In New Jersey, a Salvadorian Finds Refuge, Purpose

By Fabiola Galindo-Behncke • Mar 28th, 2012 • Category: People

“I am here, killing nature,” says Javier Rodriguez about his daily work.  Sitting inside the glass cabin of a crane truck, he winds down tree trunks from the top, laying them on the ground after a carefully calculated crane maneuver. But Javier was not always cutting down trees. They once provided him shelter as he escaped El Salvador’s civil war in 1986.

Rodriguez hid for days within the dense rainforest that stills surrounds his hometown, Morazán, just two hours away from the capital, San Salvador. He was escaping the Salvadorian army, who forcibly recruited youngsters in remote villages to fight in favor of the regime. “I was never part of the FMLN (the revolutionary army), but I didn’t want to fight for the dictator either,” says Rodriguez. El Salvador’s civil war, in which the guerrilla “Foribundo Marti Liberacion Nacional” was born, lasted for 12 years and had a toll of approximately 75,000 lives.

Almost three decades later, Rodriguez is finding a way to give back to nature. Through his “tree surgeon” company, Elmwood INC, in New Jersey, he is putting in place eco-friendly practices as he donates remaining tree trunks to companies that can later reuse them.

“After ten years of doing this, I figured there was so much wood being wasted. It could be a source for others to work on,” says Rodriguez. Salvaging what others might see as trash has been Javier’s mode since he was a boy in El Salvador.

“I had a welding machine, so I gathered pieces of old bicycles and broken fences and I welded the main gate for my parents’ house,” Rodriguez remembers.

Ernesto Henriquez, a customer for whom Elmwood INC was removing an 80-foot-tall oak tree, took the first green step. “I have a small manufacturing factory,” he explained. “So I asked Javier to bring some of the oak trunks that I could use to make pens and souvenirs for his company.”

Although the first box of pens was a gift from Henriquez, Rodriguez saw an opportunity to give the useless trunks new shape and use.  Rodriguez was soon driving tons of useless oak, maple, and pine wood to Henriquez’s small factory in Paterson, New Jersey. He wanted to make crayons, pencils and other school utensils to send to schools in Morazan.

“It is not cheap. Gas and time are what costs me the most,” says Rodriguez.

After escaping to the United States and seeking political asylum, Rodriguez settled first in California and then a hushed neighborhood in New Jersey, but he still keeps ties with Salvadorians living in the States. He worked many jobs until he got into the tree business. Although his project is just beginning, Rodriguez is reaching out to family and other Salvadorians that may help him establish an NGO to send the school utensils, among other things, to children in Morazan.

“To me politics should not get in the way of helping people,” he says of his newfound mission. “It’s not about idealism or politics; it’s about helping with what you can, while you can.”

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