History of the Relationship with Bajo Lempa
In response to 9/11, we had a desire to give young people an opportunity to be exposed to some of the real problems of the world while participating in some actual hands-on solutions. Our vision came from recognizing that people of faith were going to be some of the leaders of the future and the current paradigms that our leaders were working with weren’t working. Initially, Young Life on the eastside of Syracuse took two small trips into the mountains of El Salvador over the students’ winter break. These trips were warmly received and were really just an opportunity for cultural exchange. We knew we wanted more.
In 2006, Syracuse East and Urban Area Young Life partnered with Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, NY since we shared the same vision around developing our young people into leaders. After some adults from the church and Young Life did a “research” trip, we were led to Bajo Lempa and Rancho Grande. This preview trip also introduced us to Enrique Martinez, who would become our host.
Our first trip to Rancho Grande was in February 2007. Rancho Grande is one of 18 communities in the region of Bajo Lempa. Bajo Lempa has roughly 10,000 people. Ranch Grande has 45 families and roughly 200 people. The most pressing need for people in Bajo Lempa is clean water and adequate, basic medical care. Other pressing needs include access to secondary education, better nutrition and safety against seasonal flooding. While we arrived completely ignorant to the people’s issues, we did have an openness to learning about the needs of community and had a vision for serving. The project list has nearly always been established by local El Salvadorans who take ownership to insure that the projects are completed. Likewise, our students always work alongside El Salvadoran contractors who oversee the projects from start to finish.
Our model was to include students in leadership and two high school seniors made the initial contact with Living Water International which allowed us to put in the first two wells. In 2008, two wells were built in Rancho Grande through Living Water International and “dewormed” over 400 people. On our follow-up trip in June, our pediatrician reported that people were much healthier and vibrant.
In 2007 and 2008, we helped to build over 100 chicken coops and purchased over 1000 chickens roosters for the villages of Rancho Grande and Taura with the hopes of helping their basic food needs. In 2008 we were able to use surplus funds to purchase land for a small Baptist mission church in San Carlos. This increased their ministry/outreach significantly.
Each year, our clinic coverage has grown as more and more villages are impacted. Students bring medical supplies in their luggage, well over 3 tons each year. Literally, tons of basic medical supplies which have been distributed by our doctors and the regional El Salvadoran Health Promoter.
Likewise, our students deliver tons of school supplies which have been used by the local principal and teacher for kids in Rancho Grande and in neighboring villages. Without the financial support of a local government, we have partnered with the local principals and teachers to target their needs and wants.
In 2008 and 2009, we were able to purchase bicycles for over 80 adolescents to improve their access to secondary education. The local “high school” is anywhere from 5-15 km away from these villages so the time and cost of transportation are a constant issue.
In 2009, we built two more wells in two neighboring towns of San Carlos and Taura. Along with the “deworming” medicine, we should be able to improve the health of over 1000 people with these two wells. The Taura well was improved with a water filtration system sponsored by a church in VA and through a partnership with Clean Water U. The upgrade to the Taura well included a delivery truck which now allows for clean water to be delivered to hundreds of families in a radius of 10km. We have learned about the intimate details of clean water dynamics as access to clean water is determined by many individual factors such as time, distance and even belief.
In 2009, we fenced in the community center in Rancho Grande so that a community garden could be established. The fence also heightened security for our young women who sleep in the center when we visit. We also painted the building as it was in desperate need of cleaning. In 2009, we also brought a handful of kids and adults from Rochester East Young Life who began to build a friendship in Taura with the hope of hosting a group in that community.
In 2010, we were able to provide a boat for the island of Monte Cristo and make the final connections and decisions to sponsor a clean water project based on the filtration system we saw in Taura. This project was sponsored locally and completed by volunteers from VA who participated in the Clean Water U program. Monte Cristo represents the far southern end of this region. In completing this water project, we began to realize that the impact was regional, and not just for our two villages.
In 2010, we started a woman’s sewing program in Rancho Grande through providing materials and sewing machines. Tutoring was made available for 6 months. Likewise in 2010, we were able to run 2 clinics in Taura and Rancho Grande and increased the quality of care to each family. We were also able to provide much needed wheelchairs, hearing aids for several children, and funds for emergency care. During that same year, over 100 Spanish Bibles were given to area pastors and leaders for their distribution
The large project in 2010, was the construction of a second school building in Rancho Grande. The local leadership received assurances from the local government that another teacher would be provided in the community. At the same time, we fixed-up the CDI (pre-school) building in Taura to relieve some of the pressure on the school buildings in Rancho Grande.
Returning in 2011, we painted the new school building, rehabbed the playground and left funds for the completion of the floor once the room configuration is finalized. At the bequest of the community leadership, we began to address sanitation issues. We received a list for both Rancho Grande and Taura of families that lacked a working latrine. In 2011, we built our first two latrines alongside family members.
At the same time, following the same model as the school from 2010, we built a Catholic chapel in Rancho Grande which will be a house of prayer for the community. Upon leaving the village, the leadership shared with us their fears over a large scale famine that could break-out do the damaging Fall flooding. The hope for the community had rested on the government providing seeds and fertilizer, but none had arrived to date. When we shared the needs with our students, the returned home and raised an extra $45,000 for food projects. We were able to send $22,500 initially to provide food-stuffs to nearly 100 families to get past the projected famine timeline. The balance of the funds were used to begin to develop irrigation projects that would help to create food sovereignty for the communities.
Water is the key to life in these communities. Clean water first. Secondly, access to water for farming usually comes in the form of rainfall, but it is delicate balance when they are limited to one rainy season and the weather is so volatile. Simple irrigation is inexpensive, but allows groups of families to get ahead of the rain dependence cycle, and allows them to have a product to sell at market during an off-season. In June of 2011, we saw firsthand the results of irrigation in a 7-acre plot in Taura. It was marvelous!
At the same time, Enrique Martinez approached us about starting Young Life in El Salvador. We took our first steps in the process in 2011 and Enrique began full-time with Young Life in 2012. Enrique chose Apopa (a small city on the outskirts of San Salvador) to start his first Young Life Club. The work has grown exponentially each school year since and the expansion and growth of our trips has allowed us to be a major supporter of the new outreach. Starting with gang kids, Enrique, his Staff and leaders are looking for solutions to break major issues in the gang life-cycle of kids on the streets in and around San Salvador.
In 2012, our work continued around the clinics, maintaining the clean water, finishing the floors of the school, building more latrines and attempting to develop more irrigation. Irrigation has proved tricky in that the projects involved land. We must determine alongside the local leadership on the location of projects and who can be involved. The process is tedious and each farmer has their own perspective on how a system can be most effective. This year brought our first group of teenagers from Buffalo North Young Life to the island of Monte Cristo. Projects began to expand on that remote island as resources became available to them.
In 2013, this project list was continued. The floor of the Rancho Grande school was completed and a computer lab was built and stocked – simply awaiting the internet to become accessible to the community. More families received latrines or access to irrigation and the clinic process was even more finely tuned. Our first small group from Buffalo South Young Life came to the region and a new relationship was developed in Los Naranjos for future years.
In 2014, despite horrific travel weather, the work was formally expanded to four villages. Clean water coverage is being expanded through a motor boat distribution from Monte Cristo and the development of clean water out of Los Naranjos. Clinic coverage is expanded as Taura has been able to invite a doctor into their community each month and Los Naronjos hosted two doctors from Buffalo. The chapel floor was completed in Rancho Grande and a pipeline for pumping clean water directly into the Rancho Grande school was completed. The kitchen at the Rancho school was rehabbed, allowing children to have access to nutritional lunches during their day. Young Life in El Salvador continues to grow and we were even able to partner with Toms shoes to hand out 100s of pairs of shoes. Irrigation remains a priority, but also a slow process. However, there is great evidence of more irrigation being developed privately throughout the region.
Our trip and friendships expanded as more people and projects came in 2015. The promise of more access to clean water has increased as a delivery boat was purchased for Monte Cristo island. The hope is that hundreds more families can get their hands on clean drinking water through this improvement. Over 1000 people made their way through the clinics that were run in all four communities. What an incredible impact our medical team and teenagers had in seeing each family personally. More latrines were built in all four communities giving people much healthier living environments. The school yard in Rancho Grande continues to improve as clean water is brought to the kitchen, a porch was built off the front of the school, a new and larger “cafeteria” was built and palm and fruit trees were planted. Some local teenagers benefitted from our hard labor when we cleared a large area for a 200+ hen house. The hope is for the business to not only provide nutrition but wages for the entrepeuners. In Rancho and Los Naranjos, repairs were made to bathhouses that allow for flushing toilets! Young Life continues to grow in and around San Salvador and Enrique and Jose Luis ran their first Club in Rancho Grande after we left.