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Massachusetts travelers go global: Brooksby helps communities in El Salvador

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December 31st, 2008

THE ERICKSON TRIBUNE Gerry Donovan had traveled as a tourist to Central and South America in the past, but he began making trips of a different sort from his home at Brooksby, in Peabody. After hearing a talk given by two residents who traveled to El Salvador as volunteers, Donovan joined the cause. This spring he will take his seventh trip to the country. Empowering work Dorothea Buckley and Carolyn Payne were the first Brooksby residents to donate their time to the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR), which aims to empower poor rural communities. More than 30% of the 7.1 million people in El Salvador live below the poverty line, and many live on about $1 a day. ASAPROSAR s volunteers identify and train local Salvadoran leaders in health, nutrition, family planning, and sustainable agriculture. Then the leaders pass on what they have learned to their communities. "This is not a hand out program, it s a hand up it s a program of empowerment," says Donovan. Since its founding in the 1970s, ASAPROSAR has served more than 90,000 people. Help goes on Payne recalls her first trip to the country. She sat in on a microcredit meeting, where women from the village reported after receiving small loans to fund their own projects. One woman stood up and declared that she didn t know how to read but had learned just how and where to mark the paperwork to get a loan. "Tears came into my eyes," she recounts. "That woman couldn t have been more pleased had she won a Nobel Prize." Payne adds, "She was making some money, she had self-esteem in a way that she never had before, [and] I was just so impressed with what she could do." Initially inspired by the work of Payne and Buckley, Donovan has been involved with ASAPROSAR and traveled annually to the mountainous area north of Santa Ana to volunteer ever since. He has even passed along his passion for the project to others at Brooksby. A group of five women led by Doris Loschi banded together last year to make about 50 puppets and 20 pocketbooks for Donovan to take to children in El Salvador. When Donovan travels there this year, he won t expect luxury accommodations, but he will expect an enriching experience. "When you re involved every day with the people of a country and you live in their midst, you re focusing on their land and their giftedness and their culture, and you get a marvelous education," Donovan says.

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