Though Bellarmine did not send students to El Salvador this past summer because of safety concerns over increasing violence in the country, students and faculty continue to walk in solidarity with the community of Agua Escondida, a relationship established over 20 years ago.
The expansion of gang territory in El Salvador and the withdrawal of volunteers from the Peace Corps prompted the decision to suspend the immersion program for students over the past summer. Despite the setback, Bellarmine still sent five faculty members, including Ms. Pellerin, Mr. Romero, Mr. Sigrist, alumni volunteer Mr. Ferrari, and former guidance counsellor Mr. Lauro, to El Salvador to continue the relationship with Bellarmine’s sister community.
Mr. Romero believed in the importance of supporting the community even in times of difficulty. Although students were not able to attend, Mr. Romero believed that sending faculty members conveyed a powerful message of togetherness through turbulent times. “We were talking with the community and the people there and they said their area was safe,” he said. “We trust that, and we want to honor the relationship and be with [Agua Escondida] while the country is struggling and to say that they’re not alone.”
Mr. Romero also said that sending faculty members to El Salvador over the summer was a positive way to display the spirit of Bellarmine immersions to new faculty members who would potentially want to lead immersions in the future. “We did this trip as a sort of formational opportunity to train [newer faculty] and show how Bellarmine leads immersion trips and how that looks in our tradition,” Mr. Romero said.
Mr. Romero keenly remembered the raw emotions that he saw during his time in the community. He recalled the joy of the community seeing members of the Bellarmine community arrive even during difficult times in El Salvador. “I remember a number of them just tearing up and saying, ‘You showed up, you still came,’” Mr. Romero said. “It was very powerful.”
Bellarmine first sent an immersion to El Salvador in 1997 through Fundamir, an organization that both runs El Salvador immersion and works as community organizers in El Salvador. When students first connected with people from the Agua Escondida, they realized the need for a Kindergarten. Over the next several summers, Bellarmine students worked with Agua Escondida to build a Kindergarten, which provided children with education early on in life.
“We got to meet a bunch of alums from the Kindergarten. We had some high schoolers come back and even some students who are studying in a university there,” said Mr. Romero. “They talked about how the Kindergarten and the teacher there, who’s the same teacher there, really set helped prepare them in school down the road. It’s been amazing to be a witness to that having never been there before.”
The cancellation of the El Salvador immersion because of growing violence also reflected in the Martyrs March which occurred on November 17, 2016. The martyrs march commemorates the six Jesuit priests who were murdered along with their housekeeper during the El Salvadoran Civil War.
“The country has always been one of the most violent countries in the world” said Mr. Cussen, the director of immersions at Bellarmine. “The hope is to go back next year, but again, we don’t have control over gang wars in El Salvador.”
“The Ignatian Family Teach-in that Bellarmine sends a delegation each year has always been an advocate for those who struggle and suffer in El Salvador. It’s also a time to remember much like we do here with the Martyrs March as well as Oscar Romero and the four churchwomen who were raped and killed” said Mr. Romero.
To support our sister community in El Salvador, come to the Solidarity Dinner on Thursday, February 2. Tickets are $20 and available here.