Tuesday, April 24, 2007

livin´ the dream

ok, so maybe i'm not talking about the same kind of dream that you all would dream about..... i'm feeling very lucky at the moment and maybe saying that i'm living the dream is a bit of a stretch, but when you're in the peace corps, it's not that often that everything comes together the way you'd like it to. most of the work we do is super difficult, not because it's physically hard or because el salvador is a difficult place to live. it's because for those of us who want to be halfway decent volunteers (and believe me, there are some volunteers who could care less whether they are good, halfway decent or crap volunteers or not), being successful is knowing that you've actually taught something to the people here. and that's where the level of difficulty can be an almost unreachable thing. sure, you can teach some kids a bunch of english words, or teach someone how to make some kind of american food. but teaching them how to change something in their lives, alter their lifestyle, get them to take charge.....that's really putting yourself to the test.

anyway, so i told you all the whole story about that first meeting antonio and i had with the community at the end of march. well, we decided that in order to keep the whole idea fresh in their minds, we'd have another meeting again in april. i also wanted to coordinate it with earth day (april 22nd), so we decided to do all this last week. we went through the invitation routine again, this time personally inviting the members of the ADESCO (kind of like a town council). our meeting was scheduled for wednesday and antonio and i decided we were going to have a cleanup campaign on friday – including the entire community and the kids at the school. antonio was able to get about 50 giant garbage bags from the unidad de salud to use for the trash that we picked up, which was a huge help. we still didn't have any idea how we'd get the garbage to the landfill, but that was part of the idea of the meeting – explain the plan, and have the people who came to the meeting help us figure that out.

so we had about the same number of people come to the meeting as we had at the last one – some new people came, some people who came to the last one didn't come. only two members of the ADESCO came (ugh!), but more men came to this meeting than last time. we started off by talking about the campaign, and everyone thought it was a good idea. then we started back in on the subject of trash pickup in san jorge.....how are we gonna solve that problem. i've come to find out that the mayor's office has no problem sending a truck to pickup trash in san jorge, but of course, they have to charge a tax for this. and like half the people in san jorge don't want to pay this tax because 1) they're too poor to pay a tax; or 2) they are afraid if they aren't able to pay the tax every month, then the mayor will seize their house or something. so it's either convince everyone in the community that paying a tax won't be that bad, or finding some other means of renting a truck to pick up trash once a week that doesn't include paying a "tax," but some other kind of payment.

so on this subject, a couple of guys spoke up and started complaining about the above-mentioned problems – how not everyone wants to pay. this one guy kept looking at me and antonio and insinuating that we were supposed to tell them what to do. so finally i said, look, we're not here to tell you what to do. i basically told him that if they organized themselves, the community could come up with a solution. because i'm certainly not there to tell them what to do....i can help them with solicitations or finding an NGO to work with or something like that. antonio, even though he lives in the community, was there on behalf of the ministerio de salud, and it's not the ministerio de salud's responsibility to find a solution to the problem (even though he wants to as a member of the community). i told this guy that we're only two people, but there are 114 houses in san jorge with people that can work together.

so what was their reaction to that?? they formed a committee!!!! a comite de saneamiento (sanitation committee). and they went about electing officers for it. what made me happy as well is that they were intent on having both women and men, as well as some younger members of the community on the committee. then don paco, the guy who runs the finca where we've been having our meetings, told everyone that he'd be happy to take the trash we picked up on the day of the cleanup campaign to the landfill. so that problem was solved. i felt super pumped when the meeting ended. after the meeting, the committee sat down and started talking about things and when it started getting late, they decided to have a formal meeting this wednesday at one of the member's houses. they asked both antonio and i to come so that we can help them make a list of everyone living in san jorge so that they can possibly go door to door and find out how many people are willing to pay some kind of money for the tax or renting a truck. yeehaw!

antonio talking to the group

don paco offering his camion to take the trash out of san jorge for the cleanup

electing the members of the committee

the new vice-president of the committee talking to the group

on thursday, the kids, teachers and i went out and cleaned up the football cancha and streets surrounding the school. that was crazy. the cafetal and bosque surrounding the football cancha was a fucking mess. there was no way we could get it all – there is so much trash in that bosque, people just dump their trash there. we got as much as we could, and the rest of the cancha cleaned up so that was good. the kids were really into it when i told them they could all where a rubber glove to pick up the trash...it was so hysterical seeing them all wearing one glove like michael jackson wannabe's. anyway, on friday, antonio and i went street by street handing out the huge garbage bags and let me just tell you something: there was a lot of damn trash that got picked up that day. i mean, i worked my ass off on the street that leads from the main road to the school.....it was disgusting. that is the worst street in san jorge and it was just covered with mud and layers of trash. a bunch of people who live on that street and i were working for like two hours just on that street. gross! then antonio's friend guillermo came by with his pickup and said that he wanted to help by taking some trash to the landfill too. so between him and don paco, we got all the trash off the ground and out of san jorge.

this doesn't mean that it'll stay off the ground by any means. but here's the thing, everyone keeps telling me how great the streets look and so hopefully that'll be a tiny bit of motivation to not throw their trash on the ground. and with this new committee, maybe they will figure out what to do about getting trash pickup – then it'll be a lot easier to manage the trash situation. it's not going to be spotless in san jorge, there will probably always be some kind of churro bag floating on the ground.....but if they can get the trash pickup thing figured out, i know san jorge will be a million times cleaner than it is now. and that's what i'm talking about "living the dream." as volunteers, it's basically our dream to be able to get these people thinking for themselves and realizing that they have all the tools needed to find solutions. and if they don't have the tools, they can get them if they work together. i'm also trying to get them to realize that trash pickup is something they need, just like they needed potable water. you should have seen how many mosquitoes were flying around the street that i was cleaning up. they all pay a tax for potable water, and i seriously think they can either pay a tax or some kind of payment for trash pickup. but we have this meeting tomorrow, so we'll see what we come up with. it won't be solved overnight, obviously, but with time i am sure they'll find a solution.

over and out!

trying to clean up the bosque/cafetal

niña domy and antonio gathering up some trash on the esquina above the school

the dirtiest street in san jorge

don mario (who owns the main tienda in san jorge) in front of guillermo´s pickup