I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador from 2000-2002 and am now working in El Salvador again as the Peace Corps Program Manager for Municipal Development. The volunteers with whom I work are a dedicated bunch, who endure a variety of discomforts and insecurities in order to work with the people in their small communities. On a program level, the volunteers work to increase citizen participation and to help the town governments run more effectively. On a more personal level, the volunteers engage in a variety of activities to try and help people in difficult economic circumstances gain more control over their lives.
Many volunteers also become involved in the lives of their Salvadoran community outside of their normal duties. I have been in a car with two volunteers who were working their cell phones, trying to ensure that a young woman from their town was given proper treatment for Leukemia. I worked with another volunteer who was trying to help a family win asylum in Canada. There daughter had recently been murdered by gang members. When I asked him if he was putting himself at risk by helping this family, he paused and then lied and said “no.” Another volunteer helped procure a computer program for a blind Salvadoran woman who needed it to use a computer while attending university. Another time, when leaving the office, I bumped into volunteers who had been visiting with patients at a hospice in San Salvador; Americans sitting at the bedside of the dying in another country, trying to get past the awkwardness of the circumstances and language challenges to establish some connection.
There was a day when I would have said that such activities were important and inspiring, but didn’t constitute a solution to the problems that beset those in difficult socio-economic circumstances, the world over. I was wrong. Working here has allowed me to witness expressions of sacrifice, conviction and will that I now believe are precisely what are required if we are to end extreme poverty and its quiet and not so quiet ravages. In our age, it is simply dishonest to talk as though there are not enough resources in our world to ensure that everyone has access to basic food, shelter, clothing, education, and health services. I acknowledge that there are political conditions that gravely complicate the matter, but I believe that these challenges can be overwhelmed by more of the same sacrifice, conviction, and expressions of will that I have witnessed here.
What is necessary is that more and more of us, those who hear and understand this, put our lives where our best hopes are, with our money, votes, and industry. It won’t be easy. Subordinating our material and maybe even personal interests in order to cast our lot with people who are struggling is essentially the same thing as really loving our neighbor, even the one we don’t know. And what is harder than that…or more truthful?
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