We had a car. We didn't really know why the traffic was so heavy because the buses along our street were actually operating. When we got to Casa Concordia my husband dropped me off and continued on to his meetings for the day. Pretty soon I heard the news that the buses running north of San Salvador and into the city were not running due to a strike. Then someone heard about a couple of buses being burned and 7 or 8 drivers being killed. Everyone was talking about the gangs.
The story of the gang order for buses to stop transporting people in certain areas and of deadly consequences for drivers who were not complying with the gang order describes the terrible circumstances which set the stage for another story which took place on Monday. On a day when most people could not get to where they needed to be, one young man and his dad were determined.
Pastor Santiago was to pick me up at Concordia so that we could meet a couple of the students in the Education for Life program that we coordinate. The students attend the national university and are very active in student leadership at the university. Their idea was to orchestrate some kind of connection between the university and communities like theirs, which is struggling with the impact of poverty and violence.
Santiago was an hour late. The female student had called and said she couldn't get out of the community. The male student does not have a phone. We decided to travel to the meeting spot at the Lutheran Clinic, in case the young man showed up. Although no pastors were able to get to the center of San Salvador for the weekly, churchwide devotional, the young freshman and his dad had made it. There they sat, in a clinic with no devotional, no pastors and no patients.
It had been quite an adventure for our friends. They found one ride, then a second and then a third -- three successful hitches to get to their destination. We talked for a while and then the three of us, Pastor Santiago, myself and the freshman headed off to the university. Maybe we would not be able to meet with university student government and organization leaders, but at least our young friend could give us a tour and tell us about his experiences as a new freshman.
We got out of the car near the agronomy department. "I feel so good here," the young man said. "It's very emotional for me. There are students here with great riches, and others who come from a humble home and a simple family like me. Everyone is treated as equal. There are no higher-ups in the student organizations. Everyone has respect." As we walked through a grove of trees, he continued. "I have this idea to plant orange trees, and some other fruit trees. The only fruit we have growing on campus is mango. We could improve the environment and produce food at the same time. Look, this is a perfect spot for orange trees." He pointed to a dry hillside surrounding a basketball court. "This is where our student association of architects and engineers plays basketball. There is a lot of heat on that court. Orange trees would provide fruit and shade."
The freshman comes from a humble home. He and his dad largely survive on the fruit that grows around their house. His mom died a few years ago of tuberculosis because she could not afford to buy both food and her medication. No one really knew how sick she was. "One idea I have," he continued, "is to plant one tree of a different type of fruit in each person's yard. Then, people could trade with each other to have a variety of fruits for nutrition." This young man is an architecture major who knows a lot about trees and plants. I think he sometimes sleeps at the university. He talks about being under the trees at 5 o'clock in the morning.
The young man shows us where his classes are held, and where his student organization meets. We connect with an older student in his 4th or 5th year and clearly he and our young man are good friends. No discrimination when it comes to age: the older student treated the younger as an equal. They talked about the upcoming parade to be held on July 30th in memory of the massacre of university students which took place in 1975. The architecture and engineering students had built a model plane which would be one of the floats in the parade. Students would be dressed as soldiers and various pieces of military equipment would appear as floats, reminiscent of when the army surrounded and shot at unarmed students, killing 20. The wood "bones" of the military airplane float would be fleshed out by the students in the next few days.
We eventually ended up having a meeting with a couple of student organization leaders in the engineering department. Another meeting was set up for the next day; everyone was so enthusiastic! Bringing students into impoverished communities to teach, to mentor kids, to do projects that fulfill the students' social service hours...the ideas kept flowing! In the current reality, the church, with its non-partial relationship-building work in communities, could be the gateway for the university to enter into communities in order to make a positive difference.
We grabbed a bite of lunch at the university food court, and then walked our freshman friend back to his airplane. A few more friends showed up to work. The freshman pointed us out to his friends, and they all waved to us as we walked away, the freshman with a smile beaming from ear to ear.