F. Chavez


Esta historia se escribe en Español = This story is also written in Spanish. Click here.

Everything I do has taught me something good and bad because it provides me with a lesson.”

Editor’s Note: Listening to this devoted daughter, this diligent student, and conscientious employee, I am exhausted just listening to her daily routine. Yet she makes it all sound so effortless and relaxed. The few times we spent with Flor she was single handedly managing myriad details amid an ever-changing landscape of uncertainty in her office. She even insisted on waiting for the taxi with us to be sure we were safely accounted for each time we left.

Flor was born into a large family of seven children in El Paisnal, a town in the northern section of San Salvador not far from Chalatenango department. She grew up without electricity using candles at night. Water came from a nearby river. She borrowed her friends’ textbooks through school. I had to laugh at the story Flor tells about how she and her sisters would “crash” birthday parties and weddings as uninvited guests in order to attend the celebrations afterwards.

Flor’s mother, Laura, sounds pretty industrious. I share these stories Flor lovingly tells about her because I suspect that Flor may share many of her mom’s spirited attributes. As is typical of many Salvadoran women, she basically raised her children without consistent male support. Lacking a formal education, she learned the alphabet from her father who drew the letters in the dirt. Working as a domestic worker at age 12 or 13, Laura was motivated to learn to read by picking up the newspaper in her employer’s home. The teens in that house helped her learn numbers by calling her on the phone when they were away from the house and leaving her messages. When they returned later, they checked to see if she wrote down their messages accurately.

Comales factor large into Flor’s life, both in her youth as well as currently during her weekends. For our readers who are unfamiliar with a comale, it is a handmade Salvadoran clay cooking utensil. Flor’s mother, who had no opportunity to receive a formal education, needed a way to support herself. As an enterprising woman Laura learned to make comales using traditional methods and market them locally. The children helped in all aspects of this multi-step, time-consuming process from gathering the clay in the mountains to adding sand from the local stream or along the roads to prevent them from cracking to traveling from town to town to sell them out of the back of a pick-up truck. The process is long and tedious, and the products are delicate with a high breakage rate. “I helped my mom on the half-day I did not attend school and on weekends. Mom was able to make ten comales a day if she was lucky. They sold for $1 each in a store or $1.50 if transported to the homes,” Flor explains. This is how her mom supported seven children and continues to support herself today. She is ineligible for any government pension, since she works in the informal work sector. Flor, her sister, and her niece continue to live with her mom. (Flor’s uncle is trying to gain ownership of this property since her grandfather passed away which Flor’s mom has lived on for years. She is hoping to settle this amicably so that her mom does not have to leave her home.)

“It used to be that I could go anywhere along the road alone to gather the sand my mom needed for the comales. All that changed in the past five years, and it is no longer safe to be out alone. Gangs have infiltrated my area. Anyone can be stopped and asked to produce our ID (DUI card), or a gang member can ask what gang you belong to. They no longer respect one’s church membership which once was the case. They extort small businesses.“


Comale (google photo)

“I’ve been attending church since I was eight years old. I began attending at a small Lutheran Church in my community when I was twelve. About twenty people worship weekly, although there are about seventy members. I work with a national committee for youth in the country,” says Flor.

She worked at the local mayor’s office before starting university to earn funds to pay the admission cost for the three weeks of classes Monday through Saturday 7 AM-4 or 5 PM.

“Recently I earned a bachelor in education degree from Pedagogica College. This allows me to teach both elementary and secondary students. I took those courses mainly because I wanted to go to university, and this was a short three-year degree that would allow me to attend classes from 7-4 Monday through Saturday. I got up at 3 AM for the 4 AM bus to get there on time. At the end of the first semester, I passed my exams but had only $50 left which was insufficient for the second semester’s classes. That is when I was very fortunate to arrange sponsors who came to visit my church who agreed to support my studies with a scholarship during my undergraduate years. They were a couple from a Methodist church in Spokane, Washington. Because I live so far outside the city and was losing so much time due to the lengthy commute back and forth for classes, I became very sick. I talked to the bishop who allowed me to live in Concordia House in the city during the week for two years which was very helpful. It saved me the five hour daily commute.” (That type of arrangement is no longer permitted. Those rooms are for rent only.)

“Trying something new by studying at the university has been a challenge to me because I am learning a new language, and interacting with other students from all over the world with both young people and adults. Being with honest kids and having opportunities to open one another’s lives and helping them discover something about themselves has been a joy. Attending university helped me understand life better.”

“I would prefer teaching at the university level because those students are more motivated and committed to learn. However, that would require me to have a master’s degree which would take another two years of study and take a government exam. I am unable to afford those expenses right now. I do not want to ask the Spokane couple that supported me financially in the past. They are having medical issues now, and I would not burden them by asking for further financial support. “

“Now I work in Bishop Gomez’s office full-time helping out where and when he needs me. The fact that I speak fluent English is helpful to him in translating his many English-speaking delegations and meetings. I work with the youth here, also.” [We are convinced from watching her interactions that Flor understates all the diverse duties she handles.]

Flor at Work

“It is difficult for me to trust men in a relationship because I haven’t experienced a responsible man in my life. I don’t know a father’s love. The positive part of that is maybe I’ve pushed myself harder than my friends to do more because that has served as an incentive in me to work hard and rely on myself. I had a boyfriend that I worked with for four years. I always had this feeling that I couldn’t trust him. I was skeptical of anything he would tell me. It was a tension within me. I need to work on that tension. I know I need to learn to compromise in a relationship. I can’t always feel like this. In El Salvador it is so common for a guy to leave a woman to care for the children without supporting her. I saw how hard my mom had to struggle to live. My mother always discouraged us girls from having boyfriends. She didn’t even explain anything about maturing including getting our monthly periods. My sister filled that role. At the same time I realize I had this relationship with this friend and when we broke up, I just threw away that friendship. I need to work on that. I also need to work on having a better relationship with my siblings.”

“The most amazing thing I have witnessed is seeing many kids that have become very dedicated because of the interest someone has shown in their lives. Maybe that person helped them with a problem they struggled with or suggested they pursue an interest such as music or become involved in a group or simply showed they cared. Those chances that bring us together to excel are helpful for everyone. I’ve seen positive changes take place within a young person as a result of a caring adult. “

{When we asked Flor what she would like to say that we hadn’t asked, she QUICKLY RESPONDED – “Women were not born to be a maid at home, which is the thinking of the older generation of women.”}

“The opportunities I’ve had and been able to discover makes me want to help others. My mother motivates me to continue every day. Sometimes I feel internally threatened, but at the same time I feel called to give my best. “

“Future dreams I have include learning many languages, learning music, attending seminars in other countries. Several people including yourselves have asked if I have considered being a pastor. I have not ruled it out. However, it would require starting all over again at the university to take courses for a bachelor of theology which would be at least another eight years of study, at least in this country. We’ll see where the Spirit leads me.”

“For now I continue to help my mom with the comales when I can and earn a bit of money to help her.”

“Everything I do has taught me something good and bad because it provides me with a lesson.”

Regarding our project, Flor tells us – “The work you’re doing is a chance to open the doors that have been closed for so long, and it’s a hope you get to do this with more people. I think many people will trust you to share their story with you. It will be helpful to anyone whether an individual or an entire family. It’s a therapy to help us open our minds and hearts. That’s what I feel.”

Editor’s Note: Since this interview Flor felt called to study nursing in the U.S.


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.