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EL Salvador 11

Mon, 28 Jan 2008

Hello to all from sunny, warm El Salvador! I have been getting some pretty horrendous weather reports from home so I am REALLY enjoying the weather now!

Just came back from the patio roof top on the hostel. One guy brought along his telescope so we can view the stars at is really tough here! Saturn can be very clearly seen with its rings as well as craters on the moon. The patio is also a very good vantage point for the construction going on next one can watch welding, pouring concrete, etc. They seem to have a good time doing it. The patio is also a very good place to debrief from the day.

And another good day it was. We headed out to Sonsonate orphanage where an organic garden project has been set up with some help from Rainbow of Hope. Sonsonate is in an area S.W. of San Salvador (more toward the ocean where there are actually areas with some flatter land.

There is quite an interesting group of people associated with this project because it is so unique in this country. Brenda an El Salvadoran woman trained in the UK, her husband Ed from Wales, another guy from England who likes the philosophy behind it all, an El Salvadoran aerologist, but the real spirit and purpose of the project was embodied in Mother Ursula who runs the nearby orphanage. She looked very much the part of `earth mother´ as she wafted from one duty to the next in an almost serene way. She is a Carmelita nun and she and other sisters of that order run the orphanage. The orphanage is about a 5 minute drive from the garden project. We stopped at the garden project first where we got the background , toured the gardens and of course ate. The gardens are at the foot of a very classic looking volcano, and the soils are volcanic soils....very dark and rich. The purpose of the project was two fold 1) to feed the children of the orphanage and 2) as a demonstration of intensive organic farming.

It is a great example of biodiversity and many of the biointensive techniques were introduced by a scientist from Alberta. There were fruit trees, of various kinds, a big vegetable garden, chickens, turkeys, a few cattle....They are trying to commercialize the fruit of the Noni tree (which smells like blue cheese...and tastes worse!)because of its antioxidant properties for cancer treatment. There is only 3 acres of land. (land here is measured in `manzanas´1.8 acres=1 manzana). There is a well and pump that Rainbow of Hope helped to fund so the gardens are irrigated. Chicken manure and composted plant material are added back to the soil. Farmers in the area are trained in organic techniques by spending 3-4 month periods of time working on the gardens with the 3 permanent staff. They use a drip irrigation system, companion planting in the vegetable gardens and have optimized the plant spacing. Three to four crops can be grown a year and the gardens now supply 60% (?) of the needs of the orphanage. They hope to expand this project into other nearby communities as well as develop a seed bank (or at least find some way of guaranteeing a source of seed into the future). Of course there was the usual debate among some of us as to what is organic, and hybrid vs the whole concept of genetic engineering. We drank green coconut water, ate watermelon, and were served a meal of chicken cordon bleu (absolutely delicious) in a gazebo overlooking the garden. After we ate we went to see that orphanage. The orphanage was started just after the war ended in the early 90´s. At present, there are about 96 kids...60 girls, 46 boys. There are apparently always more girls! Not all the children are orphans....some have parents that are not able to look after them. The reasons the kids are there are as varied as the kids themselves. As are most visits to orphanages, it was a heart wrenching experience. The kids are dressed in a blue and white uniform and look quite neat and tidy. They had been taught a couple of songs to sing for us and one little boy in particular sang his heart out! The kids are anywhere from a few weeks old, up to late teens some of them were in school. The kids missed their nap time because of our visit and some of them simply fell asleep sitting upright! Charlie had brought a big bag of candy and was virtually mobbed! These kids want attention so badly.... The good thing about the nearby garden project is that some of the older kids can do some of the garden work as well as learn some skills. We went to an area upstairs where the youngest children are kept.....always the most difficult. Children of that age really need so much one on one, and there just never seems to be enough people. Some of these young children looked terrified at the sight of so many strangers....and took awhile to warm up to us. The sisters of course do the best they can. So we finally tore ourselves away from the children and went off to see the cathedral in town.

The cathedral was quite large and colorfully painted inside. The most interesting thing to see was the large figure of Christ and the cross that is carried through the streets during some of the many street processions they have here at Easter. Next cream. Charlie´s comment `can you imagine a Dairy Queen at home being guarded by someone with a sawed off shotgun?´ Actually, I hardly even notice them anymore.

Then it was off to the local mall to do a bit of shopping. So that was it for the day and it will be another full one I guess it is off to bed!

V & C