Sunday, July 31, 2011

El Salvador: An Experience of Gifts, Doctors, and Mother Teresas

One week in one place an expert does not make you. That is how long I spent in El Salvador July 25-29, 2011 as part of the delegation from Montgomery County. MD. I was there with a group of residents and dignitaries that signed a “Sister Cities Agreement” with Morazán (one of the poorest areas in El Salvador.) (NO County funds were used for any portion of the trip!) Only a brief week there, so I am certainly no expert. Yet there were certain experiences that were truly magnificent and made me feel much closer to the people of El Salvador.

Obviously, first and foremost is the pride of having being there with fellow folks from Montgomery County government and community members in what was an emotional, impactful, and meaningful trip. There’s also the new-found appreciation for the Salvadorian people, particularly those from Morazán, where many of our Silver Spring Salvadorians come from.

The experience will remain with me forever, mostly in the faces and spirit of the people I met… And, what people I did meet! Some of the people I met are ‘people in power’; most were regular folks – proud folks – that shared beautiful stories with us.

I could talk about the details of the trip, get into the philosophical, or discuss where we are going with this adventure… Others are much more capable to do this than I… I would simply like to share three simple stories that hopefully capture the spirit of the people of Morazán.


I did not know I was staying with a host family until I got to El Salvador. I was to stay at a hotel. Frankly, I was thrilled to learn that I would be staying with a family instead… This would make the experience more ‘authentic’.

When we arrived at the host family’s house, I was somewhat surprised to find a very comfortable home. I had my own bedroom and access to a full bath. Very comfortable indeed!

The owners of the house were a young couple with two beautiful children. They owned a small farm and operated two convenience stores. They made sure we saw their pictures of when they visited New York and Niagara Falls.

It was extremely easy to strike a high comfort level with them. The children were adorable; and the young couple soon adjusted to our different versions of Spanish (Cuban vs. Salvadorian.)

By the time we left, we had established an excellent relationship. They showed us where the children go to school and where their Assembly of God congregation is building a new church. It was evidently clear that their faith was central to their lives. Yet, what happened when it was time to part was totally unexpected.

After me offering them a simple parting gift, they tell me “wait, we have something special for you.” I was ready for some small artifact from an artesian shop or a token from their farm.

I was totally moved when they presented to me their family bible that had gotten them through a very serious personal crisis earlier this year. They gave me the ultimate gift: Their faith.


She looked not a day older than 16. Yet she assured me she was a doctor – a full fledged M.D. In this small town of only a handful of people, she shared they had four cases of HIV/AIDS last year.

There is no hospital here. The nearest hospital – the only hospital in all of Morazán – is an hour away. That hospital has all of 77 beds serving a population of over 177,000. That equals .43 beds for 1000 people, 1/5 of the U.S. figure of 2.6 beds per 1000 people.

I ask her how she is doing; how busy is she; and what’s been her biggest accomplishment. The tells me in a gentle voice that it is not about all they do, or how much medication they dispense… She tells me that her highest fulfillment as a doctor is to provide comfort to the sick, regardless of illness, stage in life, or human condition – one patient (or as she put it “one neighbor”) – at a time.

She so beautifully reaffirmed the notion that “it is not how you are doing”; it is “how you are taking it.”…

Medical care without loving care is for naught, senseless, and meaningless”, she tells me… This young doctor surely has a wonderful future in front of her!


They looked like beggars, the three short little old ladies that hung around the church during one of the many celebrations we attended. (And they were short – barely over 4 feet tall; if that!)

Old, missing teeth, probably indigenous. They would come up to you not to ask for money, but to shake your hand – and hug you if you’d let them.

The parish priest was asked “Who are these ladies?” He simply answered: “They are my Mother Teresas.” He went on to state how “they routinely come to mass, help with the sick and poor, and bring their smiling faces to church events.”

I am glad I hugged them.


If there was ever any doubt that hope, faith, and charity can shine through the darkness of moments of despair in the mist of civil strife – and even war - and in an age of institutional transition and challenges, that doubt is laid to rest by the life of the Salvadorian hero and martyr Monsignor Oscar Romero. While it is impossible to simplify a people or attempt to categorize a culture in the spirit of one person, Monsignor Oscar Romero truly personifies the spirit of the Salvadorian people of good will. The people of El Salvador must feel rightfully proud – if simply humble (as they are in many things) – to have the guidance and spiritual direction of this great man. It is so evidently clear that his spirit lives on in the lives of ordinary Salvadorians – and in the authentic attempts of many of its leaders to form a truly ‘more just society.’

El Salvador taught me quite a bit in those short few days… I hope I left a little bit of me there in return…

It is heartwarming to know that this new connection will grow as we embark on new projects, programs, and initiatives to sustain our Sister City relationship between Montgomery County and Morazán, El Salvador.

More info can also be found on the County’s web-site at:

The official press release from the US Embassy can be found at:

Here’s how the local press (over there) covered it:

To see what some of the wonderful folks from Montgomery County are already doing there:

EXTRA!: The lyrics to a song unveiled while we visited the town of Joateca as they celebrated the opening of their town plaza (written by the town priest):
Among the stanzas, one stands out:
For the crisis that we are experiencing
Many of our brothers have had to leave the homeland
But now that they are so far away
They are always disposed to help us


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