Blooming in Place

Joyful children surround a member of the Tamarindo Foundation


San Salvador archbishop Óscar Romero knew that he irritated people. In fact, he was reviled by many for his stance against poverty and oppression. The government found him exasperating, the Catholic Church worried he was always making waves and political groups felt he shouldn’t stick his nose where it didn’t belong.

Romero once said, “If you live out a Christianity that is good, but that is not sufficient for our times, that doesn’t denounce injustice, that doesn’t proclaim the kingdom of God courageously, that doesn’t reject the sins humankind commits, that consents to the sins of certain classes so as to be accepted by those classes, then you are not doing your duty, you are sinning, you are betraying your mission.”

“The church was put here to convert humankind, not to tell people that everything that they do is all right; and because of that, naturally, it irritates people. Everything that corrects us irritates us. I know that I have irritated many people, but I know that I am well liked by all those who work sincerely for the conversion of the church.”

Death threats against Romero were on the rise; he was slain on March 24, 1980. His death sparked the beginning of the Salvadoran Civil War — lasting 12 years, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75,000 people and displacing thousands more.

Romero eventually became a saint. He was beatified on May 23, 2015, canonized on Oct. 14, 2018, and remains an inspiration to those at the Tamarindo Foundation, located in Guarjila, El Salvador. 

The foundation is named in honor of the tamarind tree, which produces brown, pod-like fruits filled with a sweet, tangy pulp used in cuisines around the world. Following the end of the civil war in 1992, it is
said when residents returned to Guarjila, the tamarind tree was the only thing left standing. The Tamarindo Foundation’s name symbolizes strength, resilience and hope. 

The foundation’s executive director, John Giuliano, served in Latin America for 35 years. He was sent as a Jesuit novice to Tijuana, Mexico, where he worked in a prison and established a house for Central American refugees. He later went to El Salvador. Although no longer with the Jesuit order, he worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service to establish what became the Tamarindo Foundation. 

Steve Nasman ’71 (BS) — who is active in the University of San Diego’s Orange County Torero Club and the Alumni Association’s national Board of Directors — also serves as president of the Tamarindo Foundation’s board. His wife, Vicki Nasman ’74 (BS), is the board’s secretary. 

Nasman says the foundation’s goal is to break the chains of poverty and forced migration in El Salvador so residents can bloom in place. “We want to stem the migration of people who feel forced to move from their country to find a better life,” Nasman says. “We want to provide the programs and skills for them to thrive in their own country.”

Programs develop life skills, study habits, vocational opportunities, learning skills, job readiness, college readiness, microbusiness loans, sports, health and wellness and even address gender equality to combat the machismo mindset. With the belief that education is the weapon needed to break the chains of poverty, the Tamarindo Foundation opened a learning center in 2020 and soon hopes to build a children’s library, with dual-language books in both English and Spanish. 

“We know that speaking a second language, such as English, is a huge tool and opens the doors in El Salvador,” Nasman says.

The foundation also offers tutoring and scholarships named in honor of Jon Cortina Garaigorta, S.J., a Jesuit priest, engineer and activist dedicated to searching for the missing children of the civil war. The goal is to prepare children to attend a university or a technical school, which offers courses in engineering, food services, electronics, mechanics and many other programs. Students wear different colored shirts to signify their area of study.

The Tamarindo Foundation is also connected to USD’s Eileen Daspro, DBA, a clinical professor of international business. The foundation provides seed money for both men and women to start cottage businesses. Workshops, led by students, teach women all aspects of running a successful business — marketing, pricing, accounting, understanding supply and demand and preparing projections.

“Professor Daspro developed a curriculum with her students and conducted virtual workshops,” Nasman says. “The instant rapport between the women and the students was magical.”

Residents can also receive loans, from $1,500 to $4,500, and repay them at an interest rate of 3-5%, versus the 26% that individuals are charged at many of the country’s banks. As money is repaid, it’s loaned again to other members of the community.

One woman now runs a successful beauty salon with plans to expand. Another resident has started a pig farm, a growing industry in the region, and other residents received funding to open a car wash
and a restaurant.

“The premise is to keep people in their country,” Nasman says. “They want to stay, but they have to have opportunity to prosper and take care of their families. If they don’t have to pay a coyote $5,000 to find a life elsewhere, you never know what could happen for them.” — Krystn Shrieve

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