Derry software engineer Dan Ferguson, went on assignment to El Salvador in 2016 to work as a Software Engineering Teacher with an organisation called ANADES – Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador – a non-profit civil society organisation whose purpose is to promote the integral development of communities that are poor and marginalized. This is Dan’s second assignment in El Salvador!
“It is hard to believe that 15 months have passed. Life in El Salvador is not new to be but these months have been full of lessons for me. I came full of dreams to be able to each IT graduates and start a social enterprise. Yet the reality is something all together different. In my first year I decided to self-fund in order to establish the project before looking for further funding. The budget for the year was decidedly limited. The challenge for me has been in coming from an environment in Ireland, that was by no means lavish but that did not require much sacrifice to make ends meet, to a situation were tough decisions would have to be made that affected the lives of others. The fruit of the year has been to see the value in starting small. A tree will always establish itself better if planted from seed and its roots are allowed develop in place than to try to transplant a tree that has been grown elsewhere. By starting small we have been able to form a mystique that will prove invaluable in the years ahead. Starting small with the sacrifices entailed allows one to share in the anxieties, trials and tribulations that the local population face daily. It allows for a greater appreciation for how those with limited resources really live. And it is not all bad. I have seen some ingenious solutions to problems faced by the people here solely because they did not have the money to go out to by a new one. 15 months into a long term project I already see the benefits of dedicating my time here. The work load can be heavy at times but the tranquillity that I feel at my core, despite the flurry of tasks, gives me the reassurance that my decision to come to El Salvador was the right one.
Below is some of the projects I have been involved in lately:
Software Development Social Enterprise
The work with the software engineers is gathering pace. We have setup a social enterprise and I am finalising the training before we begin the work of raising our profile on the internet in order to be able to tender for projects on Freelance websites. Along with this I am developing links with a number of businesses in Ireland that are willing to send work over to us. We hope to admit two more IT graduates this year to the programme to allow for the continued growth of the enterprise little by little.
On the pastoral side of things we have two focuses this year:
Youth leadership and scholarship programme: this year we have restructured the university scholarship programme to include the creation of youth groups in each of the communities benefited by the programme. We currently have 13 students receiving a scholarship. Part of the requisites for the scholarship is that they create a youth group in their community of between 6 and 10 young people. Once a month the youth leaders come to the pastoral centre to cover the theme for the coming month. So far this year we have covered: Blessed Archbishop Romero; Migration; and Life Project/Vocation. In June we will be covering Work and Study. Along with this we are currently looking for funding to provide formation days, group exchanges, arts and crafts workshops and a youth camp which will involve all of the youth groups.
Pastoral support of catechists in the marginalised regions of Honduras: As part of the peace accords in 1992 a section of El Salvador was acceded to Honduras. The people of this area still consider themselves Salvadoran and they remain in a type of limbo as the Honduran government have not taken full responsibility for the area and the Salvadoran government has limited their responsibility for ensuring the adequate provision of services for their citizens. As part of a relationship that has existed for many years the pastoral team have been visiting three communities in the mountains to give formation to the local population and the catechists who conduct the celebrations of the word in the absence of a priest. The level of formation is very low in these areas and the number of people who are illiterate is very high. As such the process of formation is a slow one and presents many challenges. Yet the welcome we are given by the people and the gratitude they show make the effort worthwhile.
Along with this we have two further projects that we want to investigate further this year:
Renovate and reopen the local library: the idea is to create a cultural learning space. To update the old idea of a library and make it into a meeting place for the curious. The proposal is to extend the current infrastructure to include toilet and kitchen facilities, install internet and a computer suite, computerise the book lending system and organise an after school club, classes and cultural events to bring the library to life.
Install Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) in marginalised schools: this concept is not new but has been promoted by a professor called Sugata Mitra. He has successfully shown that given the resources i.e. access to the internet children can self-organise and educate themselves ). The idea of SOLEs makes a lot of sense for the rural schools in El Salvador where very often you will have one teacher teaching 3 grades at the same time. It has also been noted that the quality of teachers reduces with distance from the large urban centres and as such promoting a system that requires minimal intervention from the teacher, yet promotes collaboration, could be very beneficial for the school children in marginalised areas.
I work as part of a pastoral team of four people. Father Rogelio Ponseele and two Salvadoran sisters Carmen Elena Hernández and Ana María Barrientos. Father Rogelio is a native of Belguim and has been working in El Salvador for 47 years. In 2015 he retired as parish priest. At 78 years old it has been recognised that in order to protect his legacy an organisation should be created to continue the pastoral work and the development programmes that have been promoted through the years. And so with the young people who have passed through the youth groups and the university scholarship programme we have created an association that will formalise the work he started 47 years ago and ensure that it continues into the future. The association will carry the dreams of the community into the future like seeds waiting to germinate. All we have to do is water them and provide them with the conditions to grow.”