Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tramites update

I am delighted to say that Kathy Garcia and all our doctors pulled things together very quickly after the Junta Vigilancia de la Profesión Médica told us they wouldn't authorize our medical mission unless all the doctors' documents had an Apostille from their state. Licenses and Curriculum Vitae were re-notarized and sent to Kathy; Kathy took the Oregon documents to Salem for their apostille, and Andrea Nenzel drove the Washington documents from Bellevue to Olympia. Both sets were sent via Federal Express to our friends at CIS (Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad) on Friday - because FedEx doesn't deliver to Suchitoto. I'll be lurking at the CIS offices Monday to get the precious apostilles and take them over to the . And at last, we should be properly approved!

Meanwhile work toward the February mission moves into high gear this coming week. There's a mountain of shopping to be done, meetings with our volunteers, complicated transportation issues to work out...a lot, but it all seems do-able and delightful. In two weeks we will have the clinics set up and organized, ready for Monday, Feb. 15th, when we open our doors to the people of San Juan Opico.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mi familia

Yesterday, very early in the morning, I put my sister, Kathy Roben, and cousin, Margaret Rooker, on the plane headed for Seattle, where they've arrived safely. What a grand time we had together! The first photo shows the two of them at our cabin along the Ruta de las Flores, feet up and enjoying the cool mountain breezes; the second was taken in downtown San Salvador as they visited with Estela Garcia, a long-time friend of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, and Estela's father, mother, and young nephew Luis Alfredo.

Introducing the family I've loved all my life to some of the places and people I've come to love in El Salvador was a great joy. It's good to know that Kathy and Margaret will now have vivid images in their mind's eye when they call or write to me - and that many of my friends here have now experienced these tall, gentle, friendly women.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The rhythms of a delightful week of family and sightseeing and visiting were interrupted by word from the Junta Vigilancia de la Profesión Médica. I had given the Junta - the group charged with approving all doctors in the country, whether visitors or residents - notarized licenses and curriculum vitae for all our doctors in mid-December. Now in mid-January, they announced that all the documents lacked an apostille, and that without this they would not approve our medical mission.

For those of you who've never had to get one, an apostille is an official document of the state - in this case Washington or Oregon - which certifies that the notary who notarized the licences and CVs is indeed a legitimate notary. It can be obtained quickly, while you wait, but the offices are in the state capitals, Olympia and Salem, and the licences and CVs would have to be gathered again and notarized again. The requirement for an apostille has been on the Junta's list of requirements for some time, but it's never been enforced before. But here we were with new leadership of the Junta Vigilanicia, and they intend to enforce every requirement. And it wasn't at all clear that we would have time to get the apostilles before our group arrived.

In a fairly frantic day in San Salvador, Dina Duvon and I pled our case at length to the Doctora in charge of our application. We had brought mission groups down here for nine years without ever getting an apostille, we said, and there had been no problem. The people of San Juan Opico were waiting for their chance to get a free consulta, we said. The apostille wouldn't give them any additional guarantees, we said, since the licenses are already instruments of the state and the notary has affirmed that they were presented by the person named in the license. But it didn't do any good. We would have to get apostilles. In phone calls back and forth to Kathy Garcia and other PeaceHealth staff, we figured we might be able to get it done, barely, if everyone hustled their documents over to a notary again and hustled them to Kathy again, and she drove them to the state office and sent them to me by rapid express. Dina and I wrote a letter to the Junta, asking that they allow the mission to go forward even if the apostilled documents can't be presented to the Junta - which meets once a week - first. And we asked the Archbishop of San Salvador to write a letter of support, which he most kindly did.

And that's where it stands. Kathy is hustling and I'm continuing with the organizing here, and we're pretty sure we will have everything together before our mission group arrives, but we'd ask for the good wishes and prayers of anyone reading this. As I've thought this over, I understand that the Junta Vigilancia wants to make sure that any group of doctors that comes here is really legitimate, that they fear, and reasonably so, that the people of El Salvador will get a raw deal from unlicensed doctors or out-of-date medicines. I wish they had been more open to compromise, and perhaps after the new leaders have been in office a little longer they will not be so intransigent.

But most of all, I desire the outcome that will be good for everyone: our group approved and providing health care to people in San Juan Opico who have little access to care. If it takes an apostille, we'll provide an apostille.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The gang's all here

The Dewitt gang, that is - Margaret Dewitt Rooker (my cousin), Kathy Dewitt Roben (my sister) and I are enjoying El Salvador thoroughly. What fun to have family visit! Especially when you've been graced with such a delightful and agreeable family.

Today we're off for an overnight along the Ruta de las Flores, with beautiful villages and many shops to visit. Meanwhile here we are in the patio, with Margaret in the middle.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Comings and Goings

Very, very early this morning Kathy and Amalia and Randy got into a van headed for the airport, with all the materials for a video about cataract surgery in Randy's camera. I'm looking forward to the finished product, which will have its debut during our February general medical mission in San Juan Opico.

Now I'm about to get into the car to head for the airport, where my sister, Kathy Roben, and cousin, Margaret Rooker, will soon be arriving. The sheets are washed and on the beds, the rooms are clean, and I am very delighted to be welcoming my family to my adopted country.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Tonight, with great sadness, we watched coverage of the devastation in Port-au-Prince and joined our prayers with those all over the world for the people of Haiti, who have suffered so much already and now are in such terrible chaos and need. May the help that's being sent with so much good will arrive in time to save those who can be saved.

A Quilting Party

Kathy Garcia came to El Salvador with some wonderful gifts in her baggage: a big stack of children's books, in Spanish or bilingual Spanish and English, and a big stack of beautiful quilts, made by Sharon Serena and Joanne Clemmer, two sisters of Cindy Hellerstedt, a long time volunteer with PazSalud.

We delivered two of these gorgeous quilts to Comasagua on a very cold day (for El Salvador), where Nubia and her mother Maria Esther were delighted to receive them (the second quilt is for Nubia's sister Veronica: the photo also shows Nubia's friend and ours, Doctora de Larios). Two are set aside for Rosita's daughters, and my godson Alejandrito will be wrapped up in one. We've donated the rest, 25 quilts of various sizes, to the parteras (midwives) of Suchitoto, a long-organized group of women who deliver babies in rural areas. The second photo shows Higinia Hernandez receiving the quilts on behalf of the parteras . Thanks, Sharon and Joanne, for these beautiful and practical gifts to the children of El Salvador.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Last night I picked up Kathy Garcia, Sr. Amalia Camacho and Randy Guerin at the Comalapa airport. By the time we made it back to Suchitoto and had a cup of tea, it was almost midnight, and we had to leave the house at 7:15 this morning to make our appointment with Dra. Ana de Burgos. We didn't get much sleep, but by 7:15 we were in the car and headed out to Hospital San Rafael in Santa Tecla, where Randy videoed Amalia interviewing Dra. de Burgos about the process of cataract surgery. Dra. de Burgos turns out to be a natural - calm, poised, a very clear speaker - and we have the basic material for our video, which we'll add to tomorrow with interviews with former patients and with two of our community volunteers from Comasagua. Our hope is that this five-minute video will give prospective patients enough information so they'll know what to expect if they decide to have cataract surgery.

Back in Suchitoto, after catnaps and stirfry and the traditional coconut ice cream, we're ready to head for a good night's sleep, but first we posed for a group photo. I'm sitting in the chair, and left to right are Randy, Amalia, Margaret Jane and Kathy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cold Spell

La Prensa Grafica has been full of warnings of a cold spell here in the last few days. For the benefit of my friends in colder lands to the north, this means that the temperature in San Salvador tonight is expected to drop to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (with a predicted daytime high of 86). In mountainous areas, the low might be as low as 45.

Now to someone living through winter in Washington or New Jersey, this may seem like great summer weather, but here many people don't have warmer clothes to put on or much more than a sheet to cover the bed. And the winds are expected to be high - between 12 and 20 miles per hour with gusts up to 30mph.

It's always interesting to find out in different cities what kind of weather or natural disaster merits a full page of "how to live through it" advice in the paper. In Seattle, it's earthquakes; in Oklahoma City, tornadoes; in Albuquerque, snowstorms (to name a few of the cities I've lived in). Here in El Salvador, a cold spell counts. The meteorology of the cold front was graphically explained and people were advised to stay indoors and bundle up warmly.

I'm welcoming three friends from the north, coming in on the plane tonight (and I hope the winds will not get in their way): Kathy Garcia, Amalia Camacho and Randy Querin are coming down on a small PazSalud mission to make a video about cataract surgery that we'll be able to show to our prospective patients. They'll be happy to have a cold spell, El Salvador version, after the winter weather in Eugene, OR and Longview, WA.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A mother of nine

I met with Dina and the health promoters of San Juan Opico about our February general medical mission today, and afterwards gave Carmen, who will be cooking the lunches for our big group, a ride home. She told me along the way that she has nine children. Two daughters are nurses, I learned, one son an electrician, another son an airplane mechanic. One daughter is studying business, another has started her own small business. One daughter is finishing up University work for her licentiate as a teacher, and one daughter, the youngest, is in high school. I'm missing someone from the nine, but what a group! Carmen says she's proud of them, and I said that I hoped she was proud of herself, getting all those children through the university.

I don't think there's any need to worry about the quality of our lunches during the medical mission - it's pretty clear that anything Carmen (wearing the pink sleeveless blouse in the photo) turns her hand to will be well done.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy Founder's Day

Today, January 7th, is our Founder's Day, the day our first Sisters professed vows as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in Nottingham Cathedral. As our Constitutions say:

Their faith and humility enabled them
to take great risks in serving their
sisters and brothers in need.

This evening Margaret Jane and I remembered those earliest sisters and all those, past, present and future, Sisters and Associates, who have and who will, in their turn, take great risks to serve and to be ministers of peace. What a joy to be part of such a company of women (and men too, among our Associates) committed

to promote peace
in family life, in the church, and in society.
We strive to respect the dignity of all persons,
to value the gifts of creation,
and to confront oppressive situations.
We respond to God's people in need
and promote social justice
as a way to peace.

I'm blessed, we're blessed in this great calling to be peacemakers and people of peace.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Margaret Jane returned from Newark yesterday, ready to be out of the cold. Today we celebrated the three kings, and here they are as they appear in Santa Lucia's creche. This creche has a quality I've seen in many church nativity sets in Guatemala and El Salvador - the figures are out of proportion to each other, with the Christ Child a great deal larger than his parents, and the kings and shepherds a fair bit smaller than Mary and Joseph. Today it struck me for the first time that this may be deliberate, a way of showing the relative importance of each person in the scene. Of course Jesus is the largest!

Welcoming 2010

New Year's Eve was party time - Peggy and I were both invited to a party at Martha's house to celebrate Josue turning seven. All the necessary elements were in place - tamales and chicken sandwiches, orange drink, not one but two piñatas filled with candy, a glorious cake topped with fruit, a recording of the Happy Birthday song in English and Spanish, a recording of Las Mañanitas - the Latino birthday song, a few birthday presents, lots of family members, and a great collection of kids from the neighborhood. The piñatas were well and truly whomped - that's Diego taking his turn in the photo. One very special visitor was Tio Oscar, in the center in the bottom photo, who will be ordained as a priest this March. He's standing with his brother Hernan and Hernan's daughter Crisseyda - oh yes, and the family parrot didn't want to get left out of the photo, he's hanging upside down on the right. Josue is lucky - everyone will always be partying on his birthday!

Later in the evening, I visited Peggy's next-door neighbors, Morena and Alberto, and their family and friends. They live in a beautiful and traditional adobe house with a huge patio in the center, a great place to eat, dance, and welcome the new year. Firecrackers popped and boomed and fizzed for about two or three steady hours, and then it was 2010, 2 AM and time to go to bed.