35 years ago, COAR was born out of necessity and a dream. The Cleveland Mission Team was hard at work in El Salvador – serving the poor, the children, the refugees only months after Archbishop Romero was slain in the chapel at Divina Providencia. Looking back, few realized what an impact COAR would have in El Salvador – and for the people of La Libertad. Slain lay missionary Jean Donovan simply scribled a note in her personal diary on August 14th that said “Ken working on orphanage”. Only 4 months later, the Salvadoran Military would kidnap and kill Jean Donovan, Sister Dorothy Kazel, Sister Ita Ford and Sister Maura Clarke. Thus from such violence was born a sanctuary for children: the Community of Oscar Arnulfo Romero.
35 years have past. There were countless massacres across the tiny country: 900 dead at el mozote, 200 dead at Calabozo, the Jesuits Professors and their household staff, and more than 75,000 non-combatant civilians between 1979 and the Peace Accords that were signed in 1992. COAR was born out of that simple reality: there were orphaned children streaming into the mountains surrounding the capital, fleeing the army-borne violence in the rural areas.
Seeing the obvious need that the government was certainly not addressing, Father Ken returned to the Cleveland area and visited parishes and elementary schools across the region – solicting funds to build a safe-space for children amid the violence and war. The goal was simple: save lives.
Once the children started arriving, the mission grew: feed them, clothe them, educate them, give them medical care and prepare them for life on their own as adults. Today, our mission has expanded greatly to include shielding them from gang-violence and trying to heal the emotional wounds that so often plague an individual for life – ruining their interpersonal relationships and often limiting job growth.
Honoring these incredible 35 years of service to the children and families of El Salvador, the COAR school held a special 35th Anniversary Celebration on August 14th (one day before our official anniversary). The program began with a school-wide Holy Mass. The entire staff of COAR Children’s Village was invited to the ceremony. There was folk dancing, cultural activities and a skit in which COAR Children’s Village graduating senior (and great kid) Juan Carlos played the role of Archbishop Romero. The celebration ended with a trivia contest by class focused on cultural, historical and academic questions. After the celebration, there were athletic events all afternoon.
The people of El Salvador value the role of public commemoration in their culture. At COAR, there are activities commemorating / celebrating Independence Day, COAR’s anniversary, the death of Founder Father Ken, and even the horrible hurricane that killed 12,000 in Galveston, Texas, in 1900, including many from the congregation Sisters of Charity of the Encarnate Word whose congregation was so dedicated to caring for the children at COAR in the 1980s and 90s. There have been so many role models for the children at COAR over the years. This is truly a mission of love and a commitment to Gospel social justice values.