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Monday, February 1, 2010

Next Disaster Tour- USAID in Joya Grande Jan. 26th

Disaster Tour, Episode 2. We again find ourselves in the chaos of Joya Grande. This time, instead of college kids, its USAID. But first, HOW USAID came to us in the first place....

Nearly one week after the disaster, mid november, my father, bill tellman, wrote indiana senator evan bayh to see if the U.S embassy could get me food and water. January 18, nearly 2 months later, I recieve this correspondance from USAID, El Salvador. Democracy may be slow, but my father´s request did trickle down from the legislature to the US embassy here in El Salvador. It took 2 months, but to my astonishment, actually worked. Moral of the story- your senators listen to you, albiet slowly. Bayh for president. now back to the show:


Please see below reply from the USAID in El Salvador in response to Senator Bayh’s inquiry on you and your father’s behalf. I trust the information is helpful to you. If you have any further questions, let us know.

Karen E. Railing
Director of Constituent Services
U.S. Senator Evan Bayh
10 West Market Street, Suite 1650
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Dear Senator Bayh,
Thank you for your e-mail correspondence concerning the request by Dr. William Tillman and his daughter Elizabeth Tillman, a Fullbright Scholar working in El Salvador, to assist Salvadorans in the community of Santa Maria of Santiago Texacuangos.

The disaster that struck El Salvador on November 9 was disastrous for the families who were startled during the night when severe flash floods brought mud, boulders and trees crashing into their homes and communities. The flooding not only destroyed houses and schools, it also washed out bridges and roads, cutting key economic arteries.

The U.S. government, largely through USAID and DOD South Command (SouthCom) responded immediately flying in emergency food, water and supplies for temporary shelters from OFDA warehouses in Miami. Our response was so immediate that the United States has been recognized by the Salvadoran Government as being the first foreign government to reach isolated communities after the flooding.

Attached is a spreadsheet we prepared at the request of the Secretary of State showing 1) what we are currently doing with the financial resources in place, 2) what we, in consultation with the Salvadoran Government, determined to be highest priority needs if additional funds from OFDA, DOD and the Appropriators could be made available, and 3) other priorities that could be addressed if even more funding were made available.

State cable 09 SANSALVADOR 1117, dated December 23, 2009, formally requested additional financial resources to assist the thousands of families affected and to help El Salvador rebuild key economic infrastructure.

After the tragic events in Haiti this past week, it is reasonable to assume that our request for additional disaster assistance funds will not be addressed. While the magnitude is not nearly as great as the earthquake in Haiti, that is of little comfort to the families who are still homeless and without a means of sustaining themselves. SouthCom continues to implement small humanitarian assistance activities with funds they have and USAID has reprogrammed an additional $1.3 million dollars of ongoing activities to assist the families in greatest need.

We will contact Ms. Elizabeth Tillman to explore ways of collaborating with her, but please understand that the needs are great and our resources are few.


Larry H. Brady
USAID/El Salvador

Back to the scene. Tuesday, January 26th, I get a phone call at 10am.
Beth Tellman, This is Michelle from USAID...can you meet us in Joya Grande in 30 minutes?
I´ve just rolled out of bed, watered the tomato plants and put the coffee on...and Joya Grande is AT LEAST a 45 minute drive if you follow the rules...
Of course, Michelle, I would be happy to! I´ve got a 93 ford ranger. See you at the shelter ASAP.
Whew! gotta hop in the shower and get out there. when an NGO or organization contacts you in disaster relief world, you always say yes. it it generally a last minute request, and totally out of your way and schedule, but you HAVE to make it work. its a race to see who can catch the open hand. organized communities run fastest. communities with an NGO to advocate for them run faster still. Epicenters of disasters that attract media attention dont even have to ask- help comes to them, solicited or not.
So, when USAID calls you out of the blue, you make it work. We dont have media, we dont have an NGO, and we dont even have very organized communities (tho this is changing, hopefully quickly). Santiago Texacuangos just keeps getting bumped down the aid list. Sometimes for good reason. Obviously, that fact that the World Food Program cut off aid to our communities makes sense if the food goes to Haiti. Clearly, the right decision.
Or is it?
What if we took food from the RICH and gave it to Haiti, instead of from the OTHER DISASTER VICTIMS?? Why do we have to cut another slice of the pie from the poor. Its the small sliver! We all need to make sacrifices to get Haiti back on its knees (and then its feet), but should the hungry feed the hungry?
The point is, USAID came. They saw the tarp houses (2 of them), they heard familes talk about corruption and being victmized. The mayor office here uses the homeless to get international aid to build homes for the mayor´s friends who already have homes. This sparked an interesting discussion amongst the three USAID reps (see, this is why we should do development thru trustworthy NGOs like Save the Children. - No, you have to work with the local government. this is a democracy and we gotta try and make it work).
I see both sides. Too much NGO power takes away democratic agency. Working with a corrupt local government is a waste of resources. What to do?

USAID was pretty shocked at the complete lack of local government support. Apparantly, other local govs, like Ilopango, are doing a much better job. not stellar, but better.

as we walked past destroyed homes and the shelter with Jesus, a member of the Junta Directive and my contact in Joya Grande, everyone (including Jesus) kept asking how USAID would help. will they build us homes? a road? crops?

No, No, and Probabaly not. USAID got denied its request for extra El Salv funding in light of Haiti. And the fund they do have will go to San Vicente, or La Paz, like all the rest of the international aid and reconstruction.

Michelle writes me the day after the tour:

Thanks a lot for dropping everything and meeting us in Joya Grande and for the insightful discussion on what is really happening on the ground. Your commitment and initiative is really impressive and the community is so lucky to have you as their advocate.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this but USAID did provide a number of relief supplies in many impacted locations and USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance recently awarded Save the Children a grant to work for six months doing recovery activities in various communities although their target area is in La Paz, Cuscatlan and other departnments, not in Santiago Texacuango, so your efforts are very important there.

Well. Here I am. my dying truck (in the last 2 weeks, i have bought a new battery, alternator, gas pump AND still have to change the clutch), my rag tag team (quickly turning professional, as we expect to interview an organic agronomist to hire to run our food security program part time cuz that is what money allows for), and my 30 communities, 3 of which we can afford to work in due to budget limitations. ahh the days when I thought $20,000 was a lot of money...

But here we are. with recycled materials, almost all volunteer labor, and visitors from boston college to USAID. We are a movement, and we ain´t stopping anytime soon...

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