Later we visited with the Contemplative Sisters and learned how they raised money by selling donated items. Throughout the visit, I appreciated the joy of the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves.
Later we visited the school administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The school has close to 900 students from kindergarten through 9th grade. I was impressed by the school spirit. The girls and boys seemed very dedicated to their studies and eager to show their visitors what they have learned. I'm sure many of them will become the future leaders of El Salvador.
The school provided a situation of love and security. I wondered how the school can maintain such an atmosphere given the level of violence in their country. I learned their success is largely dependent upon the fact that the administrators are able to select which students will be admitted to the school. They do not admit students who have any affiliation with gangs.
In the vicinity there are many public schools. Unlike the Catholic school, the public schools have to admit everyone including known gang members. The presence of gang members can effectively destroy a school. A boy may approach a teacher, show him or her a knife or a gun, and demand an A for his grade. In order not to get killed, the teacher gives the boy or girl the grade s/he wants.
The students who attend the Catholic school are "privileged." Philosophically, I do not like the idea of creating a privileged class. However, given the level of violence in El Salvador, parents have little choice if they want to provide a safe and quality education for their children.
The current level of violence in El Salvador is apparently due to the country's 12 years of Civil War. In the absence of authority, gangs filled the vacuum.
The people I have met in El Salvador have been friendly and gracious. But the shadow of violence is always present. Somehow the legitimate authority of civil society must be restored.
As we were driving to San Miguel, we stopped at a convenience store to buy some refreshments. Foolishly, I did not hide my smart phone. One of the several young men nearby looked directly at my phone and then looked away. All the vibes told me that if I wasn't with a group of people, my phone and I would have separated company.
A person who has lived in El Salvador for many years claims the Mafia was better. I don't know. But it appears at present the gangsters and the worst of people have a free hand in El Salvador.
For me, the only hope is a freely elected democratic government with strong police powers that the people can trust. The United States should do what it can to encourage the election and functioning of such a government.