UNTIL she picked up a book for 20p in an Oxfam bookshop in 1985, Bron Sloan knew almost nothing about El Salvador. Within a year she was flying into the country, then caught in the grip of a civil war, determined to help the children living on its streets.
Speaking “appalling Spanish” — she listened to tapes while driving to night visits as a nurse in Herefordshire — she took up residence with nuns, and took a clinic for refugees. When her parents died, she used her share of the sale of their smallholding to fund the Asociación Monseñor Oscar Romero, which runs a day centre to help prevent children from finding themselves on the streets. Sister Coralia, who had the bunk above her in 1986, left her order to devote herself full time to working with the children, and now runs the centre, alongside other local people.
The charity Ms Sloan founded to fund the centre, Aid for Children of El Salvador, is celebrating 20 years this year. Now 81, she raises £40,000 every year to keep it going. Since her first visit, she has returned every year.
Inspired to become a “theologically liberated Catholic”, she regards the country as her own, and praises the people as “so generous and so brave”. During one of her early visits, six Jesuits were shot in the rose garden of the centre she was staying in.
Thirty years since her first visit, she does not see a great difference in the lives of the poor, and, although she no longer sees soldiers pointing guns at passers-by in the road, she says that it remains “the child-murder capital of the world”. Four of the children associated with the centre have been killed on the streets.
Last year, murder rates reached a historic high of 104 killings per 100,000 inhabitants. Gangs remain a problem, she says, as does inequality. Looking forward, she hopes that the El Salvadorean government will withdraw some of its “stringent demands” on charities, and recognise the complexities of returning children to their homes.
Her next visit will be when Archbishop Oscar Romero, beatified last year, is canonised.