Friday, September 26, 2014

El Salvador

[In El Salvador], the rich have freedom to live and the poor have freedom to die.  --Dr. Virgina Funes

El Salvador is around the size of Massachusetts and is the most densely populated country in Central America. Here in the US, about the only time we read of this nation is when there is a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, or an earthquake. As horrible as these natural disasters have been here, Salvadorians are also experiencing the daily soul crushing disasters that always follow in the wake of extreme poverty.

The average monthly income is around $300.00

Out in the rural areas, people are living on less than $1 per day in makeshift shacks that have neither running water nor electricity

Fifty-percent of the children here are living in extreme poverty.

Given the extent of poverty, over one-third of the people lack access to either public or private medical care. The cost of medicine in El Salvador is the highest in the region. People are suffering with cancers, digestive disorders, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, and respiratory infections. Seeking to address this disaster, the government decided to provide free healthcare, which, in turn, created a demand that exceeds the nation’s resources.

This is why we are here, why we have brought in 15 million dollars worth of medicines.

Next to me is Luis Morale, the founder and director of Fundacion Corozones de Vida; a non- profit organization based in Metapan, El Salvador. The organization provides various forms of aid throughout El Salvador. Luis graciously joined with us, utilizing his extensive network to help us distribute the medicines we have brought in.

One of our first stops is the women’s prison in San Salvador where we distribute desperately needed medicines. This place was built for 1,000 inmates. There are over 4,000 women incarcerated here.

The “cells” are chain link fences, with upwards to eight women in an area made for one woman. 

As I am walking by these cages, my mind races to find the appropriate adjectives to describe this place: appalling, disgusting, dangerous, degrading, heart wrenching … but none of these words come close.

Just when I thought I had seen the worst of this place, however, I noticed all the children. My heart vomited.

“What kind of madness is this?”

As I turn and look at our team members, I see horror, tears, and compassion. Instinctively each of us fans out and begins talking and playing with these children.

There are 85 children here, 5 years old and younger, living with their mothers. I asked how long they would be here and was told that once they are around 5, they are removed and sent to live with a member of their extended family. 

We had a great team of physicians and nurses helping us to distribute the meds. Walking around talking with some of these women with what limited Spanish I can remember, each and every one of them repeatedly thanked YOU, our donors, for sending them the medicines they and their children so desperately needed.

The hospitals here are not places we here in the US would ever take our loved ones. Throughout the day, I saw and heard that there were not enough rooms, not enough beds, not enough food, not enough caregivers, and not enough medicine. Gratefully, the physicians and nurses are highly trained and skilled, and care deeply for their patients.

We spent considerable time talking to various doctors, as well as community leaders out in the rural areas where the meds we brought in were to be distributed.

Dr. Hector Valencia, the chief surgeon over the cancer ward at the hospital in San Salvador where we were bringing in a bulk of the meds we were distributing, told us that there is a dangerous lack of antibiotics, medications for HIV/AIDS, pain management, and pretty much any and all medications needed for cancer patients.

The wealthy people here in El Salvador can fly to Panama or Costa Rica or even to the US, and receive the medical care they need. But the poor are stuck in their shacks and can only walk so far. These are the people whom you helped by sending in all these medications.

Small Gifts, Big Smiles!

Forty years ago when I first started traveling to Developing Nations around the world, one of the first things I discovered was how often I was asked … for shoes! The requests almost rivaled that of being asked for food and medicine.

In this shipment to El Salvador, we included almost 4,000 pairs of shoes. When we distribute food or medicines, it is always a very traumatic experience to witness the diseases, the desperation, and the people who are at death’s door. But passing out shoes to children: it was an awesome experience! 

As always, a deep “thank you” from the bottom of my heart for making this shipment of help and hope to El Salvador a reality. Because of your generosity, hundreds of people are receiving medical care that otherwise would never have taken place.


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