I first saw the movie "Educating Rita" as a student in seminary. It is about a teacher in England who teaches working adults. one of whom is Rita. Rita is a hairdresser, with a strong Cockney accent that gives her a sort of low-brow sort of personality, while the teacher (Michael Caine) seems pompous and highly cultured in contrast. In the end, it is Rita who is educates the teacher, teaching him about life in ways that he did not know from all of his book learning.
One of the big events of our trip was the dedication of a school in El Tablon Cerna. The school has significance for many of us in several ways. It was funded with money that came from the death of two women. One was Ruby Hartsook, who lived a long and admirable life, mostly in Des Moines, Iowa. When Ruby died, her son Larry chose to put a significant amount of her estate proceeds toward the school. The other woman was Trina Fischer, who did not have the privilege of living a long life. Trina died last year after a courageous, difficult battle with cancer. She had taken a journey to El Salvador with her father Bill and had expressed her wish that her memorial money would be given toward the school. So, part of what was on our hearts was the bittersweet memory of two very precious friends, whose deaths were transformed from mourning to hope by these donations.
The other significance of the school lay in the need for education if the community is going to work together effectively. Let me illustrate. The first time Larry Hartsook and I went to El Salvador was back in 2001, right after 2 successive earthquakes had rocked the country one month apart. We arrived with lots of money, as well as blankets, twine, tarp and other such supplies that we purchased and carried own in as many suitcases as we could muster. When we got to El Tablon, the Pastoral Team encouraged us to work with the community in distributing an equal share of supplies to each family. So, we asked for someone from the Directiva to keep track of who got what. After some time, they produced Marta, who was about 12 at that time, to be the scribe. They asked a 12 year old because she was better at reading and math than most of the adults who lived in the village. There is no doubt that a fully functioning school is absolutely necessary for this community, particularly as it tries to organize itself for economic and communal projects.
So, the occasion was joyous on every side for a variety of good reasons. To the casual observer, it seems that we were giving them a great gift and were sharing the benefits of our own wealth and education for these poor and ignorant folk. But, for those of us who were there, it was an entirely different feeling. Using their peasant wisdom and know how, the people of El Tablon Cerna began carving out holes, in which they set posts made of thick branches with forked ends, on which they set 2x4s, on which they put some corrugated metal, with string and wire for connections. In this way, they built a canopy to provide shade for the for overflow crowd as well as a shelter for constructing 3 brick ovens. They knew that we needed a wall behind the ovens for a wind block, if we wanted to keep the flames burning; they knew that the metal roof would keep the sun out and the heat in; and all that kind of stuff. The amount of pre-planning and organizing was impressive- every time we needed one more thing, it seemed to arrive out of nowhere, but of course that was only because someone had thought to bring it and have it available. The kitchen operation was equally impressive, as a small mud-and-stick home became the place where several hundred meals were prepared, cooked, and served. It was both exhausting and humbling to see this community in action.
I believe this is the beauty of relation-centered mission. It is not that we are the saviors here. But, neither do we have to romanticize their situation and demean our contributions in order to admire theirs. It is a mutual offering of love, insight, and support to one another, just like any good relationship. Educating Rita; and being educated. That's the beauty of it all.