[050826; 1642 UTC,
Estero de Jaltepeque y Rio Lempa, El Salvador
N 13 degrees 18.2/W 088 degrees 53.9]
Can you believe we are STILL in El Salvador? Yes we are, but it's all been for good reason - we've BEEN BUSY.
An article we just wrote for the publication Latitudes and Attitudes explains some of our delay; we have included the draft below. (Another VERY short story has been submitted to Cruising World and we have already talked with 48 Degrees North and Latitude 38 about short blurbs.) Some days it was frustrating- trying to get money or keeping the many cruiser volunteers motivated - and other days it was simply grueling. Seeing the kids' joy when they saw their new school and their obvious thrill at reading the books in their new comfy reading area makes it all worthwhile. Special thanks and love to those family and friends who generously gave the project much needed money when we thought we might not be able to make it happen - Barbara, Judy and Larry, Billy and Sylvia.
If you want to look at the pictures, please visit www.sv-carina.org and click on the school link right in the middle of the front page. Additional pictures (for instance of the little disabled boy) are available by clicking Our Pictures and then selecting El Salvador.
There are certainly more stories to add to our summer adventures (we just returned from Honduras) and we promise we'll write again soon. Right now we're trying to focus on projects necessary to again cross the bar, go out to sea, turn left and head south.
Leslie & Philip & el gato supremo, Jake
Estero Jaltepeque, El Salvador
Cruisers Work for Kids in El Salvador's Rural Communities
By Leslie Linkkila
El Salvador is a tropical paradise of extremes. Existing together in delicate balance are stunning volcanoes rising from coastal plains; lush forests and denuded hillsides; rushing rivers and fecund mangrove-lined lagoons; jet-powered racing boats and heirloom dugout cayucos; and people of wealth and the profoundly poor. With the highest population density in Central America, this is a land where millions struggle with amazing pluck and perseverance to rise above their desperately poor circumstances.
Cruising yachts in abundance are still a recent phenomenon in Estero Jaltepeque (known popularly as "Bahia Del Sol"), and as cruisers, we remain a bit of a novelty. Weekenders in their lanchas or sportfishers circle yachts at anchor and snap photos, turning the tourists into the tourist attraction. Part of the intrigue has been that cruisers have not only visited, but cruisers have stayed and helped particularly rural poor island communities with medical, dental and educational contributions.
The emergence of a cruiser community here began with the pioneering visits by vessels such as Quantum Leap with Jan Turner aboard who crossed the bar into the estuary five years ago and stayed. Jan has tirelessly promoted the island communities by organizing panga tours by locals of nearby island schools, bringing cruisers to local "stick" restaurants perched precariously over the river, and even helping a poor family sell tamales amongst the fleet. Following later were Colette and Murray Barrett who arrived in El Salvador aboard Tarazed to help with earthquake relief in 2002. Finding that the home rebuilding project organized at Barillas Marina had been completed, Colette and Murray purchased land and established a small marine services operation on rural Isla El Cordoncillo, employing almost exclusively islanders who otherwise would have no opportunities to work or learn a trade. In 2004, Randy and Gail aboard Otter and Andrew and Arlene aboard Nueva Vida set up shop in La Herradura and, for six weeks performed exhausting dental clinics where they examined and treated nearly everyone in town, all at no cost.
This year's southbound Pacific fleet has been particularly active in El Salvador. The first project evolved from a tour of nearby Isla Colorada aboard the panga Mar y Cielo by Aquastrian, Carina, Comfort Zone, Encanto, Gia and Wayfinder. With limited Spanish and sans interpreter, the cruising kids quickly began to interact with island kids, trading names and playing games as we toured the village and school. Before long the warmth of the interactions spurred questions about how we might help these wonderful bright children who were now our friends. Beaming, the school's "presidenta", Jenni, explained that the villagers could not provide school uniforms to the children because the fabrics were too expensive. Back at the fleet, generous contributions to the fund came from almost all anchored boats including all mentioned here plus Dream Caper, Farewell, Indigo Moth, Our Tern, Quantum Leap, Sula and Woodduck. Marco Antonio Zablah, the owner of the nearby Hotel Bahia Del Sol also provided a substantial donation. With these contributions we were soon able to purchase 300 yards of fabric for the villagers to sew into uniforms. Later, the cruising kids, with the help of Molly Spaulding on Tumbleweed, presented this gift - in Spanish - to the islanders at their Fiesta De La Madre where over fifty cruisers had the rare opportunity to participate in this annual celebration.
After purchasing the fabric, a small balance remained in the "school" fund and the fleet was asked to consider making a contribution to the escuela at Isla El Cordoncillo which is adjacent to the anchorage. Additional boats who joined the group to tour this school and meet with the teachers were Alaskason, Desiderata, Kirkham Annie, Mitä Kuuluu, ¿Qué Tal?, Soy Libre, Tricia Jean, Wanderer, Wayfinder and Windsong. First impressions of Isla El Cordoncillo - without roads, electricity or a freshwater well - were of people living in extreme poverty. Many families subsist on roughly $6 - $10 per day; others on much less. The school, while supplied with three government employed teachers, had little else. Particularly wrenching was the kindergarten, where the children were being educated in a dismal, dirt-floored, leaky lean-to which was filled with ants, rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes! Later, around the Bahia Del Sol Hotel pool, cruisers met to discuss how best to help this school and a consensus was reached quickly that the kindergarteners deserved a better learning environment and we should try to replace the rotting structure if at all possible.
Generously, Colette and Murray of Tarazed agreed to help coordinate their local knowledge, materials, tools and islanders to the effort. A small group of cruisers then visited a nearby one-room school and were inspired by its simple, appropriate and affordable design. By drawing the structure, John Amber of Encanto enabled Carina to develop a budget, executive statement, Powerpoint slides and Gantt chart in an attempt to lure institutional funding from the USA. Our story failed to bring funds from philanthropic organizations. Fortunately though, emails and personal websites brought contributions to our growing fund from many supportive friends and families worldwide. Alaskason and Windsong also organized a variety show and auction that brought us $500 closer to our goal. Highlights of the show included the didactic skits performed by the "Cruise Kids Players" (coached by Jan Wilson of Claire de Lune), impressive musical contributions by Comfort Zone, Mitä Kuuluu, Panacea and Windsong, jokes from an "anonymous comic" aboard Alaskason and the phenomenal fast-talking auctioneering skills of Sahika Riley-Bell of Comfort Zone. Examples of creative auction items included elaborately embroidered clothing donated by Wanderer and full course Thai and Chinese meals donated by Paradiso and Encanto. In addition, Dana and Fletcher McConnell of Desiderata, raided their piggy banks and donated the contents to the school.
Once we were certain we had the funds to complete a structure (though unsure we could furnish it or supply books), we coordinated with the teachers to move the children and raze the structure. Meanwhile, islanders moved beach sand by wheelbarrow to the site and cruisers (including Alkahest, Encanto, Mirage, Panacea, RDreamz, Tricia Jean and others) shoveled "sweet" sand (for making concrete) into bags on the peninsula for the islanders' panga transport to the island. The razing was both festive and maniacal with excited islanders from toddlers to grandmothers helping to disassemble the rotting structure. Rats and cockroaches fled during the razing creating humorous, though temporary, pandemonium. Retained materials from the old structure were carefully stacked for use in other school projects.
During the construction over the next three weeks, island mothers in traditional Salvadoran lacy delantals (aprons) painted, carried water on their heads to the site and provided refreshments (such as fresh cocos) while men mixed cement, welded beams and moved materials. Additional contributions continued to arrive including money, books, 12 volt batteries, creative learning tools and art supplies, and sports equipment. Upon completion of the building's shell, teachers were again included in planning for finishing. Beth Lab of Aquamarine, who had been volunteer teacher of English at the school, provided interpretation during this enthusiastic and creative discussion, resulting in the development of areas specifically designed for imaginary play and reading. To encourage pleasurable reading, a set of eight tiny, brightly-colored beanie bags and one teacher beanie bag were designed and sewn by AnnaLisa, Carina, Encanto and Paradiso. These were set on a patch of carpet in a corner of the school next to a display for illustrated children's books. Cruisers scoured their boats and donated cooking utensils, tools, costumes, musical instruments, etc. for creative play. A pile of lovely books, a gift by an anonymous donor, also arrived for the school.
Building a structure - even a simple one - on a rural island without roads, water or electricity is challenging, but through the creativity of Murray Barrett of Tarazed, the close coordination of materiel movement in pangas with tides, and the collective energy of dozens of cruisers and islanders, the school has become a reality. Also contributing skills, ideas and experience or backbreaking hard labor in the hot sun, were: Alkahest, Borracha III, Entelecheia, Lanikai, Paradiso, RDreamz, Tarazed, Tricia Jean, Tumbleweed and Wanderer. Previously unknown but amazing skill-sets and energy emerged from everyone including: 5th Element, AnnaLisa, Aquastrian, Carina, Encanto, Panacea and ¿Qué Tal?. The result was the completion of the building, from conception to opening day, in less than two months. The total cost was <$2400, including furnishings, books, learning tools, toys and art supplies. A fiesta is planned soon to formally present the structure to the islanders. The completed facility has also engendered new community pride in the school and islanders have requested that cruisers also provide a sign with the name of the school. This will soon be erected above the entry gate.
Seeing joy in the eyes of the children and the teachers the day the school reopened gave us great satisfaction though there are many, many needs within this and nearby communities and therefore additional opportunities for cruisers to contribute. Medically-trained professionals within the fleet continue to help when necessary and recently helped save a child suffering from a cystic fibrosis crisis. A cruiser is teaching English to a young waitress trying to advance her skills and opportunities. Eric Blackburn of Chickadee, active in World Kids Voyage, recently reported to the fleet that the school at the adjacent Puntilla Del Cordoncillo was inundated and destroyed during a storm, displacing children and necessitating future reconstruction. Also, Michele LaCroix of Aquastrian has spearheaded a campaign to raise support for a necessary neurosurgery for a disabled boy at Isla Colorada. Without the operation, the child will likely die. Residual monies from the island school are serving as the basis for this critical fund.
Now a peaceful country, El Salvador is emerging as a cruising destination because of modest costs, tranquility and easy access to desirable inland travel destinations. While here though, it is impossible to ignore the extreme contrasts between rich and poor or the profound needs of many of the children. Getting involved and making a small dent in the big list of needs has made the stay here more rewarding for the fleet of 2005. We anticipate and encourage continued contributions by southbound cruisers who visit this lovely, safe haven.