Parish helps Salvadoran teens go to high school
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Because of St. Patrick Parish, Lucinda Quincanilla can dream of being a television reporter.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Franklin Aguilar, 21, thanks the people of St. Patrick Parish for the opportunity to attend high school in El Salvador while Wilber Solano, mayor of Estanzuelas, and Lucinda Quincanilla, 16, await their turns.
"I don't know if I would be able to study without my scholarship," Quincanilla, 16, told the congregation at St. Patrick Parish Sept. 29 through interpreter Leslie Schuld. "I would have to work to help my family. I would have to wash other people's clothes and iron them."
Franklin Aguilar, 21, plans to become a bank manager.
"I want to get a degree from the university in business administration," Aguilar said. "I thought it would be possible, but only if I go to school. If I couldn't go to school, I would have to look for work, but I don't know where I would find any."
Quincanilla and Aguilar are two of 41 students from Estanzuelas, El Salvador, whose high school educations have been made possible because of support from the community's sister parish in Kansas City.
The two students and Estanzuelas Mayor Wilber Solano came to Kansas City to thank St. Patrick Parish in person for giving them the chance to dream. And dreams of education and the better life it brings aren't easy in the Salvadoran countryside.
Estanzuelas, a group of nine villages some 60 miles from San Salvador, was devastated by the twin earthquakes that rocked the Central American nation in early 2001. Solano said that about 800 of the municipality's 3,000 homes were destroyed, and have yet to be rebuilt.
But even that natural disaster, coming on the heels of the man-made disaster of civil war that ripped at El Salvador's heart during the 1980s, didn't stop the people of Estanzuelas from dreaming. Nor did it change the community's focus on the future and the young.
In a nation where only 58 percent of the children reach fifth grade and less than one in three attend secondary school, Solano was determined to establish a high school in Estanzuelas - one of a precious few in rural El Salvador. The question was how.
"Before I became mayor, I was a teacher," Solano said. "We started our school program with very little resources before the people of St. Patrick's came."
That happened in March 2001, two months after the earthquake. Paired through the Center for Exchange and Solidarity in San Salvador (known by its Spanish acronym CIS), a delegation from the Kansas City, north, parish traveled to Estanzuelas to begin a sister relationship.
Leslie Schuld, CIS director, said the match was a perfect fit.
"It was right after the earthquake. I had already met Mayor Solano and was very impressed with him," Schuld said.
Perhaps the St. Patrick delegation thought the mayor would ask for help in rebuilding the town. That wasn't on his plan, Schuld said.
"I asked him, 'St. Patrick is offering aid. What do you want?'" she said. "He said, 'Unless they can help with the high school, we don't want anything.'"
Solano told The Catholic Key that a chance at education brings hope.
"Our people have a lot of hope," he told The Catholic Key. "My role as mayor is to resolve problems so the people can have hope."
Speaking from the pulpit at the Sept. 28 Mass at St. Patrick, Solano said that God put the people of St. Patrick and the people of Estanzuelas on the same path together.
"We have begun a program so that students could continue in school as long as they make good grades," he said. "I am grateful to be here to thank you for everything you have done for us. You have lifted our spirits during very difficult times."
The commitment from St. Patrick calls for $10,000 a year in direct scholarship assistance, said Father Jerry Waris, pastor. But the people of St. Patrick have responded in ways both large and small, including one gift of $5,000.
Father Waris said the parish will continue its commitment because the rewards are greater than the gifts given.
"This is more than just this parish giving to them," he said. "This is an exchange."