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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | May 2001

El Salvador: Climbing Up From the Rubble


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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:
Christian lifestyles—love of neighbor; Scriptures; teachings of Vatican II
Science—geology; seismology; geophysics

Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of


Seismic activity

Infant mortality rate

Faith and community


Poverty line

Richter scale


Kingdom of God


The Christian Response to Human Suffering

The Impact of Natural Disasters—
The powerful earthquakes that struck El Salvador in the beginning months of 2001 wreaked havoc on the country and its inhabitants. Thousands are dead or still missing. Six thousand more recover from injuries. Over a million remain homeless. Countless Salvadorans try to go on without family and friends.

For many of us it's difficult to comprehend the scope of the devastation in El Salvador. Think about what impact any natural disaster may have on our own lives. A major earthquake or a tornado can obliterate the civil and economic infrastructure we take for granted:

  • roads
  • shelter
  • food and water
  • electricity
  • heat or air conditioning
  • access to stores
  • transportation
  • medical services
  • police and fire protection

Talk about what else you can add to the list. On the lighter side, we'd have no MTV, no video games, no telephones. More seriously, perhaps a loss of friends or family, many nights with nowhere to sleep, maybe the destruction of entire neighborhoods. Even a moderate disruption could close schools for a time. By any definition, it would be a life-altering event.

As this month's article tells us, the earthquakes in El Salvador struck a country with resources already strained by poverty, by prior earthquakes, by a 12-year civil war, and by 1998's Hurricane Mitch. Reconstruction could easily take several to ten or more years. Recovery of this magnitude is simply not possible without outside aid.

Why Offer International Aid?—
Don't we have enough poor in our own country? Isn't it hypocritical to send money and supplies to El Salvador when the homeless stand on our own street corners asking for money and shelter? And yes, in crisis the Salvadorans traditionally have turned to their own faith, to family and neighbors, for the strength to recover.

The words of Jesus challenge us, however. "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink… naked and you clothed me...." Jesus imposes no boundaries, no limitations. When you help a person in need, he says, you help me.

A Christian response to those in need is rooted in Jesus and reinforced by Church teaching. The leaders of the Church published "The Mystery of the Church," one of the documents resulting from the historic Second Vatican Council. "… the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder" (Section 8, paragraph 3). And in echoing the words of Jesus, the document further says, "It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature" (Section 10, paragraph 2). Solidarity and globalization are but an offshoot of our common citizenship in God's kingdom.

Many organizations exist to carry out humanitarian and Christian concerns. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provides a strong presence in situations like the El Salvador earthquakes. CRS is active in 80 countries, working to "honor the dignity of the human person." According to CRS, a worker's average monthly income in El Salvador is a mere US$84, far below the poverty line. The programs conducted by CRS are aimed at providing physical and economic aid to those in need. Their Web site offers a virtual tour of the earthquake damage in El Salvador.

Civic and government relief agencies abound as well. We are certainly familiar with the American Red Cross, always ready to provide shelter after a "quiet disaster" like a house fire or to feed relief workers cleaning up after a hurricane. Did you know that every year the Red Cross gathers over half of America's blood supply? The Red Cross has 24,000 volunteers serving in a variety of capacities. You can volunteer through your own local chapter.

The United States Government sponsors the Agency for International Development. Click on "Disaster Assistance" to see a USAID update on El Salvador covering United States government assistance, multilateral organization responses, present dangers and assessments and a map of the Salvadoran quake's epicenter.

A Personal Response to the Suffering of Others

We ask ourselves, "Is there a personal role for us in Christian relief efforts?" Go to the Catholic Relief Services site for the answer. Click on "How to Help." CRS offers a number of programs on an individual, school or parish level.

  • Would you simply want to make a cash contribution to CRS? You can do this online or by mail.
  • Your school or parish can hold a sale for handcrafted products offered through "Work of Human Hands," a CRS program that brings artisan crafts directly to your organization.
  • Has your school or parish lost a beloved minister or fellow student? CRS accepts memorial funds in someone's memory.
  • You can find guidance at CRS for writing letters to your government leaders to support human rights around the world and in our own country.
  • Teachers and youth ministers can get first-hand experiences in relief work by traveling to countries in need. These programs promote mutual understanding, solidarity and spiritual enrichment.

The Science of Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters

For scientific data on the recent El Salvador quakes, see the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS provides details of recent earthquakes, real-time maps, research information and links to related sites such as television network news reports on natural disasters. The site also offers graphics to illustrate the technical data. Since 1935 scientists have used the Richter Scale to chart seismic waves and compare the magnitudes of earthquakes. If you have a career interest in geology, you can apply online for an internship with the USGS.

In 1998 the Public Broadcasting System aired a documentary on natural disasters entitled "Savage Earth." The program graphically illustrates the power of earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

The University of California at Santa Barbara presents earth science data that includes historical narrative accounts of earthquakes written by authors such as Mark Twain, Jack London, John Muir and Charles Darwin.

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

The New York Times
The Los Angeles Times
Time Magazine
The Associated Press
The Chicago Tribune
People Magazine
The History Channel
The Miami Herald
The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization
ABC News
Channel One’s online resource
The Vatican
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
The New American Bible
Documents of Vatican II

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