Touring El Salvador – Programa Velasco Educating and Empowering Children & Families 3


Last week, my daughter and I traveled to El Salvador for my younger brother’s wedding, it was an amazing experience!

I’m so thankful we got to join my family in El Salvador and get to know my brother’s wife, her family, and El Salvador. It was a trip I’ll definitely remember!

My brother was an amazing tour guide and scheduled our whole trip so that we not only celebrated their wedding feast but we also learned so much about El Salvador – it’s history and economic situation, how the people live and work (or not) – and we took in the lush beauty of the land and the delicious tastes of the local foods. (Especially the pupusas – did I mention those already?)

Today, I want to share about one of the places we visited: Programa Velasco

My brother’s friend, Annie Boyd-Ramirez, is the co-founder and executive director of Programa Velasco. I’m so proud of my brother and his heart for service, especially for people who are often forgotten or unfairly treated. He’s always been a “helper” but I think he really found his heart for service while studying in the Jesuit education system, with Ignatian spirituality at its base, which led him to El Salvador – where he also met his wife! So it was only natural that one of the places he’d take us would be to a charitable organization.

He set up a special time for all of us to come check the place out. Annie and Allison Ramirez, the in-country program coordinator, were such gracious hosts! They shared the story of Programa Velasco and answered our many, many questions. If you think I ask a lot of questions, imagine a room full of my relatives and me in one room. They even fed us delicious pan dulce (sweet bread pastries) made by one of their program participants, and lunch too – complete with a 7. earthquake for a full El Salvadoran experience.

Programa Velasco’s mission is “To educate and empower children and families to create social change in El Salvador” .

It works to achieve this mission with its three main programs: Children’s Scholarships, Family Support Services, and Women’s Empowerment Project.

The Children’s Scholarships program provides financial support for children to enroll in the child development center run by ANADES, the New Dawn Association of El Salvador, a non-profit organization that has been providing support to the people of El Salvador since 1990. The development center provides a space for children, ages 18 months to 6 years, to receive care, early-learning education, and three nutritious meals a day so their parents can work to provide for their family.

The Family Support Services provides education to the children but also for the families with monthly workshops on various parenting topics as well as access to an on-site psychologist and counseling services.

The Women’s Empowerment Project supports El Salvadorian women entrepreneurs and, as it says on their website, “attempts to reduce the effects of gender inequality and marginalization experienced by Salvadoran women.” The current cultural environment of El Salvador offers little in the way of equal work opportunities for women and they are often mistreated

You can learn more about the area of El Salvador which Programa Velasco is situated as well as a bit of the history of El Salvador on the “Where We Work” page. Though the situation in El Salvador is extremely difficult and complicated, people like Annie and Allison and organizations like Programa Velasco are doing what they can do. Their description at the bottom of that page summarizes this point very well:

Programa Velasco seeks to respond to the reality here [in El Salvador] in the way that we can – by taking small steps and “planting seeds that will one day grow”. We cannot end the violence and fear in which people live, but we can create safe spaces for children to learn, laugh and grow, and spaces for parents to start to let go of the fear and stress they live with in the daily struggle to stay afloat.

We cannot fully change the economic structures that keep the poor impoverished, but we can offer women entrepreneurs opportunities to invest in themselves and their small businesses, to gain technical and leadership skills to keep moving forward. Child sponsors and other donors offer their friendship, support, and solidarity, and together we all seek to move forward and create pockets of hope in the midst of this harsh reality.

Visiting Programa Velasco and meeting Annie and Allison and learning about the good work they do left a deep impression on me. I invite everyone to check out their website and learn more about what they do, read and listen to the program participants’ stories, and even consider donating to their program.

You can send in a one-time donation or set-up as a monthly donation , or you can designate which of their three programs you’d like to sponsor.

To give you an idea, a $35 monthly scholarship includes:

Access to the early education child development program, 2 meals and a snack per day, 2 medical check-ups per year, and individualized case managemetn and psychological services.

Ok, unsolicited promotional plug over…now the pictures!

After Annie and Allison shared their story, they took us on a tour of their beautiful facilities. In their words, the campus of Programa Velasco is a small “oasis” in one of the more underdeveloped and impoverished areas of San Salvador. (I didn’t know this at the time, that area, called San Ramon, is “one of the most marginalized and dangerous urban areas in San Salvador”! It didn’t feel like it while we were there though.)

We visited the classrooms where the kids were engaged in various activities. They all loved seeing visitors!

Lunch time – Hora del almuerzo!

Like all Latin American culture, El Salvadorans use art, often times with murals, to teach and show their history and ideas. The pictures below of the mural in the child development facility represents the “rights of a child”.

ANADES and Programa Velasco believe every child has a right to:

(left to right) good nutrition, peace and stability (security), good health care…

… (left to right) A family, education…

I can’t remember now but I think that second picture represents the right to a place to live and land maybe and the last one (on the right) is the a child’s right to recreation. At first I chuckled at that one because my kids seem to get plenty of recreation but then I thought about it more and recreation really is important and special and kids oftentimes, don’t really get enough of it.

This is random but I really liked their recycling bins. (There are recycling bins all over the city)

After touring the development facility, they arranged for us to visit the home of one of the families who participate in the Children’s Scholarships and the Family Support Services.

Penelope graciously welcomed us into her home and shared how Programa Velasco has helped her family. With the help of generous donors, three of her four children are currently enrolled at the childcare development facility. Her sweet baby – whom I got to hold! – will also go there as soon as he is old enough.

Annie Boyd and Penelope and her baby, Arielle (I’m guessing on that spelling)

Penelope shares her story, with Annie translating.

After visiting with Penelope, we went down to the ANADES dining room and were served a delicious meal of cooked chicken, rice, and veggies. This also happened to be the American Thanksgiving Day so we all wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving, chicken is close enough to turkey. 🙂 This was the first Thanksgiving all my family were together in many years!

While we were sitting there, suddenly we all thought someone was moving our chairs when I realized it was an earthquake – temblor! Until recently, I had never experienced an earthquake in Kansas but we’ve been having more in the past few years and had a bigger one (a 5.something) in August that freaked me out. Knowing we were both closer to the ocean here and in a volcanic zone made me wonder if this earthquake would do more than shift some picture frames. Somehow, we all remained calm but inside I was ready to get up and get out of there. Thankfully, there was no need to panic and we laughed off the tension and continued eating.

After lunch, they invited a woman from their Women’s Empowerment Project, Esmerelda, to come and share about her businesses and how Programa Velasco has helped her.

With Programa Velasco’s support (through the support of generous donors), Esmerelda was able to attend and complete the education and certification process to become a certified massage therapist. She’s opening her business in December and is so excited to begin her own business!

We were all inspired and moved by Esmeralda’s joy and gratitude for how Programa Velasco has helped her not only achieve her goal of starting her own business, but growing in her own self-esteem as a woman who can now do something to support herself and her family.

Her and her daughter also work together to make and serve fine pastries, like this delicious cheesecake she brought to share with all of us!

Again, I’m thankful to my brother for setting this time up for Annie and Allison to share about Programa Velasco and the great work they do to help support families and women of El Salvador.

The number and variety of charitable organizations locally and globally often times overwhelms me. Especially around this time of year, it’s agonizing deciding who to support or not. For me, before deciding which organizations and groups to support, I like to know where my money will go.

Meeting Annie and Allison, seeing the actual place and meeting the children and two of the women in the program, was truly amazing and inspiring. Take it from someone who has “seen with her own eyes”, if you decide to support Programa Velasco either by your prayers or through any generous monetary gift, your offerings and donations will most definitely be used for good.

Next, I’ll share about our tour of the home of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero and the church he was martyred in.

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