La Paz de Susan

Link here to La Paz de Susan, Sister Susan Dewitt's blog about working with PazSalud and living in El Salvador from 2009 through 2013.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gifts of vision

Darren writes:

This past September PazSalud organized a joint eye mission in Estanzuelas with Dr. Ken Henderson of the Lions Club of Bellingham where we were thrilled to see 325 patients in two and a half days.  The goal of mission was to examine needy patients whom we were not able to see during our general mission in Estanzuelas the previous February.

During the September mission with the Lions, we saw some patients who required custom glasses to address their specific vision deficiencies.  Dr. Henderson and the Lions generously volunteered to take on this challenging and expensive task by having eyeglasses for 4 patients made in the U.S.  The Lions sent them to me during my visit to the U.S., I brought them back to El Salvador and recently had the pleasure of delivering the special optics to these very appreciative and deserving Salvadorans.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy Fiestas, Suchitoto

I have been missing Suchitoto a lot this week, knowing that the whole village is involved in the events leading up to a huge double celebration.  Tomorrow there'll be a huge procession and parade honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, with all the children dressed as Juan Diego or as colorful indigenas:

 And on Friday there will be an even huger procession honoring the virgin Santa Lucia, mass with the church packed to the doors and overflowing, and a big party in the parque central, complete with food, dancing, a ferris wheel and other rides, the crowning of Suchitoto's queen for the year, and a great fireworks display. 
These two big days come as the culmination of weeks of preparation.  In the week before Santa Lucia day each neighborhood has its special day, beginning with a procession to the church before sunrise (you get wakened with firecrackers), continuing with events for the children or for the whole neighborhood, and culminating with the carroza (float) for the neighborhood circulating through the town in the evening with the neighborhood princess waving and a band playing.  It's an amazing, joyful, shared fiesta. 

And then everyone takes a two-day breather before the Las Posadas processions begin and the celebrations of Christmas take over the village.

There's nothing like it here, in the decorous city neighborhood I live in, and I miss it all very much. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Darren writes:

Last week I was honored to represent PazSalud at an award ceremony jointly sponsored by PAR (Project of Reciprocal Support), the University of Dr. Jose Matias Delgado and CIS (Center for Interchange and Solidarity).  The ceremony was held in honor of needy rural students who, because of the partnership established by CIS, were able to attend and graduate from an excellent local design school and learn the art of indigo dyeing in a formal, professional setting.  With their new skills, the CIS scholarship students will create a sustainable commercial livelihood for themselves and their families.

And here are some samples of their craft:

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Chili con Carne Thank You

We've had wonderful community volunteers helping us with our three Estanzuelas missions this year - the general medical mission in February, the eye surgery mission in April, and the Bellingham Lions' Eye Clinic in September - and Darren wanted to say "Thank you!"  So he invited a bunch of them to San Salvador where they enjoyed his homemade chili (something that's not part of the Salvadoran cuisine) and a happy evening, extending the fellowship that we have had with these excellent helpers.  Here, left to right, Eric, Marvin, Darren, Delmy, Lea and Fredy.

Delmy and Lea are Marvin's classmates in his English major at the Occidental University, and volunteered as interpreters for the March and September missions - they helped us a lot, they learned a lot, and we all ended up feeling like good friends.  Fredy teaches English at Occidental University and helped with interpretation during the September Lions' Club mission.  Marvin has been our rock throughout the year, always making things work smoothly for PazSalud.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A present for our friends in Santiago de Maria

Many Salvadoran hospitals have allowed us to use an operating room for our week of eye surgeries - and they've never charged us for the space or the time they spend to coordinate with our mission.  The latest of these happy relationships was with the small National Hospital at Santiago de Maria, where we held our April, 2013 eye surgery week.  We always try to return the favor in some way by giving the hospital some useful gifts and a financial donation.  When we asked Dr. Gonzáles, the Director of the Santiago de Maria hospital, what would be helpful to them, he swallowed hard and said that they really, really needed a new autoclave (sterilizer).  Their old one had given up entirely.  We said we'd try, but weren't sure we'd have enough donations to purchase an autoclave of the size they needed.
Happily, when we checked our donations at the end of the year, we did have the funds needed to purchase a new autoclave for Santiago de Maria, and here it is, with one of our favorite nurses showing it off to Kathy Garcia.
The new autoclave will mean sterile instruments for all the surgeries at Santiago de Maria.  We can't think of a better way we could have helped the hospital - and helped the needs of the community they serve.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lions' eye mission to Estanzuelas

Many more people in Estanzuelas are seeing well this week because of last week’s the Lions Club eye mission.  Lions from three different clubs – Bellingham, WA; Seattle, WA; and Armstrong, B.C. – were joined by Dr. Kelly Cochrane and his family from Kahlotus, WA to offer three days of vision testing and eyeglass fitting.  The group was led by Dr. Ken Henderson, a long-time friend and energizer for PazSalud.

They were joined by other good friends of PazSalud – Marvin Hernandez, our local organizer; interpreters Delmy, Lea, Yesenia and José; and six community volunteers from a local youth development organization, la Voz del Pueblo.  And of course Kathy Garcia and Darren Streff were there – as well as our beloved bus driver Hernan – to make sure that all went smoothly.

They saw a little over 300 patients – all of those we had not been able to see in the eye clinics last February plus a few more – and offered a bit of fun with one of the Lions teaching the children to make self-portraits.  Photos of all this great activity will come later!

La Casa Mia, a hotel/restaurant in Berlin, provided the housing and meals for our team, and they were wonderful.  This hotel, filled with historic photos and antiques, was a great find, and their meals and rooms got rave notices.

After the three days of clinics, the Lions went to San Salvador, where they gave donations of hearing aids and aids for the visually impaired to the San Salvador Club de Leones.  They visited the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf, visited Panchimalco, shopped for Salvadoran crafts, and went to historic sites including the Hospital Divina Providencia where Monseñor Romero lived and was assassinated.  At the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad they ate pizza and ice cream and quizzed Director Leslie Schuld about Salvadoran life.    

It was a busy and splendid week of work and learning.  This was Darren’s first time to make all the arrangements on his own, and he did a great job.  Thanks go to all involved in this successful mission.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New glasses for Fatima

We heard recently from the mother of a young girl we'd seen in our 2012 mission to San José Villanueva.  Fátima has very limited vision, but her mother Luz learned that new glasses would make it possible for her to go to a regular school instead of School for the Blind.  Darren writes:

I drove out to San José Villanueva this morning to meet Luz de Los Angeles (Fatima's mother) and Fatima to give them the donation.  Wow, what a cutie Fatima is!  As it turns out, Luz was able to get donations from two other groups towards her total of $100 and needed only $60 from us so that is what I provided to her.  I like the initiative on her part and felt great about giving her the money.  And check out the glasses, those things are serious.  

After, I offered to take them home since I knew they traveled a long distance to meet me in SJV this morning and although they told me it was 20 min. one way, because of the road condition it took us 45 min. to get there.  But I got a few good pics of their house so it was worth it.  Plus we had fun in the car.

That wasn't Darren's only glasses-related errand that day, as he notes -

Finished with that I went to Santa Tecla to drop Kelly's glasses off with Sonia.  She lost the nose pads so I took them in and spent $5 to get them fixed.  Now I'm going to walk over to Galerias to meet Cristobal and give him the remaining $26 he needs for his glasses.

For anyone who wonders what we do when mission teams aren't in El Salvador, this letter is a good example of the on-going work of follow-up, assistance, and connection with the places where we've ministered.  The photo shows Fátima with her grandmother and her new glasses in the family home.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dr. Dale's Reflections

Dr. Dale Heisinger recently sent us some reflections on his experience in eight of our PeaceHealth Missions.  Dale is both a great pediatrician and a kid magnet - it helps to look a bit like Santa Claus, no doubt.  Here's what he has to say:
I must admit that I was at first somewhat apprehensive about going to a 3rd world country, but those fears were laid to rest very soon after meeting Kathy and Sister Eleanor.  Their organizational skills and the thoroughness of their preparation laid to rest any fears that I harbored.  The change in leadership from Sister Eleanor to Sister Susan, and now to Darren Streff did not in any way deter from the integrity of the Mission.  
Each trip generated wonderful memories of encounters that forever left their mark on me. The cultural differences between El Salvador and the United States are stark, but the contacts with the people showed me how closely as human beings we are all connected. Salvadorans are a warm, compassionate people who were so appreciative of our being there; many shared gifts that were modest, but given with such sincerity that they remain some of my most treasured possessions.  
I saw many disorders that were rare in the US and many that were medically challenging. For instance, parasitic disease is rampant in the children since the water is untreated, and exposure to cooking smoke generates prevalent reactive airway disease.   I frequently saw GI illness due to poor sanitation and many skin conditions (mostly infection) because of lack of hygiene.  And there were those cases of rare diseases that were quite challenging; i.e., congenital hypothyroidism (cretin), undiagnosed encephalocoele, retrolental fibroplasia, SLE, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, and the list goes on.
All of us who participated came away from the mission better global citizens, perhaps more compassionate about the international human condition, and appreciative of the strength and courage of people who endure in conditions that most of us have not seen nor experienced.  In addition we developed an appreciation for cultural diversity and learned to practice medicine with limited resources and lack of support diagnostic services (imagine, no access to MRI, etc.!)  For many, it was a spiritual experience. I feel strongly that all of us who practice medicine from every discipline should participate in international medicine….all will be better human beings for doing so.  
And for those skeptics who feel that we really can't do much with such compromised infrastructure, and lack of services I would counter with a statement from Sister Margaret Jane Kling whom I met in El Salvador:  I had told her that I wasn't sure that I did very much to improve the health of the people, to which she replied:  "it isn't what you do, it's who you are."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Moving Days

On Monday, with the help of two big trucks and four hombres plus Darren, we moved the contents of the Suchitoto house to the new PazSalud base house in San Salvador.  That was a lot of stuff!  Fourteen years of PazSalud, and beyond the tubs full of mission medications and equipment, we've accumulated a small mountain of kitchen equipment, books, bedding, etc.  Especially etcetera... mosquito nets, flashlights, a tub of red curry paste, a potato masher....

Then we got down to San Salvador and los hombres unloaded the lot, while I stood in line for Chory hotdogs for all.  These are a Salvadoran speciality, 80 cents the hotdog, and it was great fun to watch the cook do his elaborate dance - bun from the steamer, open, squirt ketchup and mayo, hotdog from the fryer, top with onions, curtido, and more ketchup and mayo, bag up, add napkins, take payment, wipe cart, next.  He worked so fast and so energetically, and I can imagine for what small earnings.  He made our 17 Chorydogs (three for each of the guys and two for me) in about 5 minutes; with six Cokes, the total was $18.30.

And now we're unpacking.  Fortunately the new house has more built-in storage than I have ever seen anywhere in El Salvador.  Or perhaps it's fortunate - Darren is a bit horrified at the sheer amount of stuff that is now occupying that storage.  I trust that in time the duplicates will find new homes and Darren will feel free to simplify the household.  Here's the kitchen in progress:

But for a more serene view, here's St. Francis presiding over one of the patios:

Along with all the moving, we've done a lot of official business. Darren is heading out to the airport to pick up Kathy Garcia, and we're beginning to get ready for the Open House on Saturday.

And then, on Monday morning early, I'll head for Seattle.  Hard to believe.  I think it's going to take me quite a while to catch up with myself.

- Susan Dewitt

Friday, June 21, 2013

Winter Green

I left El Salvador early in May and it was still summer, aka the dry season, though a few scatterings of rain had fallen.  Everything was dry and looked dry: dry brown grass on the sides of the roads, trees with few leaves or none (though many trees here are green year-round), bare and burned patches that would become milpas of corn and beans or hectares of sugar cane.  Dry, hot, smoky...April is most everyone's unfavorite month here.

I returned in June and it's winter - invierno - which means the rainy season here.  All the roadsides are bursting with thick green grasses and the horses and cattle are staked out to take advantage of the free salad.  Most, like this white horse I met along the road to Suchitoto, have ribs showing from the scant provender of summer, but soon they'll fatten up.

As always, the rain falls mostly in the late afternoons and evenings, so the mornings are available for drying clothes, walking, enjoying the coolness that follows a rainstorm.  When it rains the heavens open and a temporary river roars down my street (which is why our house is about 4 feet above street level), waterfalls gush from the stairs to our upstairs deck, all the plants rejoice and all the humans head for shelter.  Everything, everything gets soggy - even crackers supposedly completely wrapped in plastic.  Often, out here in the country, the lights go out, as they did the other night, for 3-4 hours and there you are, enjoying the rain by candlelight.  It's a wonderful time, the font of life here, the green winter.

- Susan

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tumultuous Times

This past month has been absolutely wonderful and - at the same time - somewhat terrible. 

Wonderful: I spent an amazing four days seeing the best of Ireland with Sr. Andrea Nenzel.  Our hosts, Joy and Michael Moore, turned themselves inside out for us, and shared their family stories and histories as well as the sights with us. 

And wonderful: Ireland was followed by our Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Contemplative Retreat in Loughborough, England - the last of the three Contemplative Retreats, and an amazing experience of gathering ourselves as a community to take what our facilitator, Sr. Nancy Sylvester, calls "a long, loving look at the real.-

And wonderful: I got to spend time at St. Mary-on-the Lake in Bellevue on either end of those travels - time to visit with the Sisters and with my sister, time to pack up for my July move to a community house in Seattle.

And wonderful: while all this was going on, Darren had located the perfect base house in San Salvador, with plenty of space for all our tubs and equipment, and even for a few guests.

And wonderful: Darren flew north for meetings with PeaceHealth and we had an excellent meeting with our El Salvador Advisory Group, got many details straightened out, and continued what's been a great experience of transitioning from me to Darren as our in-country Coordinator.

But somewhat terrible: I came back to the northwest in early May barely breathing.  Seemed that my bronchial stent had become completely plugged.  Fixing that required two rigid bronchoscopies (full anesthesia), the first followed by a night in the hospital.  Breathing got better, then worse again, and not long after my return from England I ended up in another hospital with a pneumonia diagnosis. 

Now, thanks be to God, things seem to be mending.  I'm breathing well, I'm headed back to El Salvador on the red-eye tonight.  For the next four weeks, we'll be busy moving to the new San Salvador house - and I'll be connecting with as many friends as possible.  It's another whirlwind, and there's even a few days in Cartagena, Colombia tucked into the mix (a visit with my niece Carol and her husband Gus Aponte)....  It should be wonderful, but I imagine quite a few tears may also be shed.

-  Susan

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Welcome to PazSalud in El Salvador, our new blog for PeaceHealth's El Salvador Health Mission!  We'll be posting about life and work and mission in El Salvador as we carry the Health Mission forward.

PeaceHealth and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have been connected to El Salvador since 1985, when Sisters Andrea Nenzel and Margaret Jane Kling accompanied refugees, providing an international presence in the Calle Real Refugee Camp.  In the late 1980s Sisters Eleanor Gilmore and Margaret Byrne worked with Jesuit Refugee Services to help wounded civilians get health care. 

The El Salvador Health Mission began in 2000, when Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Eleanor Gilmore and Grace Didomenicantonio moved to San Salvador to coordinate the work of volunteers from PeaceHealth.  The mission's first volunteers helped with emergency medical assistance following the devasting earthquakes of 2001. 

As the Health Mission in El Salvador evolved, PazSalud began to offer regular opportunities for PeaceHealth staff and Sisters to participate in general medical missions, eye screenings, and eye surgeries.  Our assistance to the communities we serve has expanded to include followup for special cases, a water filter program and community education.

And we continue to evolve with Kathy Garcia, PeaceHealth's Director of International Missions, with Darren Streff, PazSalud's new In-Country Coordinator, and with Sister Susan Dewitt, Communications Assistant.