Today we made a trip back to a community called La Llanes. Though I’ve only been there once before I was excited to be going back and couldn’t wait to see everyone again. This was the community that I visited for the first time on May 9 and wrote a blog about entitled “This is what poverty looks like.” There are 20 families in this community and they are all related through one woman named Augustina. The community does not have an official Directiva (community board recognized by the government) nor do they have a partnership with a church in the States. And they receive basically no help from other institutions in El Salvador. All of these factors contribute to making them poorer than other communities in the area.
Today was a very special visit. We were going to deliver clothing and toys to the families in La Llanes. After seeing the children dirty and wearing tattered clothes we decided that we needed to do something. One day the ladies started going through all their clothes and went through the clothes at their homes to give to the families in La Llanes. I always joke around because Cecilia’s wardrobe is bigger than Kathy and mine put together, but she was incredibly generous with what she gave away. Not only that, everyone in her family contributed something. Blanca’s entire family donated clothes as well.
Since there aren’t any small children in Cecilia’s or Blanca’s family, Kathy decided to go out and buy some children’s clothes. We went on Sunday (market day) a couple weeks ago. On market days you can find decent clothing and good prices. She was able to get lots of shorts, shirts, and shoes for the kids. We bought clothes from the people who’d set up on the street to sell. We prefer to buy from people off the street first because they don’t have permanent stores and usually need the money more than those people with stores.
Before my family came down last week someone from my church contacted me last minute about sending down some stuffed animals that had been collected by a co-worker of hers. I said yes figuring we’d use them for something. When my family brought them down to me I thought about the community of La Llanes and decided it would be a good place to take the animals. But there wasn’t enough for every child which presented a problem. Then someone from my church sent down money for me to be used at my discretion. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to use the money. Today we went to a store that sells toys to buy enough so that all 40 children in La Llanes could have a new toy. Together, the stuff animals and money donation helped to get toys to the children who only have a few.
Toys for the kids in La Llanes
Bags loaded in the truck
We left the house around 2:00pm with the back of the truck loaded with clothes and toys. It was a beautiful ride to La Llanes. Since the rainy season has started everything is much greener than it was the first time we visited. We could see people out planting and new seedlings starting to grow. When we arrived the committee of La Llanes was there to greet us as well as several small children. One of the kids was playing with a homemade capirucho made from a plastic bottle and twig. My heart broke when I realized that his family could probably not afford to buy him one. But he was happy just the same and was ready to play with us when we got there.
We greet everyone with handshakes and hugs. A few more people from the committee arrived shortly after us. They had been out in the fields spraying to protect their crops. The spray is basically weed killer designed to kill the weeds but not the crops. And with the poor harvest last year people in the cantons are depending on a good crop this year. Though I’ve been told the spray is not dangerous it didn’t smell good and I wondered if it negatively affects their health. That situation would really be a double bind: you need to the spray but it’s harmful to your health, but if you don’t use the spray your crops could die. Not an easy situation.
Once all the committee was there they started sorting through the bags to decide what things would be best for certain families. It was a fun process to watch; a cross between Christmas shopping and clothes shopping. The clothes were divided up equally between the different families. I stood back to watch, take pictures, and chat with people for a while. It was an amazing sight. This truly is a great example of the poor (Blanca and Cecilia’s families) giving to the poor. Because as Blanca frequently said, “There is always someone poorer than you.”
I love the mountains
Beans are beginning to sprout
Looking out at the view
At the gate of the community
Holding his homemade capirucho
Augustina had butterfly land on her hand
Back from spraying
Looking at the clothes
That's not for you, Kathy!
While the committee finished sorting through the clothes we were invited next door for some coffee and pan dulce. We went inside the modest home built from mud bricks and wood. The woman inside was making fresh coffee, probably roasted and ground at home. Though I am not at all a coffee drinker I really wanted to drink coffee and have pan dulce with everyone else. I asked for a little bit of coffee and got some pan dulce as well. The pan dulce was delicious, and the coffee tasted liked coffee so I didn’t like it. I had a really hard time getting through that last sip. As Kathy said, “It was chunky,” which I imagine is great for people who really like strong coffee.
Soon the rest of the community had arrived and it was time to begin giving away the clothing and toys. The committee had put all the clothing into bags for each family. The president of the committee called each family forward to receive their bag. When they did Kathy and I looked at the complete census of the community to see how many children were in each family as well as their gender and age. We gave out badminton racquets, dolls, plastic tea sets, plastic kitchen sets, jump ropes, and toy trucks, cars, and motorcycles. It was a lot fun watching people get their clothes and watching the kids get their toys. There is great joy in being able to help others.
Sleeping in the hammock
Fresh coffee brewing
Holding up the baby
Inside the home used for a church
What the inside and outside of the walls look like
Oved used for baking bread
So ugly it's almost cute
He likes his hat
The president of the committee, Ismael
Receiving their gifts
I told him the car was not just for him
Cute baby girl
Inspecting their toys
Squeak toys for the baby
He likes his truck
The trucks were a big hit
She got little badminton racquets
This is the family with 14 kids
Calling off names
Holding her new teddy bear
Playing with a stuffed zebra
I noticed that a couple of people were wearing nice clothes, especially the children. Several of the little girls were dressed up in fancy dresses and overall the children also looked a lot cleaner than our previous visit. There are probably a few reasons for this. One is that the rainy season has started so people have access to the rain water. They don’t have much to store the water but at least now they don’t have to walk miles and miles to get the water (provided that it rains frequently).
The second reason they were dressed up and clean (I confirmed this with Cecilia) was because they knew we were coming this time. Cecilia said that the people in the cantons who don’t have a lot of money may only have one nice outfit. When people come to visit they put on their best clothing. She said that at Christmastime the fathers will buy one nice dress for his daughters. When visitors come the girls will often wear that special dress. But normally, she said, the way we saw people dressed on our first visit is how they usually dress.
This made me feel happy and sad at the same time. Happy because they were so proud to be wearing their best clothes and looked so beautiful, but also sad because those were the only nice clothes they have and seeing us is one of the few special occasions where they will wear those clothes. I’m not sure how else to explain my feelings. But seeing the stark contrast between the clothing the children wore during our first visit and the clothing they wore this visit had an impact on me. It’s something that will stick with me for a long time.
Contrast Photos - First & Second Visit
First visit to a house with 14 children
Seeing her broke my heart
During our visit today she
had on a beautiful red dress
During our first visit
A beautiful little face
She was crying at first but was
happy when she got her toy today
The president of the committee's
daughter on our first visit
She quickly warmed up to us
Today she wore clean clothes
without any tears in them
We finished handing out the clothes and toys and by then it was time to leave. The community invited us back in July for their Patron Saint Festival for the Virgin of Carmen. I hope we’re able to make it! We hugged people and waved goodbye to everyone. It was a good day.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to the new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.” Flavia Weedn
The rain moving in as we drive home