Visit to Tablón Cerna and Tablón Centro
The Pastoral Team thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of my time before the delegation arrives to visit the two communities that my church (Heartland Presbyterian) supports. This way, I could get some updates and meet some of the members of the newly formed committee in Centro. I definitely agreed! They made a couple of phone calls and arranged our meetings.
We left about 8 a.m. this morning to get to Cerna by 9 a.m. It is a very familiar and lovely drive. At this time of the day the sun is not so strong and the breeze while in the back of the truck is quite nice. Everyone was waiting for us when we arrived. Seven of the eleven Directiva members came in spite of the short notice! We were greeted quite warmly by Jesús (pro-secretary), Elias (2nd Alternate), Alfonso (Síndico), Ceferino (Secretary), María Isabel (1st Alternate), Oscar (Treasurer), Daniel (President), and Norma Aracely (3rd Vocal) – all from the Directiva.
After short greetings and them telling us their role on the Directiva, and expressing gratitude to the church and to the Pastoral Team for always being in communication with them and caring for them, Blanca asked them to share a little about how life is now. If anything has changed since we last saw them.
I will paraphrase the things they all said. They were all especially grateful for the food baskets. Since there are no employment opportunities, no one really has money. People sell what they can; eggs, fruit or veggies, etc. to be able to buy a little cooking oil, sugar, or salt. And they seldom are able to buy a whole package of something. They ask for 25 cents worth (which in the long run can be more expensive). If they absolutely have no money, they ask a neighbor for a little salt (or whatever). They try to help each other out when able. With prices so high after the pandemic, most people needed to sell whatever they had from last year’s corn crop to buy their necessities. Which, of course, left many of them without corn. The staple and main food here are tortillas. You need corn for that! This has put families under even more strain. And then when it is time to plant, there is no money to buy seed or fertilizer. The government said that all farmers were going to receive seed and fertilizer. But they are still waiting for it to show up. They started on the west end of the country since the planting season starts sooner there. And they are working their way east. And most everyone in Cerna is waiting for them! Only a few people got tired of waiting and found a way to get seed. Some had indigenous seed held back from last year’s crop. Daniel said that for those who were able to save seed, that money can be invested in fertilizer or the everyday things they need now.
Blanca said that it is important to prioritize. Constructions and small repairs can wait. Stomachs cannot. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. We need to be in solidarity with each other. If you have a pound of salt, share with someone who needs. Oftentimes we speak well, but we don’t put our words into action. We all need help. But God is big and will multiply our efforts. We all need to ask ourselves how we can better the situation in each of our own families as well. It’s a good idea to keep a reserve and not sell everything.
Everyone gave thanks to God, the Pastoral Team, the church and us. Everyone makes a sacrifice of some sort to benefit another. They were really grateful for the support. Especially the food baskets and fertilizer!
Several people expressed gratitude for the medical support they received. Ceferino has gastric issues. Norma’s father needed treatments, Oscar did as well. Heartland has a health fund that the Pastoral Team administrates. Many people are helped with either exams, medicines, or transportation to a hospital or clinic.
I asked about the school. It is still in process for legalization. No one understands why the government is dragging its feet! But just within the last 15 days, Daniel had to procure a document and get a signature from the Director of the school in Centro. The most important thing, it is in process. They have the same two teachers. Marta and Petronila. Marta has 28 students and Nila has 19. Daniel said that Nila especially has a gift with children. Good to hear!
I asked about COVID cases: there have been no cases in Cerna! They suspected one old man had it, but it turned out to be something else. They are all grateful to God for that!
A final message as we prepared to say goodbye: Daniel again expressed gratitude for our sacrifices and added that our friendship strengthens them. He always asks God to bless us and our work. He asked me to tell everyone at the church: “God will bless you!”
They had a snack for us. We all enjoyed some sweet corn and a cup of coffee. It was very pleasant to just relax and casually chat with them. I saw lots of affection within the group. They were joking with each other, laughing, talking. I felt no tension. That is not always the case in the communities! What a joy to watch and hear.
We said our goodbyes and headed up the road about 15 minutes to meet with the group who formed a committee of families who want to work with Heartland and the Pastoral Team. They formed about two years ago. 30 families who were hoping to join our partnership like Cerna. Heartland agreed! This is the first time anyone from Heartland (me) has been able to visit with them.
Again, it was very short notice but 4 of the 5 elected officers were waiting for us when we arrived. One had a doctor’s appointment so could not be there.
They introduced themselves: Hugo (President), Crúz (Treasurer), William (Secretary), Rosa Emilia (Helper). They first expressed gratitude for accepting their committee. The Pastoral Team is always in front, checking up on them to make sure they are ok. They are thankful for the food baskets and fertilizer.
They currently have 28 families incorporated in the Committee who are very active. They hold meetings. They work together to clear the roads or other community works. They respect the organizational work within their committee and the work of the Pastoral Team.
Like in Cerna, Blanca asked them to share about the realities of their lives. And I don’t really need to repeat. They are in the same situation as their neighbors in Cerna.
I asked them how many of their children are in school. They put their heads together and family by family, they counted the children. There are about 30 students in all the grades. They shared a little bit of how school is going: during the pandemic, the government gave every student from 3rd grade through high school a laptop. They also received an internet package which has long since expired. People can solicit the government for more internet packages but no one knows how. So they have to buy the ‘hotspot’ time to be able to do their work. On Monday, they said that students in 1st – 3rd grade will be getting their laptops. Kindergartners get a tablet. If they quit school, they have to give it back. If they make it all the way to graduation, they get to keep the laptop. Hoping it will be used in university or for a job.
For the farmers, most are waiting for the government seed/fertilizer package. I asked how much they will be getting. They said everyone will receive 22# of seed and 100# of fertilizer. Not being a farmer, this doesn’t mean much to me. So I asked how much land will that cover? I’m glad I asked. 22# of seed will cover about a half of a ‘manzana’ (a manzana is equal to about 1.65 acre. 100# of fertilizer will cover only about ¼ of a manzana. Most people farm at least a half of a manzana. Usually they farm one or two manzanas. Almost everyone will need to obtain much more seed and fertilizer.
And the struggle continues!
The road to Cerna and Centro is beautiful. But narrow for two large trucks to pass! Mike takes some nice pictures! The first photo of people is in Centro. The 2nd photo of people is in Cerna. Bananas, turkeys, farmland on steep hills.