We had to leave early to navigate our way through traffic and out of the city. We were meeting in Guazapa with the Mesa de Migración for the northern region of Lutheran Churches. The Migration Table was formed by the church to better care for families impacted by migration due to violence. The participants in the Mesa are pastors, healthcare workers, police representatives and local government officials.
The meeting began with a review of cases by municipality. The "cases" consist of internally displaced families and "returned" people - that is, people who were deported from the US or caught and returned while journeying north. The Mesa keeps track of the cases so they can be recorded and so that the church can accompany the families. The focus of the Mesa is prevention - working with communities in programs to prevent violence and working with families who have no option but to migrate to find safety as close to home as possible. The focus of the Mesa is advocacy - working with the police and local authorities to create safe spaces and communities and fighting for justice with families who suffer threats or violence at the hands of gang members or corrupt police officers or military personnel. The focus of the Mesa is accompaniment - visiting families, listening to their stories, providing them with emergency food or shelter as needed, and working with them to find safe places to live. In each municipality, the church is taking the lead in accompanying migrant families.
- One municipality is following 10 cases. As the pastor began to explain the cases, it became clear that this municipality is receiving migrants. This was unexpected - the opposite of what we usually hear regarding migration. A healthcare worker from the local clinic described one family: a woman with children ages 9, 6, 4 and 10 months. They had escaped a violent situation. The focus is to get the children registered for school. The clinic had worked to get the children vaccinated.
- A mom with four kids has been moving from place to place in her municipality, staying with different family members. They thought they could move home after a year and now that it is calmer, but it is still too dangerous. They are planning to go to the US.
- A young mom lives in a "hot zone." She had to leave with her 1 year old baby. Where are her other kids? No one is sure. Maybe with a relative.
- A family with a long history of gang threats and violence escaped. With a little help they rented an abandoned house in a nearby town. Over time, when things were very desperate, strangers came together and helped them. They used an old church banner for a tarp to cover a broken roof. Then someone donated metal. Through the Mesa they received a small loan to open a little perfume shop. They are living with dignity. Last Sunday they came to church. The grandmother always tries to come. She was threatened. The pastor said, "Sometimes people with vengeful hearts use the cover of gang violence to make threats against other families."
The pastors continued reviewing all of their cases, and then moved on to upcoming events and strategies. A variety of events have been scheduled to strengthen local migration committees which are being formed in each municipality. The idea is that these committees can keep track of their local cases and coordinate local events. The idea is to build strong communities in which the church, the police, the social agencies, the schools and the health clinics are working together to prevent violence, to reduce migration, to accompany families who must migrate and to channel regional and national resources into the community as needed.
At one point there was a very lengthy discussion about the ways in which meetings and events are announced. Apparently phone calls are good, but lots of people don't answer and as one pastor said, "I don't have any saldo (money on her phone) so I didn't call anyone." Apparently emails are good, but lots of people get tons of email so they don't read them. Apparently letters are best - not mailed but hand-delivered. Yes, somehow in El Salvador, communication eventually comes down to letters with signatures and seals, hand-delivered to offices where either you wait or you sign something that says you left a letter.
The meeting of the Mesa de Migración ended. We drove to a particular municipality to hand-deliver some letters for an upcoming event. When we walked in to the local health clinic, one of the doctors did her Moses impression of parting the crowd and called out, "Here come the Lutherans!" Yup, we Lutherans are pretty well known in these parts.
By the time I was delivered home, the little green parrots were starting to get restless. At 5:00 pm they start migrating away from their daytime roost to wherever it is they go to find safety for the night.