“We are united in prayer; take care; be brave; God bless you; we are praying for you.”
These have been common greetings and closings to recent notes from our global friends.
Every time my partner and I present an update on our Salvadoran ministries to our church community, we try to stress two concepts: walking in solidarity, and the privilege of serving. During the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic these concepts are heightened and strengthened as countries around the globe struggle. Communicating with one another, working with one another, comforting one another, providing hope to one another during this time of uncertainty is vital.
Being forced to stay at home away from life’s “busy-ness” has forced me to quiet myself, reflecting on how inter-connected we are globally. It has made me realize how our Salvadoran ministry has evolved and grown. It has made me realize how many lives we have touched and been touched by. It has reminded me how important it is to live beyond our own immediate local community. It has been a wake-up call to the global outreach and dependency we have on one another.
Long before El Salvador’s borders were breeched by residents who returned carrying the virus, our friends there reached out to us worried about our health and safety. Emails, What’s Ap, phone calls, texts, Skype came pouring in checking on us. “I hope you are well and not suffering” is a typical sentiment. This was no surprise; the Salvadorans are a caring, selfless people. The outpouring of love, compassion, concern, and support has been overwhelming.
Snippets from Salvadorans – Before any cases entered the country, El Salvador’s president took a bold proactive approach by closing churches, schools and universities (to on-line classes)*, and limiting public gatherings. Emphasis was placed on increasing nutrition of elders to improve the body’s natural defenses including drinking more fresh fruit juices for Vitamin D benefits. Pregnant women were another vulnerable population prioritized.
* After the first three cases breached the border, it appears no educational time was lost since on-line work was already in place including to our culinary arts student!
After the virus breached the country’s borders, more extreme measures are now in place. Only one family member is permitted out of the house to obtain groceries. If anyone else is seen outside the home, they face jail time. We have heard from five different friends that police are standing right outside their homes waiting to arrest anyone walking outside. If they dare do so, they are required to have a pass from their employer explaining that their job is essential. Most people are unwilling to even try to risk jail time.
One friend we recently spoke to verbalized the worry we have had ever since the virus first broke out: the campesino communities! These are the extremely poor areas of the country where multi-generational families live together under one roof – often in one room. Homes are clustered in close proximity, many without water, sanitation, or electricity. What happens when the virus spreads to them? Frequent hand washing is not an option. Social distancing is not an option. This friend herself lives in one such area with a tight-knit family. She, too, describes police outside her door waiting to arrest anyone who walks outside. Most of the families we serve are in this category. Their pastors are worried; their bishop is worried. These are the communities we have always served because their needs are the greatest and most often ignored.
As here in the U.S., working parents in cities with Wi-Fi access are monitoring young children’s on-line classes while also trying to perform their own distance working. (And like here, one of our friends has come to value the job of teachers more as a result of only a week trying to be her children’s teacher at home.) Medical personnel are still required to report on-site. A friend of ours continues to work in a blood lab while her husband is trying to balance his work from home, educate the children, and run the household. (“I make a daily plan for funny activities, daily menu, and on-line amusement.”)
Businesses in El Salvador are being hard hit, from large factories to the individual cottage industries. We just received a request from CRISPAZ – Christians for Peace in El Salvador – which will lose twelve visiting delegations from North America this spring due to the travel ban. (That is half their annual business!) Already operating on a bare-bones budget, this loss of income is devastating. They have nothing to fall back on. That office donates a room to local artisans to sell their handcrafts at fair-trade prices. The upstairs of their former building has provided temporary shelter to a person in danger. That’s the kind of caring people they are. If they can’t make rent, a host of employees and others are at risk. It is a domino effect.
Another friend who runs a large food manufacturing business throughout Central America and beyond reports his company’s production is down 70% because he is permitted to run only part of it. Complicating the situation is public busses can transport only 50% of normal capacity in order to distance riders from each other. This makes it difficult for many of his workers to travel to the large factory outside San Salvador. The government restriction will be in effect for a minimum of 60 days. Our friend fully understands and respects the limitations without complaint. He is cooperative with his government’s efforts in order to protect the health and well-being of all citizens.
The Salvadorans are closely following the world news and are also worried about the U.S. federal response to it, as well as frustrated by those who arrogantly defy the quarantine restrictions. They see it as carelessly and recklessly endangering themselves and others by prolonging this virus.
Most of all we hear lots of shared support and prayers for health, safety, protection, and thanks for all our support over the years. These two from scholarship students are typical:
“Infinite thanks for always taking us in your prayers. May God fill you with many blessings, health, and keep you safe from all these diseases. An enormous appreciation for you and all those people who have supported us. God bless you.”
“I hope you are in very good health with your loved ones. I ask the universe to take care of you, protect you and bless you forever, for that heart so noble and full of kindness and that no evil touches you and your families.”
Another situation relates to the undocumented families who live here in the U.S. working tirelessly without benefits in the shadows. One of our former Salvadoran girls fled her country with her dad giving up her future dreams, family, and friends in order to help provide for her family in El Salvador because she is the oldest child and her family felt she was better able to handle the harsh journey. She regularly corresponds with us. She has no friends largely because she knows no English and is ineligible for adult education English classes due to her age. She works six days a week in a difficult job no one else wants to do and is getting paid “under the table.” Chances are slim for any raise – ever. Employers take advantage of undocumented workers. She is ineligible for unemployment benefits. Our young friend is not unique. She represents thousands and thousands of others in this difficult situation. Yet she is safe in a family member’s home – at least until ICE finds her.
I see TV footage of the countless children and adults, “undocumented” persons, who escaped gang violence in their Central American countries only to be imprisoned and ignored here in the U.S. in horrible, squalid conditions in detention facilities across the country living suspended in time, not knowing what lies ahead for them. They are prime candidates for the coronavirus. I am physically sickened; my soul cries. This is not who we are as a nation.
During the past couple of weeks, we have been corresponding with friends not only in El Salvador, but also across the country who also support Salvadoran ministries. We ALL are concerned about the Salvadoran people contracting the virus because we are frequent visitors to the country and knowledgeable about their lifestyles. Getting money into the country to continue or complete projects such as sanitation projects is now impossible because folks cannot leave their homes to go to the bank, workers are unable to do the construction, etc.
We have been in touch with our translators and friends in other countries who are also affected and keep our spirits lifted: an example is this snippet from our friend in Ecuador: “Ecuador has also been stricken by COVID-19 and we are confined to our homes. Most of the population follows the restrictions but there are a lot of people who don’t obey. That’s why it is so difficult to stop contagion. “ NOTE: He is caring for his mother while not feeling well himself.
Our friend in The Netherlands writes: “All gatherings are prohibited until June 1 (and extension from April 1), even with fewer than 100 people. There is an exception for funerals and church weddings, about which more information will be provided later. Also at home a maximum of three people visit and keep a distance from each other. Markets are excluded from this because they are an essential part of the food chain in some places in the country. Municipalities and market masters must however look at how they can ensure that sufficient distance is guaranteed. It seems like this situation will be normal for a while…”
From friends in Germany we hear: “Streets are quiet here. We’re anticipating restrictions will tighten as numbers rise. Hope you are well and stay well. Stay healthy and happy.”
We hear from our friend in Spain: “We must not forget those who are in need not only at home but also in the Third World, where they don’t have a Health System worthy of notice. How will they be able to deal with this pandemic?”
We have not heard any sense of panic or any projected date of the quarantines being lifted from any of our global friends. All seem to accept doing their part in order to help the greater need.
On a personal level perhaps the COVID-19 virus has made us all aware of how inter-connected we are and need to be in terms of reaching out to each other, especially those with whom we have relationships. We need one another’s compassion, comfort, care, hope, and yes, humor. We need to know we can get through this with each other’s support and solidarity.
We also need to share information, research, and resources when it comes to sweeping pandemics that affect all of us around the globe.
(Globe images are courtesy of Google)