From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Suffering in El Salvador overwhelms chaplain

Date 12 Feb 2001 14:41:58

Feb. 12, 2001  News media contact: Tim Tantonˇ(615)742-5470ˇNashville, Tenn.
By Michael Wacht*
MIAMI, Fla. (UMNS) - A United Methodist pastor found himself emotionally
overwhelmed as he visited relief camps established in the wake of the recent
earthquake in El Salvador.

The Rev. Emilio Chaviano spent Jan. 29 in Café Talón, a camp housing more
than 10,000 families displaced by the Jan. 13 earthquake.
"Café Talón is a field the size of four or five football fields, and there's
row after row of tents and each tent is assigned to one family," he said.
"The emotional impact is beyond words. ... I never expected to react so
Chaviano is an elder of the Florida Annual (regional) Conference and
chaplain with the United States Air Force. He is serving with the United
States Southern Command in Miami, which is responsible for military and
humanitarian operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Last
month, the commander of the United States military in El Salvador invited
him to provide pastoral counseling for the military personnel and their
families in the wake of the earthquake.
"The Army commander, Col. John Goetchius, is married to a Salvadoran woman,"
Chaviano said. "He was experiencing the pain firsthand because he has
extended family in San Salvador. He called me ... and asked me to come,
begged me to come."
Chaviano spent his first day touring affected areas and relief camps set up
by the Salvadoran military and international relief groups.
"I saw whole neighborhoods buried by rocks that fell down from the mountains
... a field full of destroyed automobiles and vehicles. They looked like
twisted toys. They had been buried by landslides, then excavated and placed
in this field," he said. "I never thought the force of dirt coming down from
a mountain could do that."
The earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, killed more than 700
people and injured another 4,000, according to news services.
In addition to visiting Café Talón, which is run by the Salvadoran military,
Chaviano visited Las Delicias, a soccer field that has been converted to a
refugee camp and field hospital by a group from the Dominican Republic. He
also met a delegation from the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico that was
there to assess the situation and find the best way to respond.
Conditions in the camps were good in terms of cleanliness and sanitation,
according to Chaviano, but he says that may change in the next two months
when the winter rainy season begins. 

"It's going to be more of a hardship living in those tents," Chaviano said.
"The fields will flood and that will make it very, very tough."
On Jan. 30, Chaviano spent the day dealing with the emotional impact the
disaster has had on United States military personnel, their families and
civilian employees at the U.S. embassy in San Salvador. Although he expected
24 people to attend two sessions, Chaviano said 35 people showed up for the
morning session and 50 attended the afternoon session.
Although most people he spoke to were not directly affected by the
earthquake, many were married to Salvadorans whose families and friends were

"They have lost because other people have lost, because the rest of the
country has lost," Chaviano said. "I spoke to a couple of soldiers who lost
Salvadoran friends ... men they played baseball with. These men, they cried
in public, telling the story of how they lost their friends."
Chaviano said people are also dealing with feelings of guilt because they
"There's also a lot of hopelessness and fear that another earthquake will
devastate the city," he said. "Children do not want to sleep or be alone in
their bedrooms at night because of the fear."
The political parties in the Salvadoran government are bickering over how to
distribute the aid and who is going to get credit for it. "The people are
hurt that the political parties are taking advantage of the tragedy for
their own gain," Chaviano said. "It adds to the hopelessness. 'Who's going
to help us?' "
Chaviano believes the church has a "real role" to play in the relief efforts
because of the political situation. "It's a lot easier for the church to
send work groups and financial help than for the government to go through
the official channels," he said. "Church organizations can respond much
quicker. There is a need for churches to send teams and help people build
new homes."
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has established an Advance
for relief efforts in El Salvador. Donations should be designated to UMCOR
Advance No. 511447-8, "El Salvador Earthquake." Checks may be dropped in
church collection plates or mailed to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330,
New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800)

# # #

*Wacht is the assistant editor of the Florida Annual Conference's edition of
the United Methodist Review.

United Methodist News Service
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