Local fundraiser aims to raise morale of Salvadoran flood victims
It's a quiet and snowy evening in northeast Calgary, but the tiny kitchen inside the Whitehorn Community Association Centre is bursting with activity.
Every available surface is occupied by food: giant vats of soup sit between bowls full of simmering vegetables, and endless stacks of tortilla-like pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish, can be seen in every corner.
Middle-aged women bump into one another as they attempt to maneuver their way through the cramped space, giving instructions in a mix of Spanish and English, and gradually raising their voices to be heard over the hiss of frying pans.
But the kitchen occupants are cheerful in spite of the chaotic atmosphere; they know their efforts are going towards a good cause.
The women volunteered as part of a Dec. 3 fundraiser organized by the Salvadorean Community Association, in order to raise money for victims of a flood that devastated El Salvador in the middle of October. The tiny Central America country was hammered by 152 cm of rain in a span of 10 days. The heavy rain triggered flooding that damaged infrastructure and killed 35 people.
"It's really difficult; it is desperate times in El Salvador and an event like this is meant to help raise the spirits," said Arnoldo Amaya, president of the Salvadorean Community Association.
"Economically it will not make a big difference, but it raises the morale of the people over there, it gives them some hope in this moment of desperation."
The event charged $5 per person at the door, and raised additional money by selling hand-made Salvadorean cuisine. People trickled in throughout the evening, and by 6:30 p.m. tables in the community hall were filled. Attendees sipped wine and listened to live music. In the end, $1,300 was raised.
The relief agency Oxfam reported that over 55,000 people have since been affected by the October floods, and a Nov. 19 article published by the organization said that while the emergency shelters have emptied, people have returned to communities that are in "dire condition."
It is these struggling communities that the fundraiser aims to support, said Salvadorean Community Association member Heydi Panameno.
"The most basic needs that they have right now are for tarps to cover up their huts and their little houses," she said. "I'm talking about the lower class people that are suffering the most."
Panameno, a Salvadoran-Canadian, said the association plans to donate the funds they raise to the community of Bajo Lempa in the city of San Vicente, where Panameno said many residents were living in "huts made of cardboard" even prior to flooding. She said the money raised will be donated directly to the municipality, and decisions regarding how to best utilize the funds will be left up to local government bodies in the community.
Panameno said she believes the fundraising event was valuable for the impact it will have on flood victims, and also for its impact on Salvadorans and Canadians here at home.
"It builds unity," said Panameno of the event. "It's amazing that people would even be willing to step out of their comfort zone, because a lot of people here that I see are not Salvadoran, which is amazing to me."
She is referring to people like Judi Keal, who has no direct ties to El Salvador or the community association, but attended the event.
"[This event is] bringing different cultures and people together; I think it's great," said Keal.
As for Amaya, the community association president said the fundraiser's main objective was to show human solidarity with the people of El Salvador.
"I was a young man when I came here," said Amaya, "but I haven't forgotten my roots.
"I want a better future for the people of El Salvador. In my opinion every human being has the right to a decent life, and if we can help a little bit in that way, let's do it."