Thursday, August 20, 2009


I had a great visit today with Hilda Calles Nuñez, a community organizer and single mother of six who lives in the village of Huisisilapa (took me quite a while to learn to spell and pronounce that, but Hilda says I've got it right now).

Hilda has received wonderful support over the years from a group of PeaceHealth volunteers who wanted to make it possible for some of her children to go to college. She told me today, with understandable pride, that one son is about to graduate with a teaching degree and another is studying for the licenciate in sociology. Three other children have graduated from high school - in itself a considerable accomplishment in rural El Salvador - and one wants to continue at the university. Her youngest daughter is in 9th grade and will soon be studying for the Bachilerato (equivalent to a high school diploma).

Two of the grown children are working, one in the family fields, but don't make much income. Hilda has worked for a rural development organization call UCRES (sorry, I don't remember what that stands for) for sixteen years, but like many in non-profit organizations around the world, she has been laid off as funding dwindled. She's looking for work, she says, but meanwhile she has been selling milk (but the cows aren't yielding much this year, and the farmer has cut back the amount she receives). She buys medicines wholesale, sells some, and gives them free to those who can't afford to pay. She has a milpa and some hens. She sells extra corn and beans, keeping enough to feed her large family through the year.

With all of this going on in her life, Hilda is coordinator for Huisisilapa's chapel and in charge of catechesis and she's been studying the Pastoral de la Tierra - learning ways to restore the land and the communities who depend on the land. She's implementing some of that in her own house, planting chiles and huisquil (it's unique - looks like a pear, has about the consistency and flavor of a zucchini and is beloved here) to add a little extra nutrition and variety to the corn and beans that are her family's staples.

I've visited Hilda at home, where there are 10 or more family members living in her house at any given time and the inside is mostly beds. But outside, along with the corn and beans and chiles and huisquil, are beautiful flowers, lovingly grown in small pots.

I'm in awe of the burden Hilda has carried for so many years, of her daily hard work, of her determination that her children will be educated, and of her dedication to her community. And I am so glad for the flowers.

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