Partnering During A Pandemic and a Natural Disaster: Neighbors helping Neighbors

Before Tropical Storm Amanda hit, I was preparing a story about children and families coping with almost 3 months of doing doing school in their homes due to the Corona Virus pandemic.  I gathered photos and little stories from friends via WhatsApp and Messenger.  The preschool teacher in our sister community set up her "desk" in the street.  Children do their work on little tables outside of their homes.  She helps them along by teaching to the street.  Moms drop student work off on the teacher's desk so she can check it.  I imagine that creative and cooperative families have set up mini schools like this all over El Salvador.

I also received a few photos of a family field trip, because, field trips are part of school too!  They walked to a river about 2 miles from their home.  I wondered about that being OK, given the very strict lock-down rules across the country.  The matriarch of the family told me it was fine because they were going on a walk to a place where there are no people.  I asked her if this was a mental health break.  She laughed and said, "Exactly.  You cannot just stay cooped up inside." 

The field trip walk is one with which I am familiar:  make your way to the edge of the community and follow the dirt road,  walk uphill and down for a distance that seems longer than it is, squeeze through a barbed wire gate at the top of a hill, pick your way through a stubbly corn field, climb down the hill, and find the pile of rocks where the spring puts out a little bit of water.  During the rainy season, the tiny creek that sprouts from this place is a little bit more like a river.  This is where the community mothers gathered 20 years ago to do their laundry and fetch their water.  It is a beloved place, really a revered place, a perfect place for a mental health break.

A few days after the field trip, it began to rain.  The dirt road might be gone.  It probably is gone.  The last pictures I received came by way of a video.  This is run-off water from the community as it travels the same path which the family took.  The spring which is 2 miles away and the creek which it forms sometimes brings the slightest trickle to this ditch.  This video was taken midway through the storm.

Tropical Storm Amanda has moved on by the time I am writing this story, and the flood waters have receded in some areas.  Families have told me that they are OK.  They got wet.  There really isn't any way not to get wet when your roof wiggles up during the wind and every small hole in it rains down a stream of water into the house.  Families no doubt collected rain water to drink because municipal systems are shut down.  I imagine families are laying their clothes out in the sun, if there is sun today, but with so much humidity in the earth and the air, nothing will dry too well.  Many schools have suspended online classes, but I imagine parents are keeping the kids busy in their school notebooks.  Food relief packages were being delivered before the storm, and hopefully people were able to save what they had.  Relief plans are taking shape in churches and response agencies. 

It is quite unusual for a storm of this magnitude to strike so early in the rainy season, coming at a time when baby plants are just taking hold in the fields.   The lock-down continues due to Covid-19.  Food scarcity is going to be a problem for a long time.

As I was reaching out to friends for an update, I received a few messages from a friend who lives near El Paisnal.  She told me she wanted to take things to a nearby refugee shelter because she was worried about the children who are there having nothing.  She sent me a photo of what she had assembled, leftovers from this year's Mission of Healing.

I could sense her urgency in the wake of the storm, her teacher-heart, her love for kids, and her need to get out and help.  I am pretty sure she had a permission to go out, but really, nothing was going to stop her.  She went out with a couple of friends, who had collected some bread and some clothes.  A few hours later, I asked if she had any photos from her experience and if it was OK for me to write about it.  She told me the shelter had turned the helpers away, stating that all assistance had to go through the mayor's office.  So the little team went to a community which they knew had suffered from the storm, and they went door to door to share.  My friend told me she really needed so much more to give.  She had not planned that they would visit a number of families.  "I wish I could do better," she said.

Official reports from the churches and relief agencies and the Salvadoran government will shed light on the full scope and impact of Tropical Storm Amanda, as well as the ongoing challenge of Covid-19.  In the meantime, for those of us who accompany the people of El Salvador in love, friendship and solidarity from far away at this time, we are grateful for the faith and the work that moms, teachers, church leaders and community leaders are doing in their neighborhoods, as best they can, to care for the people who need care.  They will let us know how best to help.  We will be ready.


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