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Matt Beem
President, Kinetic Companies, Inc.

Giving, leading, changing

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Saturday, April 11, 2009


SAN SALVADOR – I speak English and French. My driver speaks Spanish.

So with much to talk about but nothing to say during the 45-minute drive from Comalapa International Airport to El Salvador’s capital, we settle into our own worlds. He studies the landscape for things previously undetected, and I measure it against all that is familiar.

I’ve been here before. But after numerous trips, it still looks worlds away.

Guards with flak jackets and automatic weapons pace the airport terminal and parking lot. Families huddle in shanties on strips of land between private property and public roadways. A beggar rattles a cup from his perch on the thin strip of pavement between opposing lanes of undivided traffic, relying on drivers’ goodwill and sharp skills to purchase another day.

Everywhere you look, the scars of humanity mar this urban landscape. Homelessness. Hunger. Drugs. Prostitution.

El Salvador faces significant challenges. The country’s effective tax rate is just 11 percent, among the lowest in the developed world. Nearly one fifth of its Gross Domestic Product is generated by remittances – money sent to residents by family members living and working in the U.S. – and all of its major financial institutions are based in other countries.

Yet the sun shines in El Salvador just like it does in Eastern Jackson County. Maybe even brighter.
The Salvadoran Civil War ended in 1992, and a fledgling democracy has taken root. Just last month, the candidate of the leftist FMLN party – which formed from the band of interests that sparked the civil war – beat the conservative Arena Party’s candidate in the presidential election. Although a bitter defeat for some, the election signals democracy’s deepening roots.

Against El Salvador’s stabilizing social backdrop, nonprofit organizations like FUNDASALVA are changing lives. Through day treatment, residential rehabilitation, public education and university research programs, FUNDASALVA – in partnership with the El Salvador, U.S. and other Central American governments – is helping thousands of people in a country constrained by rigid class boundaries.

FUNDASALVA is no accident. Jaime Hill founded the organization more than 20 years ago to help addicts improve themselves. Today, under the capable leadership of Board Chair Mathias Regalado, FUNDASALVA continues transforming lives.

Mathias is a man of influence and affluence, and his family owns one of El Salvador’s most successful companies. They could easily turn blind eyes to their nation’s social problems, but that’s not their style.

They represent a new breed of philanthropist that’s emerging around the world. Mathias and Jaime are rolling up their sleeves and using their positions to lead social change they believe will improve their country and its people. They donate time, lend expertise and give money, having both made major gifts to a new day treatment center campaign that has raised more than $1 million since 2007.

Whether you celebrate Easter or simply like springtime, the story packs all the elements of the season:  A dark past, a period of new birth, the prospect of a brighter future.

More than that, though, it reminds us of the importance of using our gifts to help others. Mathias and Jaime understand the phrase “to whom much is given, much is expected,” and it’s a good reminder for us all.

Gracias, Mathia. Feliz Pascua.

> Matt Beem Bio