lunes, 7 de enero de 2013

Dear Fr. Jim and St. Dominic Community

From small beginning, great things!

When St. Dominic took up its first collection to sponsor a pelibuey for families in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Calle Real and Cabanas, we needed your support and also your trust. Every successful development project has a learning curve. A community like ours needs that curve in order to learn by success and by mistakes.

What have we learned?

1.       Contrary to popular wisdom, not all goats are of the same temperament. While certainly more frisky than the docile pelybuey, some breeds, such as the Nubian, are manageable. Their “behavior” is in large measure a result of the way they are treated. Like any animal, they have understandable reactions to the way they are raised.
2.       The goat is preferable to the pelybuey because it gives milk. But in order to have that special flavor in the cheese and cream, the goat must be removed completely from the company of the machos, except for the breeding. The males spray the females and the spray of semen sours the milk.
3.       We have always understood that the project was principally aimed at producing female offspring. It was only necessary to maintain a few machos for breeding. But we always maintained the machos, only slaughtering them on occasion when we had an immediate need. But after three months the machos get tough and the meat becomes like leather. We need to slaughter the machos soon after they are born and sell the meat in order to re-capitalize the purchse of more females.
  4.     We let the pelybuey and goats have free range in CHINAMPA. They ate the soccer field and started to pasture outside of the retreat house, much to the chagrin of the guests with windows on the east side. When we closed these areas off we noticed that the goats and pelybuey were getting fatter because we were bringing the forage to them. The workers, on the other hand, were getting more exercise! The lesson was to keep the goats in defined forage areas and not give them toomuch exercise. Leaner meat is also tougher meat. With the goats, we learned that production increased when they were kept cooler, for example near the water spigot. Milk production increased form three to five bottles when we changed the forage practices.
5.       Finally, with Ruby’s new direction in CHINAMPA we learned where to get our breeders in Guatemala and how to make the purchases without an intermediary. This means that we pay taxes, but the cost per goat is much less expensive. We will demonstrate how much so when we finalize the purchse this year.

The picture in the upper right corner is Ruby Benitez Iglesias. She is the new director of CHINAMPA. Ruby was educated in Los Angeles and Long Island and then returned to El Salavdor to complete her studies in agricultural engineering from the National University. Her thesis was on cows but she is conversant in general agriculture and has already demonstrated how knowledgeable she is of goats.

Part of our parish outreach and solidarity inside of El Salavdor is to the prison population. This year we will be producing milk for the children who live in the women’s prison with their mothers. We wil also be traiing these mothers in goat production. To undertake this task we have built a goat breeding station in the San Jose calle Real Center, near CHINAMPA. The picture above shows this facility from the outside and below is a view of the main corral. In addition to this corral we have an area dedicated to birthing and an area restrictd to the four breedeer males. We are also fenicng in a large forage area in front of the breding facility.

San Laureano’s sister parish and the Carmelite Mission society are helping with a salary for three years for the beneficiary families of Cabanas and San Laureano. Now, we will have a technician avaialble at our beck and call to assist in birthing, vacinations, general care and training. We hope to be able to purchase a milking mahine for about 4000 dollars and begin producing chevre for sale. As I mentioned above, we will donate a large portion of the milk produced at the center to the women prisoners and their children.

We expect to have one hundred beneficary families this year and a return of fifty breeders. These families enjoy the sole benefit of their production. Their ocntribution to theproject, in addition to the donation of one breeder is to help train the women prisoners in the care and production of goats to give them a start when they are released from prison.

This is an exciting time for us and we owe it to your support and trust.  We are also grateful to Food for the Poor for help in building the breeding facility. The facility is on the gounds of the orignal refugee camp of San Jose Calle Real. The floor of the corral is the floor for one of the refugee dormitories. This is appropriate that we are building on top of the other, which had a distinuised history in the struggle for peace in El Salvador. We are eager for your visit in July and expect to sit down with you and enjoy a plat of chevre with jellied pimenta and crusty lettuce.

When the goats are actually purchsed we will send you their fotos and also the register of beneficiary families.

lunes, 12 de noviembre de 2012

Goats, Goat Milk, Chevre (Goat Cheese) vs. Pelibuey: A debate with John Doll

A Pelibuey is a species of sheep, a native to Africa where it is known as the West Africa Dwarf Sheep. This species does not grow a wool pelt and so is adaptable to hot climates, like El Salvador.  Eight years ago our friends from St. Dominic were visiting and they learned of a project we had in the parish with the Food for the Poor organization in Florida. The project had allowed us to create a breeding facility for Pelibuey and make the sheep available to poor, rural families. Each beneficiary family agreed to breed the sheep and to return one female to the parish, to continue the breeding cycle and benefit other families. Pelibuey is raised as a source of meat. Their commercial value is from sixty to eighty dollars per animal, on the hoof.  Pelibuey do not provide milk. The females can only feed their young – often multiple litters – and for a very short time.

The attraction for this species of sheep is that, unlike goats, they are very malleable and easy to control. Someone once said that most species of goats are a challenge “like trying to herd cats”. Not so Pelibuey. They follow the one in front of them, even to the slaughter. They are easy to keep on a rope in a relatively small yard and small children can lead them leased to pastures to feed. A goat, on the other hand, will lead a child and even turn against its controller when things don’t go the way they like.

So, they have the benefit of being easy to control, a rich source of protein, but no milk. The Pelibuey are docile, not stubborn like goats, like John Doll.

For the last five years St. Dominic parish has sponsored a Christmas collection to buy Pelibuey for the rural families of Calle Real and neighboring communities.  This has been a tremendous effort on St. Dominic’s part, allowing over two hundred families to begin their small herds. But every year when John and his wife have visited Calle Real, John brings the conversation back to “tell me again, why we don’t use goats?”  I know the Pelibuey are docile, but what about the milk? Wouldn’t that be a great source of nutrition, without having to kill the goat? 

A few years ago we decided to do an experiment. With St. Dominic’s help we divided the new herd half goats and half Pelibuey. It was not John Doll’s insistence that won out. We learned that there are also species of Nubian goats that are docile, produce a good quantity of milk and are easy to raise, even in small family plots. The horror stories that we had always heard about goats jumping over houses, tearing down clotheslines, eating the family corn and other countless exaggerations, just did not prove to be true.  With humble apologies to the whole goat world, two years ago we switched to goat production.

But the story does not just end here. Like the summer festival of creativity, from small beginnings, great things come. This story came about when members of the parish became involved as volunteers in the Archdiocesan program of pastoral service to the penitentiary system. A small group from the parish volunteered to visit the women’s prison in the town of Ilopango.  The conditions in this and other Salvadoran prisons are horrible, prompting the Archbishop of San Salvador to liken a visit to a Dantian descent into hell. The overcrowding has created health problems with six women occupying spaces designed for one (foto at left). But our greatest surprise was to encounter one hundred and twenty five children under the age of ive, incarcerated with their mothers. There is hardly enough food for the adult prisoners and what is available has to be shared with the children. On the day of our visit the children, even the babies, were having a breakfast of hot dogs.

Food for the Poor was also concerned about the conditions of these children and immediately responded to our request for assistance by donating kid’s furniture (photo below), clothing and bedding to the prison’s children’s wing. Getting nutritional assistance inside of the prison was more difficult.  All consumables are closely guarded by prison authorities, careful to guarantee that no drugs are smuggled into the prison. There is also a fear that grains can be used to produce alcohol. When some of the women mentioned to the prison warden that our community produces goat milk, she immediately showed interest. Goat milk naturally has small, well-emulsified fat globules; therefore, it does not need to be homogenized. Goat milk is not recommended for infants, but for children from one to five years old it has higher digestibility, distinct alkalinity, higher buffering capacity, and certain therapeutic values. “Why not produce goat milk and cheese for the children, she suggested. “I’m sure we can find some means of getting around the bureaucracy.”
With the assistance of the Archdiocesan agronomists we have developed a great project from this small beginning. Food for the Poor has graciously provided us with the funding necessary to build an efficient and modern goat breeding facility in Calle Real. The center will host forty goats for the dual purpose of breeding and producing goat milk and cheese. The children and their mothers in the Ilopango prison will benefit from this rich food source. More importantly, the women of Calle Real who gained their experience in the St. Dominic project have agreed to teach women prisoners from Ilopango, in what is referred to as “a state of trust”, how to raise goats for their own families once they are released from prison.
Small beginnings to great things.

From Small Beginnings, Great Things

Manuel Portillo is a man with a vision. Manuel is a kindergarten teacher in the town of Apopa and director of music in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Calle Real. Fifteen years ago he proposed creating a summer festival of the arts for children and adolescence.  (Summer begins in November and extends to May. In El Salvador “summer vacation” is synonymous with Christmas vacation.) Our first effort was limited to dance, music and painting. About one hundred children and youth participated and in the days before Christmas we showed off the talent with an art show, concert and festival of dance. It was a small beginning.

Manuel Portillo in a concert with our youth in 
the stadium f the local public school. 
Friends of Manuel will note the abundance of hair;
it’s an old photo.
When our visitors from St. Dominic came to visit us in July, Manuel was asked to describe the summer festival of the arts for the visitors and the children who had learned to play the recorder presented a small concert. He wasn’t asking for anything, but rather was proudly showing off the talent of our children. When the folks from St. Dominic asked if they could help out the next year’s summer festival, we were all very excited and Manuel made haste to draw up a budget.  One problem that we encountered the first year was the need to supply each child with his or her own musical instrument. It is one thing to participate in a class on guitar, but the real learning takes place in the home with hours of practice.  We also needed to come up with a small remuneration for the art, dance and music instructors. It wasn’t much but it included costs that we could not budget for. Other material costs included paper, paint, material for mask making, etc.

From small beginnings over the years the summer festival grew and grew. The most hopeful sign of success became evident after the fifth year when it no longer was necessary to pay for instructors. The best of the youth who had been with the program since the beginning volunteered to share their experience and talent with the younger children. New ideas were discussed with our friends from St. Dominic during their annual visits and new ventures begun. One very successful experiment was the introduction of batucada. Batucada is a sub style of samba and refers to an African influenced Brazilian percussive style, usually performed by an ensemble, known as a Bateria. Batucada is characterized by its repetitive style and fast pace. The instruments used in batucada are simple to make in the community and include repinique, a high-pitched tom-tom played with a single stick and the hand. Normally the leader of the ensemble uses the repinique to direct and solo. The downbeat is provided by a drum called a surdo, with an average size of 50 cm in diameter. Also included in the ensemble are tambourines, whistles, bells, rasps and drums made from plastic buckets. 
The dance group joined the batucada and gave birth to a kind of stomp dance ensemble.

Gabriel, green shirt with the guitar was a participant in the first summer festival. 
He is now a med student and leader of the children’s chorus in Colinas Del Norte
Now the young people insisted on more opportunities to express themselves aside from the summer festival. Their appearances before the masses during the last days of Advent stimulated more interest and gradually requests started to come to the parish asking for exhibitions of stomp, batucada and dance at different parishes and community events, and even at some wedding parties.  With such evident success and as an alternative to the rising tide of gang violence hitting El Salvador, the parish council at St. Dominic authorized financing the festival of music and a salary for a cultural promoter for the whole year.

Giovanni Lopez (standing) still finds time from his busy schedule 
to offer classes in the parish summer festival, 2011. 
Next month we will post a collection of his paintings on this blog.
This story would not be complete without mentioning a young man who participated in the first summer festival in the area of painting. Since he was a small child, Giovanni Lopez was interested in drawing and painting. He was prolific and showed talent as a naïve artist, meaning a kind of outsider to the art world without a formal (or little) training or degree. Naïve art is now a fully recognized art genre, represented in art galleries worldwide. Generally naïve artists ignore the three principal rules of painting established by the progressive renaissance painters: decrease of the size of objects proportionally with distance; muting of colors with distance; and decrease of the precision of details with distance.

In that first summer, Giovanni painted ten paintings of Carmelite saints. When asked if he intended to display these characteristics, he replied, “Yes, because I have not been able to study art in school.” With a little help from St. Dominic, we enrolled Giovanni in the National School for Art for three years, paid for his transportation and paints, and celebrated with him when he graduated.  Since that humble beginning, Giovanni has gone on to win honors and commissions, including the placement of two large canvases in the National Assembly. Small beginnings, great things.

A community puppet show organized by the Pablo Tesak Cultural Center.
This group of children is shown presenting their theme on hunger.
Five years ago the contribution of the summer festival of creativity came to the attention of a Salvadoran philanthropist, Ildiko Tesak. Mrs. Tesak’s husband, Pablo, was a Jewish survivor of the holocaust who immigrated to El Salvador in the 1950s and, with only $3.50 in his pocket, established a thriving snack food enterprise. When her husband died, Mrs. Tesak wanted to do something to honor his memory. Collaborating with her, the parish and its pastor created the Pablo Tesak Cultural Center.  Look it up on the internet. The school of creativity is based on the summer festival, only its runs throughout the school year and serves six thousand children in the area of visual art, music, and creative writing. The Cultural Center has an artist in residence program with Giovanni Lopez as its first beneficiary.

The Tesak family has invested over two million dollars in the construction of the Center with an annual budget of 300,000 dollars. While it is not a religious organization it works with the parish and Archdiocese to help promote basic human values and human rights. One of the ways it does this is with a program to teach teachers, catequists and community leaders how to instruct moral values with puppets.  Manuel was offered the position of music director but he chose to remain with the parish and has agreed to serve as a consultant to the Cultural Center in developing its music curriculum in 2013.
From small beginnings, to great things. 

A Unique Relationship

The relationship between St. Dominic Parish in Mobile, Alabama and the Archdiocese of San Salvador is unique and perhaps exemplar of the ideal expression of a sister relationship.  Let’s take a look at this relationship in terms of the two basic principles of the social teachings of the Catholic Church: solidarity and subsidiarity.  

The relationship between Calle Real and St. Dominic was begun when members of
St. Dominic accompanied a delegation of the Sisters of Mercy and Mercy
Associates from Baltimore to El Salvador. From there the relationship took on its own momentum.
Above, Sister Kitty Neusline, apostle of peace in El Salvador.
 Below, the joint Baltimore Alabama delegation.

As articulated by Pope John Paul II solidarity is a principle that promotes the common good and urges Christians to act on behalf of the well being of all, especially those who are most poor and marginalized. Solicitudo Rei Socialis is the clearest expression of modern Catholic Social Teaching. In it Pope John Paul II identified solidarity as a constitutive element of the Gospel and essential for lasting peace. “Solidarity helps us to see the 'other'-whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our 'neighbor,' a 'helper' to be made a sharer on a par with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”

The solidarity of the people of St. Dominic Parish in Mobile has taken on many different expressions over the last fifteen years. As we prepare this blog for the new website of the Vicariate, we are awaiting the arrival of Lee Benbow, a teacher and musician from St. Dominic who will be with us in a few days to participate in the annual School for Creativity. This program was begun 10 years ago with St. Dominic Help and has since grown into a program with national outreach.  Every year groups from St. Dominic visit El Salvador. Fr. Jim Cink, the pastor of St. Dominic, has been with us on three occasions, taking time out from his busy schedule to bear up under the hot Salvadoran sun and share his faith and compassion with the people of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Calle Real. Economic support for parish initiatives – some of which bear fruit and others that do not – is another expression of solidarity. The lives and well being of El Salvador and its powerful neighbor to the north are closely related. While the Church does not enter the political fray, speaking on behalf of justice for poor countries like El Salvador and lobbying legislators to support initiatives in favor of justice is a very important expression of solidarity.

St. Dominic is a politically pluralistic parish with a wide range of opinions. But it is unified in its support for justice and one of its “conversation partners” in the area of international relations is its sister parish in El Salvador.

But solidarity can be oppressive when it fails to hold to the standard – equally important – of subsidiarity. A sister relationship is, in effect, an organization composed of two parts. The two parts are also organized. While it shares similarities with parishes sin the United States, the pastoral organization of St. Dominic is different from ours. Subsidiarity is a Catholic principle of organization that says that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. The more powerful should not dominate the less powerful and within each organization, central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. In the Church, support for this principle goes back to Pope Pius XI who wrote, "It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and/or industry."

John and Zippy Doll, 
lay leaders in St. Dominic and friends of Calle Real
Some solidarity organizations, well meaning to be sure, operate outside of the norms of subsidiarity. They analyze the problems in a certain country, like El Salvador, and determine what ails us. Then they offer a cure and make the medicine available in terms of funding for projects thought up in foreign think tanks. 

In hindsight, since the beginning of the relationship between St. Dominic and Our Lady of Lourdes in Calle Real, the “conversation” between the two parishes seems to have taken its lead from theologian David Tracy who wrote: "Conversation is a game with some hard rules: say only what you mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other; be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it." 

Two of the leaders of the sister parish relationship are Zippy and John Doll. Every year when the two parishes get together in El Salvador, John leads the conversation with well expressed opinions, hard questions, an open heart and willingness to listen, to learn and to change his mind, when the evidence is clear. Husband and wife exemplify the fundamental qualities of a sister relationship: ask the hard questions, insist on accountability and trust your partner to do the very best with the solidarity your parish offers.