First United Church, Kelowna, has undertaken to be a “sister community” to the Christian Base Community of El Triunfo, in El Salvador. Christian Base Communities began in the 1970s and 80s in Nicaragua and El Salvador. They were developed by local priests to help campesinos work together to create a better life for their rural communities, inspired by the words of scripture, especially those that described how the early church lived and worked together. During their struggles in the 80’s which was a time of government repression and disappearances many internationals came from around the world to “accompany” refugees and communities because the government was less brutal when the eyes of the world were watching. As a result of this “accompaniment” relationships were formed, and many internationals hoped to be able to continue their relationships after the war ended.
The organization known as FUNDAHMER has been the vehicle by which these relationships were developed or continued after the peace accord was signed in 1992. FUNDAHMER helps to match communities, and gives advice and support to the international communities for their work in El Salvador. They visit our community of El Triunfo regularly and keep us informed as to how things are going. They also administer our funding for us, and evaluate how our chosen projects are working. They provide accommodation, translation, and transportation when we are there.
Currently there are 16 sister communities with their international sisters in Canada, the USA, Italy, and Australia. Some are Roman Catholic communities and schools, one is a Quaker group from Cayuga, New York, two are from The United Church of Canada. What each international community does with and for their Christian Base Community in El Salvador, varies according to the situation and needs. People from our congregation visit El Triunfo annually and correspond regularly throughout the year.
First United Church has undertaken to provide 6 scholarships to enable six young people to continue their education beyond grade 9. Families contribute 25% of the cost and our scholarships cover the rest. As well, we subsidized two young men who studied Medicine in Cuba – they have since graduated and are back in El Salvador. It costs approximately $790 per student for the high school scholarships and $1400 for university. Our sister community tells us that the scholarships are their number one priority.
In 2012, we contributed money towards a food sustainability project providing corn and silos for El Triunfo for our community. In past years, they have experienced devastation of crops due to extreme weather.
At a recent international conference in El Salvador, the participants formulated a definition of what it means to be a “sister community”: ‘It is an international relationship of mutual exchange and accompaniment between organized communities, based upon equality, inclusiveness, solidarity, friendship, and mutual respect and we work together for the common good inspired by Monsenor Romero’.