FRANCISCO ENRIQUE VIERA RAMOS (NICKNAMED “KIKI”)
“We just [feed the homeless] because we see it as a ministry of helping people in need.”
Editor’s Note: Some of our other friends invited us to join them in Kiki’s ministry to help cook a meal and join in delivering at night in downtown San Salvador. Kiki was flexible enough to even change the night of the week he normally does this in order to accommodate our schedule. But first we wanted to hear how Kiki got involved in this ministry.
Kiki singlehandedly has taken upon himself this mission to feed a portion of the city’s homeless by going into areas the churches either do not serve or do not serve on this night. We learned that despite his currently being unemployed he remains deeply committed to personally buying the ingredients and cooking a nourishing meal for those who would otherwise not have one. Kiki hinted that his devotion to feeding the homeless was a contributing cause to the breaking up of his marriage.
Kiki has a good support team to help him carry out his ministry. Tonight we go to help with several of his friends and neighbors who have prior experience. He provides on-the-job-training for us “newbies.”
Seven years ago I witnessed a mother digging through the trash for food. That was the epiphany, or my defining “ah ha” moment, to do something for the homeless. As soon as I returned home, I asked Nelson, a relative who lives here what we could do to address the situation. He too became motivated, and we took it upon ourselves to prepare hot nutritional meals from scratch and drive them into the city in the trunks of our cars to distribute to the homeless.
I guess you could say I am the main chef and Nelson is the assistant chef. We call our project “Cometee” after the neighborhood in which we live. We try to follow Monsignor Romero’s example of serving the poor. When neighbors ask how they can help out, we will give them suggestions such as buying cups or plates. (Tonight a neighbor lady makes 100 fresh tortillas for us to supplement this delicious-smelling meal.) Sometimes relatives come to help when their schedules permit.
Other friends from the States like the Indiana solar cell installation group, come and help us whenever they are in the country.
This is not part of a church program; we do it ourselves because we see the need. We were born to be compassionate people. Some of the churches also serve meals to the homeless, but they do it to show off and want lots of credit for it. We just do it because we see it as a ministry of helping people in need. Only a handful of people in our neighborhood are aware of it, and that is what we prefer. We really do not know how shelters run in San Salvador; all we know is there are many living on the streets.
Generally we provide meals on Sundays, which is a day churches do not provide meals. We tend to go to the same three or four main locations while looking for others in between. Our goal is to prepare a substantial, hot, freshly-prepared meal. Some groups only provide coffee and bread. Tonight we are preparing a tomato and rice base filled with many vegetables. We wanted to add meat but don’t have enough money this time. The people love our meals, and we form relationships with some of the regulars. (Sometimes we catch a person eating a meal, running down the street to quickly change clothes and then returning for a second meal in hopes we will not recognize him in different clothes.) If we start to run out of food, we will begin to decrease the portion sizes in order to serve more mouths. God provides mysteriously sometimes, stretching the amount.
Born an only child in La Union, which is in the southeastern part of the country, I moved to San Miguel. My mother left, and my father raised me until I was ten or eleven. After that I just raised myself until I joined the resistance of the FMLN at age 14 during the war. You could say I was one of the child soldiers of the war. My unit was like a family to me. During the war I learned to be very organized and do good things. I met some great people, including my ex-step-father who is like a brother and who offers excellent advice. (I was nineteen when my dad passed away.)
I am an ex-combatant of the FMLN in the civil war when I served in San Miguel as a commander delivering messages. I was never hurt during the war, which, I believe, was God protecting me in order to carry out the food ministry we now do. After the Peace Accords were signed, I was a coordinator or youth volunteer and gave speeches to prepare the FMLN based on history. We raised money by selling shirts to do youth activities.
For ten years following the 2001 earthquake, I worked in City Hall in Santa Tecla. After I suffered a broken shoulder as a result of a motorcycle accident, I became disabled. The manager at my job used my disability as an excuse to fire me and hire one of his relatives to replace me. That is an illegal employment policy, and I am still fighting it hoping to be re-instated.
I was once married, but my wife did not approve or participate in feeding the homeless program. That was a point of contention within our marriage. I have not re-married and have no children. There is a boy who is like a son to me. He is the son of a former girlfriend. We have a strong connection.
There is always the potential for dangerous situations out on the streets late at night. Many kinds of people live on the streets; some are drug dealers, some are mentally afflicted or drunks, some are physically sick with HIV/AIDS. Others are elderly or young families with no place to go. We are very careful. Most of the people know us and respect us. A couple of people speak English because they used to live in the U.S.
Serving needy people face to face is how we prefer helping people. My dream is to operate our own shelter and offer well-organized services for the homeless. Nelson is a teacher and is currently the main financial contributor of this effort right now. I hope to get my job back and be an equal contributor soon. I am 40 years old now, and hope to continue this ministry as long as possible.
Editor’s Note: We could have spoken to Kiki longer, but we respected his time to purchase the groceries and prepare the meal. Our group of eight helped in whatever way Kiki asked whether it was dicing the vegetables, stirring the pot, mixing the tea, picking up the paper products and neighbor’s tortillas, or loading the trunks of the vehicles. Kiki was less focused on his own story and more focused on the needs of all the under-served hungry within his community.