El Salvador Teens Help Lead Disaster Preparedness

On May 7-17, 2012, eight youth and faith formation ministers and two CRS staff members traveled to El Salvador through the Called to Witness program. Sponsored in collaboration with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (www.nfcym.org), Called to Witness provides short-term, firsthand experiences of the developing world as seen through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. Shawnee Baldwin, Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Hartford, CT wrote this reflection.

On Tuesday, May 15, the Called to Witness group visited a disaster risk reduction program in the community of San Francisco Aqua Agria, nestled in the shadow and smell of an active volcano. This community had already been devastated by back to back earthquakes in 2001, and is often subject to hurricanes and flooding. Everyone had a story to tell: a home destroyed; a grandma injured; a loved one killed. They remain on high alert during the rainy season as a simple storm can trigger a flood that literally rips away the foundation of this quiet hamlet of 124 families.

A situation that would paralyze most of us has mobilized these families through a collaborative CRS and Caritas program. How many of us rely on a teenager to monitor water levels and report directly to the mayor when the water gets too high? Who puts a teenager in charge of the town’s first alert team? In this community, Enrique, Juan Jose, Clara Margarita, Maria, to name a few, lead first response, relief, and empowerment projects under conditions we cannot begin to imagine nor tolerate.

It has been said that if you give a man a fish he eats for a day; if you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime. But when you also give him access to the necessary resources, you empower him to imagine a better life for his or her community. When that responsibility is placed in the hands of young people, the results are explosive. The young people we witnessed are like the pockets of hot springs at the base of the volcano. They are bubbling with energy, ideas, and gratitude for the opportunity and the challenge to make life better and safer for themselves, their parents, and their grandparents. They are hot to learn a new way to exist in a country rampant with poverty. We have been witnesses to the empowerment in young people and we have stood in the flow of their gifts and talents.

The Salvadorian people have traveled through the sorrowful mysteries time and time again; yet, they are also the legacy and fulfillment of Oscar Romero’s hope that if he were killed for his “option for the poor,” he would rise again in the people. The paschal mystery is apparent and they are poised for a resurrection, evident in the community of San Francisco Aqua Agria.

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