Dispatches from Zaragoza: June 17, 2012

Dispatches from Zaragoza: June 17, 2012

Frank Matarrese

Former Alameda city councilman Frank Matarrese and his wife, Kris, are spending three months teaching English in Zaragoza, El Salvador. Matarrese will be offering dispatches detailing his experiences along the way.

We have now been here in El Salvador serving as teaching assistants at the Community of Oscar Arnulfo Romero (COAR) Catholic School and Orphanage in the town of Zaragoza. We are helping the English teacher, the only one at the 900-student K-12 school. Our task is to provide as much conversational English as possible because proficiency in English is viewed as being critical.

Our interest in El Salvador began in 1998 when my wife, Kris, made a trip to Asuchio, El Salvador a small village near Zaragoza. Kris' visit was part of the sister parish effort by St. Philip Neri Catholic Church and other Bay Area churches. Making a true and deep connection with the people of Asuchio, Kris returned to El Salvador in March 1999 as an international election observer for the country's presidential election.

Since then, our family has made two trips to Asuchio and COAR as part of the sister parish delegations from St. Philip Neri, building a strong bond with friends in El Salvador. Recently, raising funds for scholarships for children in Asuchio to continue their education at COAR has been our primary activity. After five years of funding, one of the scholarship recipients from Asuchio graduated from COAR and was accepted to the University of Central America in San Salvador. He is the first to do so from Asuchio, thanks to the opportunity to attend COAR.

It’s taken a bit of time to adjust to the heat, mosquitos, local buses, and other things unique to day-to-day life in El Salvador, but we are enjoying our time helping COAR students learn English. After two weeks, I’ve gotten the firsthand realization that teaching is in no way an easy job. Watching the teachers working so hard and doing what little we can to help has given me real appreciation for just how difficult being a teacher is (I challenge anyone who thinks teachers are paid too much to spend some real time in a classroom working with 30 or 40 students).

Outside of school work, we have been visiting with our friends in Asuchio and plan to see a local Alamedan serving in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. We will also enjoy the sights in El Salvador before returning to Alameda in September. I have also been able to gain insight into the local politics and how it has been shaped by turmoil from with the oppression of the campesinos in the ‘70s on to Monsignor Romero and the priests and nuns who were assassinated and the bloody civil war, which lasted more than 10 years.

In a way it’s hard to believe two weeks are already gone, but we do have the months ahead to continue our work and gather stories along the way.