By Cynthia Kellogg
Rutilio Grande, Davis’ sister city in El Salvador, celebrated the 22nd anniversary of its founding this spring with a parade, horse races, soccer games, folkloric dancing, face painting and lots of food.
Twenty-two years ago, most of these 80 families returned to their home country after 10 years of living in exile in Nicaragua where they had fled in fear of their lives during the violent civil war in El Salvador.
In their former home area, the returning refugees found bombed-out structures, vine-tangled trees and bare earth; no water, no plumbing, no crops; indeed, no shelter. Helicopters circling overhead signified the lingering threat of the 12-year civil war.
They took up residence in tents, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees trucked in water. Within the year, they built one-room wooden houses, but to get water, they had to hike several miles down a hill and bring it up jugs.
In that year — 1991 — the first delegation from Davis visited the community and helped move rocks to smooth out the uneven road that led to the rest of the country.
Now, 22 years later, the former refugees from Rutilio Grande live in a growing village with scores of small, concrete-block homes, a school, a community center and a church. They recently reconstructed the main road so it’s as smooth as any Davis street. And water flows into their homes, though only a few days a week.
The progress included building a level soccer field where much of the 22nd anniversary celebration focused on a tournament of soccer games between Rutilio Grande and nearby communities.
During all 22 years that the one-time refugees have been resettled in their new community, Davis has continued to help support them financially and in spirit. The Davis City Council passed a resolution Jan. 15, 1992, establishing Rutilio Grande as the second Davis sister city after Uman, Ukraine. At least five delegations of Davis residents and students have visited the sister city, and four delegations have visited Davis from Rutilio Grande.
Each year, Davis residents contribute to scholarships that help provide a continuing education for the young people of Rutilio Grande. The community school continues only through the sixth grade, so to study beyond this level, young people must travel to distant communities. The scholarships pay for transportation, educational materials and required uniforms.
In a recent letter to Davis Friends of Rutilio Grande, Luis Perdomo, a leader of the community, expressed the community’s gratitude to Davis for supporting education there and said, “In spite of the distance, know that you are of our families here in El Salvador and in the community of Rutilio Grande.”