Marylanders take aid to El Salvador


MARIA MADRE DE LOS POBRES, El Salvador -- It's a long way from Taneytown to the parish of Maria Madre de los Pobres, an impoverished shanty town on the edge of the capital, San Salvador.

But last Sunday, Carroll County's Jim Small was among the congregation gathered in the small church to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the killing of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

The 52-year-old owner of Taneytown Auto Parts Inc. and Small & Sons Auto Parts in Emmitsburg was one of a two-person team that drove more than 4,000 miles from Baltimore to San Salvador. Their truck carried humanitarian aid for this community and for Baltimore's twin town, the small community of El Barillo in northern El Salvador.

A convoy of 34 trucks from across the United States -- which stopped in Baltimore on Feb. 27 -- spent eight days snaking its way across Mexico and down through Central America, finally crossing the border into El Salvador. Its 120-ton cargo of computers, wheelchairs, motorbikes, sewing machines, medical and school supplies and a tractor -- valued at $1.6 million -- is destined for poor communities affected by the country's near civil war.

"We want to send a strong message to the Clinton administration that peace still isn't secure here and put El Salvador back on the political map," said one of the trip's organizers, Debbie Gratton.

Mr. Small, who has made three trips to Nicaragua, is on his second trip to El Salvador. Mr. Small, who has devoted the past 30 years to peace and justice work, said he believes that activism requires being just that, active.

His co-driver, Randallstown student Karen Gustafson, had never been south of Arizona. The first time she heard of the violence in El Salvador was in 1990, when she heard a talk by a woman whose child was among the 8,000 who "disappeared" after being taken by security forces.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to do something good, although cannot correct what has happened here," Ms. Gustafson said. "As Americans, we have a moral obligation to do something because it was our funds which maintained the war."

Church groups in Baltimore have supported Maria Madre de los Pobres throughout the dark years of El Salvador's brutal conflict.

Photos of well-wishers from Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill and Maryland Presbyterian Church near Towson, both sister parishes of Maria Madre de los Pobres, hang in a small room beside the simple church.

"The people in Baltimore did not just give us their solidarity and economic support, many visited us during the war," said the parish priest, the Rev. Daniel Sanchez.

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