MCC in El Salvador -- More Than Building Homes

Mennonite Central Committee
Wednesday, 17 October 2001

WINNIPEG, Man. -- When Albert Heide of Winkler flew to El Salvador this past spring, he went in expecting to help local residents rebuild their homes in the wake of the devastating earthquakes earlier this year. He left two weeks later with a lot more than he had expected.

"We felt we were going down to make things happen, but when we got there, we found we were building more than just homes," says Heide.

Heide says the Canadians provided their physical labour, but more importantly, they brought a much-needed injection of morale. "We were helping people get back on their feet."

Three teams of eight people each spent two weeks working in the community of La Linea, a village of approximately 400 people, located a half hour south-east of the capital city of San Salvador. Mennonite Central Committee helped co-ordinate the project.

An estimated 1,100 people were killed and another 1.5 million left homeless following the earthquakes in January and February this year. The earthquakes destroyed a number of schools and hospitals. Much of the country lost electrical power as a result of landslides and tremors that followed the initial shock.

MCC sent three teams of eight people from Manitoba to work in the community of La Linea for two weeks at a time. The village of approximately 400 people is located a half hour drive southeast of the capital city of San Salvador.

"Many of the people live in poverty," says Heide. "Some homes are little more than a tarp. To be honest, we could not always tell the difference between those homes damaged by the earthquake.".

Once they had arrived, Heide and his co-workers found themselves working with 15 members of a small Baptist church located in the community. Together with the church members they helped build 140-square-foot homes for people. They were built on a concrete pad using pressed fibre sheets as walls and corrugated tin as roofing material.

Heide says he was overwhelmed by the giving nature of the Baptist church members. "Some of them were helping people who were better off than they were," says Heide.

Some villagers were wary of their presence and the Canadians knew they were being watched.

"These people know they are poor," says Heide. "It was important for us to leave our own personal agendas at home."

Heide says the aggressive nature of North American culture can offend people, which is why it was important for the Canadians to respect the ways of the Salvadoran people. He says western Christians often by-pass people in the drive to get work done.

"Things are different when you look at poverty, where people are simply fighting for survival."

Heide feels good about what he and his co-workers were able to accomplish during their short-term stay. He says he would like to go back one day to continue what the group started. But he sees it as more than just another building project. One woman came up with tears in her eyes when the team was about to leave and thanked them. She said she felt that her community had entertained angels.

"I think God had a plan," says Heide. "We were able to energize the people of the church--to help themselves. Now they will go on to help others."

MCC Work and Learn teams foster relationships with people around the globe. Approximately $300,000 was raised by communities in southern Manitoba for El Salvador. It will be used to build 100 homes.

For more information, or to contact Mennonite Central Committee, see their website at: www.mcc.org

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