Church member helps Salvadorans rebuild


August 19, 1998|By Kathy Curtis | Kathy Curtis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE PEOPLE of El Salvador "want people to pray and to walk with them in their struggles," reported Jane Collins, who returned to her Longfellow home last month after a 10-day trip to the Central American nation.

The Salvadorans are rebuilding their country after the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992, but, Collins said, the struggle for human rights continues. "They really want the people of the United States to remember them," she said.

Collins is a choir member and youth leader at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, which has had a sister parish in San Roque, San Salvador, since the mid-1980s. Collins delivered a check from St. John's to help support health care workers in San Roque.

St. John's paired with the Salvadoran community after a group called SHARE -- Salvadoran Humanitarian Aid Research and Education -- asked the parish to sponsor an American nurse midwife who had agreed to work at San Roque.

Barbara Hope, the associate for social ministry at St. John's, said that the parishioners of San Roque were originally farmers, but they fled to the city after the war reached their small farms. The only place they could find to live was the garbage dump. They built shelters out of whatever they could find and started work on a church, which remains unfinished.

St. John's efforts met with setbacks, recalled Hope. First, the nurse midwife was expelled from the country. Then an attempt to build a library for the children was considered subversive by the government. St. John's began sending money, averaging about $2,000 a year, to the Archdiocese of San Salvador to be used for the people of San Roque.

During the war years, members of St. John's visited San Roque and reported back to the parish. Some parishioners wrote to their legislators, urging them to look into what was happening in El Salvador.

Hope, who visited San Roque in 1994, stressed that St. John's involvement "came out of faith, not politics." She added, "Outreach is important to the mission of our parish. It's not just something we do on Sunday."

After the war subsided, conditions improved, said Hope. A group of female "health promoters" began to train residents to check on pregnant women and babies and provide preventive care for the elderly. St. John's has provided stipends for the health care workers and helped print copies of a health manual.

Hope noted that only the most basic health care is available, despite the fact that many residents are amputees or suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

For the trip last month, Collins traveled with members of a volunteer group called Baltimore Action for Justice in the Americas. In San Salvador, they visited the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980, and the house at the University of Central America where six Jesuits were slain in 1989.

"Both places show such great signs of life now," Collins said. "The people there are continuing to work for human rights."

Collins and her companions traveled throughout the country, meeting with community groups and government officials. She found the Salvadoran people welcoming.

"They gave us the gift of their hearts," said Collins. "They were so open. They took us in, they embraced us."

Collins is back at Longfellow Elementary School, where she teaches physical education. But the memories of El Salvador linger.

"I do know," she said, "that I'm going to return, God willing."

Jumpers win medals

Three west Columbia youngsters brought home medals from the American Athletic Union's Junior Olympic Games, held in Portsmouth, Va., this month. The three are members of the Kangaroo Kids competitive team, a Howard County jump-rope group. They competed against more than 400 jumpers from the United States and Canada.

Clemens Crossing resident Amanda Ramsey won a gold medal for her overall score in the 15- to 17-year-old female category. Clary's Forest resident Marissa Schwartz took the bronze medal in the same category.

With another team member, Marissa also won a bronze medal for the overall 15- to 17-year-old pairs competition. Amanda and her partner placed fifth in that competition.

Both girls will be high school juniors this year, Amanda at Atholton and Marissa at Wilde Lake.

Longfellow resident Elizabeth Egan was part of a team that won a silver medal in the 12- to 14-year-old double Dutch pentathlon.

Elizabeth, who will enter eighth grade at Harper's Choice Middle School next week, placed fifth in the 12- to 14-year-old female single freestyle B Division contest. With a partner, she was second in the 12- to 14-year-old pairs freestyle B Division event.

Elizabeth's brother Thomas, who will be a fifth-grader at Thunder Hill Elementary School, also participated in the competition. He placed fifth overall in the 9- to 11-year-old male category. With a partner, he was fourth overall for 9- to 11-year-old pairs. His four-person team also placed fourth overall in 9- to 11-year-old double dutch.

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