Love and respect – the universal languages

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. (Gen. 11:1)

I’ve just returned from my third trip to El Salvador through the Thrivent – Habitat for Humanity partnership. I’ve met some terrific people – like Betty (L) and Glenda (R) pictured above. Glenda came to our work site each day to help because she wanted to practice her English. I wanted to practice my Spanish so we helped each other.

One of the highlights of this trip for me was the afternoon there wasn’t enough work to go around for all of the volunteers. In order to be out of the way, but available when needed, Glenda and I sat nearby going through the Spanish-English picture dictionary I took down to donate to the community library. For about a half hour we took turns pointing to objects and saying them in one another’s native language.

Glenda is nineteen and studying some variation of advertising. I think. The language barrier does make it difficult to communicate that level of detail. What I do know is that her mother, Betty, is part of a coop that makes items to sell, makes micro loans to members so they can get the basic equipment and supplies needed to start a trade to earn more income for their families. They also teach teenagers skills they’ll need to support themselves.

Betty and Glenda live next to the co-op. We were working on another home nearby in Gethsemane, a planned community. The following report by Neil Rowe Miller of World Hunger Relief, Inc. describes the concept:

In the Gethsemane Community, just outside the city of Ahuachapán, 86 families organized a community development association in the 1990’s, years before HFHES (Habitat for Humanity El Salvador) began building homes there. Local residents are largely unemployed, though some work as day laborers in local coffee plantations earning $45 each two weeks (with only one day off). Through a partnership with a Presbyterian church in North Carolina, over 50 homes have been built, and a broader community development initiative has begun including agriculture as well as health promotion, micro-enterprise, and other components. Tania Meza, Project Manager, lives near the community and seems highly committed and visionary
(From: Trip Report: El Salvador 19-30 September, 2010, World Hunger Relief, Inc.)


A street in the Gethsemane Planned Community (From World Hunger Relief. Org)

The Thrivent Builds Partnership with the local HFH worked on three Gethsemane homes on this most recent trip. We got to see the community garden, shopped at the co-op, and held our closing luncheon and celebration at the beautiful new community center.

I was immediately impressed by and drawn to Glenda. She is shy, but friendly and eager to learn all she can. She’s also a hard worker, helping us haul dirt, sand, and rocks. She is the age of two of my college student granddaughters. My granddaughters are living in cozy but very comfortable dorm rooms, attending classes and enjoying the excitement and adventures of college life in the States.
Glenda lives in extremely modest housing. The typical HFH home in El Salvador is 450 square feet. Some have plumbing, if their community has the infrastructure to support it. Our team’s task for the week was to help dig the trenches and eight-foot deep pit for the septic system at the house where we worked.

Betty was one of the several cooks who prepared our daily lunches. My favorite was the stuffed peppers. I wasn’t sure about the stuffed cauliflower, but that too turned out to be excellent.

The drastic difference between the lives of my granddaughters and that of Glenda is the result of where each was born. There are historical reasons for why Glenda lives in extreme poverty and why my granddaughters do not. The point is that all three of these young women are smart, hard-working, poised, and eager to learn and explore the world around them.

I can’t do much to resolve the great disparity between the circumstances of these young women. None of us can alone. But perhaps, like the members of that church in North Carolina, we can commit ourselves to doing what we can to give young adults like Glenda a chance.
Glenda is a charming young woman. I’m sure you’d love her if you met her. I’m so grateful we had the chance to spend some time together.

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