Connecting When We’re Apart

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Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton, MA
In relationship with the village of El Octillo, El Salvador and Fundahmer

“Maintaining our program in the long term is very important to us.”

Church of the Good Shepherd and the community of El Ocotillo, El Salvador, have been in relationship for 16 years, and El Ocotillo is a primary mission focus of our parish. A group of us usually visit them every two years, but our whole parish, not just those who travel there, has engaged with this community in many ways.  Since 2008, the funding of scholarships for the best students in the community has been our primary way of enabling them to make a better life for themselves.

As planned, in 2015 Good Shepherd did not send a delegation to El Salvador, so it was a relatively quiet year. Although we had tremendous interest with a record-sized delegation in 2014, we did not feel we had the ability to shift to having an annual trip. Having a ‘year off’ from travel has proved to be a sustainable model which allows us to focus on raising funds for the scholarship program and building parishioner interest for the next visit. Maintaining our program in the long term is very important to us.

Post-trip Reflection on the questions “How do you sustain your relationship?”

We continued, of course, to support our Salvadoran students. The Diocesan grant enabled us to sponsor eight university students in 2015, and small stipends were added for three high school students. As in the past, we allow the community itself (the mothers’ group and the students together) to decide who receives our assistance. This is a decision process they take very seriously, and it is one of the key ways we empower the community. It was recently confirmed for us that if the community does not feel a student is living up to his or her commitments, they do not continue to receive funds. In this case, a new student is selected to receive support. It is very encouraging that the members of the community hold each other accountable in this way.

One of the ways we stay connected with our Salvadoran friends during the alternate years when we don’t visit is by sponsoring a small community improvement project. Our 2014 delegation discovered that the local elementary school desks were in very poor condition. The community wanted to fix them, but needed financial help to do it. Our 2015 community improvement project enabled them to do this. They found a local craftsman who would do the work of repairing them, and we educated our parish about this need, raising over $500 to pay for the work.

It was a relatively small project, but was important for maintaining our connection.  We felt supporting the local elementary school was a way of showing the community that we care about education for all, not just those who can go on to university. The process of raising money for El Ocotillo also keeps our relationship in the forefront of our parish’s thoughts; we gave pencils imprinted with “El Ocotillo, El Salvador” to those who donated, to remind them to think of and pray for our sister community.

Although our support is primarily for our scholarship program, we also paid for two members of our El Ocotillo community to attend a conference in San Salvador led by our local NGO, Fundahmer.  This was an important opportunity to train the local leaders in El Ocotillo, giving them an opportunity to learn from members of other communities in sister relationships.