Joe Mihevc and the Caravan of Hope 2009

special to digital journal:

The Caravan of Hope 2009 is a community-based project of Toronto. The group has taken five ambulances in the past two years to the poor city of Soyapango, El Salvador.
Father Hernan Astudillo lead the team of volunteers of “The Caravan of Hope” from Toronto, Canada to Soyapango, El Salvador to deliver two decommissioned Toronto EMS ambulances to the poor town in March.

Father Astudillo heads the San Lorenzo Church in Toronto. During the latest trip in March to the impoverished city the Father and his group of volunteers encountered mordida, bride money demanded from the Mexican border all the way to Soyapango. The Toronto Star reports the religious man noted on an email sent back home that a fellow volunteer said on the trip :

“Father we are going to arrive in El Salvador very well mordido (bitten), probably only with one leg.”

The ambulances will be given new life as mobile medical facilities for a city whose population is close to one million. In a city with no medical clinics the ambulances are a godsend. El Salvador has a total of 5 ambulances, all located in the town of Soyapango and all brought in through Caravan of Hope.

Soyapango is the growth of shantytowns of people who were displaced by the 12-year civil war in El Salvador. In the mid-1990’s Toronto formed a relationship with the city. Since that time there have been several missions ongoing ranging from sanitation to public health.

Toronto city councilor Joe Mihevc, Ward 21, St. Paul’s West, has given his support to the project. In 2008 he was behind effort in getting the first ambulance donated. That vehicle was so well received that the he helped obtain two more.

The Caravan of Hope takes older ambulances donated by the city of Toronto and gives them to countries that that in desperate need of the emergency vehicles. Generally ambulances in Toronto are auctioned off once they hit 160,000 kilometers or 54 months in service.

Mihevc has had to battle it out with fellow councilors Rob Ford, (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), and (Doug Holyday, Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) who think that the price that the ambulances garner at auction would be better used on Canadian Streets according to the media. When Digital Journal asked about this the councilor laughed and said it wasn’t such a battle, just business as usual.

Astudillo takes about 10 days to travel to El Salvador. He has made eight trips before to the country on missions. The first trip was ten years ago to bring aid after the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch.

in an interview with Joe Mihevc said that not only is the city helping the poor city in El Salvador but building bonds with the Latino community. Toronto has a community of 50,000 El Salvadorians. This project has been very positive in Toronto in showing the Latino population that the city cares about their homeland and the lives of their relatives.

The Toronto Star reports:

“Basically, a marginalized, new-immigrant community comes to understand and learn how to work city hall … how to apply for grants, how to apply for housing, how to use city services,” he said, noting Astudillo is a frequent visitor at councilors’ offices.

On March 11 Mihevc and Councilor Adam Vaughan flew to El Salvador to act as international observers for the country’s presidential election the following Sunday. Astudillo and his colleagues were also observers for the election. Mihevc was very impressed with observing the recent elections held in El Salvador. He said during a telephone interview it was very exciting to see change happen before his eyes. It was a great learning experience. It brought home the realities how lucky we are in Canada to have a democracy and how in other nations that goal is a hard fought struggle.

In Toronto on April 4 Joe Mihevc, Father Hernan Astudillo and Councillor Adam Vaughan will be co-hosting a community meeting about the Caravan of Hope at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.

The meeting will feature photos and videos from the trip in March to El Salvador as well as planning opportunities to expand the Caravan of Hope for 2010.

The event on Saturday is a two part meeting. First will be a report on the most recent trip to El Salvador. The second and most important part of the meeting will be the fund raising ideas that Mihevc told Digital Journal he hopes the community will help come up with.

The goal is to raise enough funds to buy some of the 30 ambulances that the city of Toronto has to dispose of every year. While it is expected the city will continue to donate a few ambulances each year after seeing first hand the need of these emergency vehicles first hand on the streets in Soyapango and how positively received they are Caravan of Hope is hoping to buy more ambulances to take to the Central American country.

One of the side projects this year was the delivery of 149 pairs of eyeglasses that Mihevc and Vaughan brought with them on their trip to the city.

Mr. Mihevc said during a telephone interview with Digital Journal that the response to the eyeglasses in El Salvador was unbelievable. It was amazing to see how much of a difference it made for the community, considering it would cost about $500 to us in Canada. The Caravan of Hope has built child and community health services in a way that could not have been fathomed before.

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