In a space between the two roofs of the Christian Base Community in San Ramon, a neighborhood in San Salvador, we could just make out the spot where the tiny village of The Clouds (Las Nubes) was situated. Perched precariously in the middle of the side of San Salvador volcano, Las Nubes is one of the communities in the country that has no running water, no electricity, and where villagers scrape by to survive.
“We are poor, but we do what we can to help our poor brothers and sisters,” says Hector, a member of the San Ramon CBC, a middle-aged married man with three children. “I do not work regularly, but what I do is give three days to God here at the community, and then the rest of the week I work to support my family." Las Nubes is one of Hector's projects. He travels up to the side of the volcano several times a week to help with bringing medicine or delivering food or water to residents in this poorest of the poor in San Salvador.
Chris Welch, a summer intern for CRISPAZ, has his second visit with Hector and other members of the Christian Base Community. This is where Welch, a 30-something high-school teacher from the Boston area, will spend his SIPPIE internship with CRISPAZ. Francisco and Elizabeth at CRISPAZ have worked out his schedule; Chris will take one bus from his quarters near the old U.S. embassy and head straight to San Ramon, a very poor neighborhood that lives in the shadow of the volcano and suffers from flooding every time waves of water and rock fall from the western side of the volcano.
Hector takes us on a walk up to a part of the neighborhood that suffers most every time there is torrential rain. Along a cut in the earth that serves as a wash when rain comes are tin-roofed shacks, curls of smoke rising out from under the tin where mothers prepare tortillas for their families in that age-old tradition. Hector points to one shack that has what appears to be siding from an old school bus. “How would you like to live there when the floods come?” he asks us. Although the shack is perhaps 10 feet above the bottom of the wash, when the rain falls, Hector says rushing water goes over the rooftop. No, we say. We would not like to live there, especially during a rain.
Lupe, a woman of perhaps 28 or 29 years, meanders down the wash carefully, managing her way around large stones that have been deposited by a recent rainfall. She is a member of the Christian Base Community, and seeing Hector, joins our group. “Only by the grace of God can we survive this place,” she says to us, smiling. The government told us earlier this year they would relocate us, but they say that every year and nothing happens.” We look up and down the wash, where Hector tells us that perhaps 100 families live, perched precariously at the earth’s end, only a push or a rock away from catastrophe.
Now we are walking back downhill, where Hector shows us where numerous bodies were deposited after a massive rain a few years ago. “Everything was washed away,” he says, now stopping at a two-story pink house. “This house is famous because it was the last house standing. It didn’t fall.” We peer around and seen new construction of tin and twine, logs and bedsprings used as fencing. “Everything has been built up again, but it will all come down,” Hector tells us. “We have asked the government to building some concrete piping and wall supports” for the wash, “but they don’t have any money for this.” He shrugs. They don’t have any money, period, he muses.
When the rain comes now, members of the Christian Base Community now give each other warning calls in their cell phones. If it is really bad, the CBC building, off to the side of the drainage area and a spot probably safe from falling stones and mudslides, can be set up to take families that might have to find quarters while they relocate or rebuild.
“We stick together and help each other,” Hector says. “This is how our community of faith works.”
-- Dennis O'Connor, executive director of CRISPAZ, is in El Salvador on a delegation and to meet with summer interns for the next two weeks.