When you drop a stone into a pond there is an initial plunk and then the splash of water. Around the place where the stone dropped ripples spread out until the calm, quiet of the pond is completely interrupted by ripples of various sizes. No part of it is left untouched.
I am seeing that violence has a similar affect on society, at least on the society here in El Salvador. Our tiny home has made international news for the worst possible reason…a soaring homicide rate. August closed with more than 900 murders. That is in a country the size of Massachusetts.
As the ripples of violence spread, lives are marked by terror and fear. Some of the women who sell bras in our Free The Girls program can no longer feel safe selling in the market. One woman told me last week, “Everyday I go to the market, I see another dead body. I don’t want my children to see that everyday.” Small businesses are extorted, and people must pay the gangs to let them come and go from their own neighborhoods. In July, the bus system was shut down by gangs and many lost several days’ pay.
The ripples spread still further and not only are wallets getting slimmer, but the education of children is getting interrupted. Young boys are afraid of going to school, afraid they will be forced to join a gang, or killed along the road for their dissension. Children that should be in school studying are home planning a route to the North, away from the clutches of the gangs. What will happen to this generation of Salvadorans who are forced into a life of crime instead of learning to read and write?
The violence has still more rippling affects. Young girls are at a high risk of being trafficked and abused. At the tender age of 11 or 12, a girl can be forced to be a “girlfriend” of a gang leader. Instead of spending her afternoon helping her mother in the kitchen, and doing her homework, the girl is forced to have sex with a much older man. Ongoing, forced prositution as part of the gang network often follows.
That stone of violence that gets tossed into the water isn’t just about a splash and a sinking stone. It creates a chaos that causes that whole pond to heave and toss. The beauty and stillness is no more and spreading waves of various sizes and strengths make their mark. In some corners of society the waves are small, and in others they are larger. None of society escapes the ripple effect.
I will admit that there are days when I feel like we are working for a lost cause. Why empower people to start their own business when they will be extorted? Why encourage children to study hard when they could get killed on the walk to school? Why tell a girl she has value when a tattooed predator waits around the corner to show her otherwise?
The answer to the “why” is that I have faith that even the smallest splash makes a ripple. I have faith that just as the ripples of violence spread and grow, so do the small splashes of kindness and hope. Yes, I may be looking through rose-colored glasses, but I happen to believe that God cares about El Salvador. I care too, and I’m not ready to give up on El Salvador quite yet…even in those hopeless moments when violence is all that we see, all that the media shares, and all that we seem to know and understand about this place.
I have seen kindness and hope in quiet corners where a young boy sells bread and earns some money for his future. I have seen stubborn dreams refuse to die as a man whom we love dearly celebrates nearly a year of sobriety. I have seen the flame of survival burn strong when a woman vows to continue to move forward for the sake of her family.
I love El Salvador because of the people. They are strong. They are brave. They have faith in God, and they believe. The odds are overwhelming, but we will work in our community to create a ripple of good, a ripple of love that starts small where we are and grows. Together we hope and dream of a future free from violence, and in the meantime we keep our eyes open to see what is our part, where do we need to be drawn together, and how can we then overcome.