Celebration at the Gym: A story of dreams and determination
This is the story of a gym. A gym made of dreams and determination.
I should mention, our friend, known to many as La Hormiga (The Ant), is a power-lifter.
"We have to have dreams, you know," said a young man who walked around making folks feel welcome. He told us he was in his last year of high school. His English was pretty great, and he was confident as he spoke. "In a place like this [community], you don't know how to make dreams or how to achieve them, cuz, well, there is some bad stuff that happens here."
Comunidad Romero sits along side the neighborhoods of Distrito Italia. It is not a secret that the neighborhoods of Distrito are controlled by the gang. This is a community with a reputation, not altogether undeserved. The families, and particularly the youth who live here, carry the heavy emotional weight of violence - rumored, witnessed, experienced. Living in these neighborhoods means always having your radar up, paying attention to the situation of the day, worrying about police raids, and worse. The stigma of having an address in this part of the municipality of Tonacatepeque is hard to overcome as young adults seek employment. At this point, the trauma is generational.
|Some of the young leaders at the gym|
We ended up at the gym's inauguration celebration because La Hormiga invited us. In fact, we have been trying to get to the gym for several months, but it is a little tricky to get there at night from outside the community (for reasons previously stated.) The gym comes alive at night. It makes sense - people work during the day.
We asked if we could bring Pastor Santiago along to the party. Usually he is the one inviting us to stuff, often with a strategic subplot in mind. This time, we were the ones to invite him with a strategic subplot in mind.
|Celebrating leaders at the gym|
Distrito Italia is just up the road from Los Héroes. (Yes, the Los Héroes, which I write about a lot.) All these little communities along the road to Tonacatepeque are as familiar to Pastor Santiago as the back of his hand. He has walked and worked and carried out the ministries of the Lutheran Church, with his sister church beside him, here - in the reality of gang rules, turf wars, recruitment, extortion, murder, revenge hits, detente, police raids, false arrests, appropriate arrests, military intimidation, families fleeing, and families returning. Of course, there is goodness and joy in the midst of the trauma. We've had some whopping great times in Distrito. We 've done workshops at the schools, hung out with staff at the clinic, walked from home to home visiting families, started up a Sunday School (more than once), met with local government officials, watched soccer games and even done community service projects. But Santiago has been here for the toughest stuff. The healing gym seems like a really important place for us, and especially for him.
As we finished talking with the young man, a familiar figure appeared in the doorway. Carrying his trusty walking stick, an old friend from Los Héroes flashed a toothy grin my way. Even with my mask on he recognized me. What a surprise! He and his family had fled Los Héroes after his daughter and grandkids survived an horrific attack which took place in their home. We had no idea they were currently living in a nearby community. He and Pastor Santiago sat down to catch up. A little later, the friend's youngest son and his girlfriend showed up. Oh my! We had not seen that little guy since he was in elementary school! Now, not so little. He clearly makes good use of the gym. I have a feeling that if we were to hang out at the gym, we might encounter other familiar kids who have grown into young adults with their own little ones. And it's cool that the whole family can come to the gym together.
|Pastor Santiago and a longtime friend.|
|The celebration began with giving thanks to God for |
bringing together all the pieces to make this dream a reality.
|There was no plan for Pastor Santiago to participate, but a community|
member asked him to give a second blessing.
|Aracely and Noelle read the rules.|
The gym in Comunidad Romero is not just a gym, it's a movement. Our friend worked to establish a US-based non-profit, Pesas y Poder and networks with organizations in El Salvador and in Wisconsin. The dream of building this gym would not have come true without the partnership of el Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS El Salvador) which has a long-standing program supporting youth and women with scholarships and projects in this community. The team has some new creative ideas for generating financial support and growing relationships such as gym to gym sponsorships and volunteer course leaders. It's pretty impressive to see the variety of direct teaching seminars that already happen at the gym such as nutrition charlas, workouts which focus on specific health issues, and even a little library for kids to practice reading books in languages other than Spanish. Throughout the afternoon celebration, local leaders and volunteers shared in the presentations and were given honor for their contributions in dreaming, visioning, strategizing, raising funds, constructing, teaching, and monitoring.
|The story of how the gym got its name|
|Photo entitled: Empowered Women|
Photo credit: Gimnasio Elba y Celina
|Women receiving gifts in honor of their support|
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