight into what it is like for families in our sister church community and how they are coping with the lock-down in El Salvador.
The stay-at-home order in the community is strictly enforced. Families are quarantined in their homes, with their gates closed. The police are making rounds, to make sure that no one violates the rules. (The order states that persons going out without authorization will be arrested and sent to quarantine at a center for 30 days.) One person from each household has permission to be the designated shopper - the one who can go to the pharmacy for medicine or the market for food. Sonia's daughter is the one who can go out to shop for the 16 (or more) people who live in Sonia's house. The daughter went out to the Super in Apopa, but there was very little food on the shelves. Sonia told me they need to try a different store.
I could hear little kids playing loudly in the background. It is hard to imagine how such a houseful of people, confined to a tiny space, can manage. There isn't any capacity for online school. There is just no school. I asked how the kids were doing. Sonia told me that, luckily, she had grabbed art supplies from the church and had given them out to some families before the lock-down. "We are using the things that the partnership donated. We hope that's OK." I assured her it was OK.
The real motivation behind the call was Sonia's excitement about a project they were doing. With great excitement, Sonia blurted out, "We are sewing masks!"
"We are not falling into a panic."
In addition to grabbing craft supplies, Sonia moved the raw materials for making Days for Girls kits, as well as other sewing supplies down to her house before the lock-down. One of Sonia's daughters and 3 neighbor women work on the Lutheran Church's Days for Girls project. Sonia said, "We had to come up with a project to keep ourselves busy and to stay positive. During a time like this you cannot fall into a panic. As a family, we decided to sew masks. We are making them and selling them for $1. Yesterday we sold 13 masks. This will also help all of us to be able to buy a little food. But we are OK for food. We are fine. We are not falling into a panic. We have mangos - we are really eating mangos. Pastor Santiago brought us a bag of rice. We have some little beans. Francisco must have been worried about us because before the lock-down he brought us bags of potatoes. We have food. We have our project to stay busy and help the community, and we are fine."
Two of Sonia's daughters are studying to become nurses. I am guessing they had a mask in the house, analyzed it and then made their own pattern. They are making the masks for multi-use with two layers. They are telling people to wash them in hot water and hang them in the sun. Masks are required for the shoppers and essential workers (like medical personnel and police). Selling them is not difficult, because the shopper can go out and sell them to the neighbors as she walks along the way. I asked Sonia if it would be OK for me to write a story about the masks. She was super excited and told me she would take some photos for the story.
When I am in El Salvador, I talk with Sonia by phone pretty regularly, and we meet in person once or twice a week. Sharing a Messenger call was good for both of us, but especially, I could tell, for Sonia. She kept saying it was important that they not fall into a panic, and I think saying it out loud on a call helps to make it more possible. The quick way in which the women made a plan to help them stay busy, help them economically, and help the community is beautiful and impressive. The decision to sew masks from some of the fabrics which they purchased to make Days for Girls kits, was a decision Sonia was hoping I would support. I think it was a good decision, and one which was possible because the women have learned a lot about managing business resources, working in their local market, and trusting themselves. They received an order to sew 10 masks for a relief agency.
I don't know if in El Salvador the local churches have been deemed "essential" and given permission to reach out to give aid to families. So far, the families in our sister community seem to be managing.
I shouldn't neglect to mention that the distribution earlier this year of Days for Girls kits to ALL of the girls and young women in the community is truly a great blessing for the girls during the lock-down. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers in the network based in Wisconsin and support for the local sewing project in El Salvador, girls and young women already have what they need, in their homes, to care for themselves during their periods.
They have what they need to care for themselves.
Partnering during a pandemic can be hard work. Managing the quantity of communications via email and social media can be daunting - especially if you are a companion committee chair or the one person who has capacity with Spanish in your partnership network.
A few days ago, I received a WhatsApp message from a young man in El Salvador who asked me to connect him directly with his scholarship sponsor in our church. He said he wants to send her encouragement directly because he is so worried about what he is hearing from the US. His sponsor is in a higher-risk group for complications from the virus. He does not speak English. She does not speak Spanish. I told him I would send his contact information to her on a platform that they share. To me this seems absolutely beautiful.
"During this time, I want to connect directly with my madrina."
Communicating with one another as companion-church friends at any time can be a tricky thing. We like to use safe practices to protect Salvadoran friends from realities of threats and violence, and we don't want to get in over our heads especially if there is a language barrier. However, during this time of quarantine/stay at home/lock-down, reaching out to greet each other, to say we care about each other, to send a selfie or a photo of our pet, to share a prayer, or even attempt to talk on a Messenger call could be very good for our spirits. We shouldn't post on public platforms unless we have permissions or are the administrators of a page and are following good protocols, but a little message or a call would be just great. We can check in with each other, learn from each other, encourage one another, and maybe prevent a little fall into a panic.