The Voices on the Border staff and board met last weekend to create a strategic plan for the next five years. In order to assess the future direction of the organization, our field director, Rosie, who mainly works in communities in the Lower Lempa, and our volunteer working in Morazán, Julie, updated us on some of the most current situations in the communities where Voices has a presence. Below are some of the highlights of their updates.
Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (Lower Lempa)
New elections are coming up soon for C.O.O. as the current community board expires this month. The leader from the last two years, Javier, has been quite successful, working with many aid organizations in the area and building new relationships, including some with corporate developers in the area. While some of these corporate investors have worked with the community to assess their needs and donated money towards improving health care and infrastructure in C.O.O., they also may not always represent the interests of the general population of the community.
Ciudad Romero (Lower Lempa)
Ciudad Romero is under the direction of a new community board. They have been successful in constructing a new flood shelter, a significant achievement. However, one of their most difficult hurdles to overcome is the lack of community involvement and participation in decision-making, as well as the lack of structure that would allow the local population to participate. Large aid organizations in the area usually take control of local projects with little or no involvement from the community. A goal for the community should be the coordination of aid organizations and community leaders to create a more diversified basis of cooperation.
Salinas del Potrero (Lower Lempa)
Salinas is about the same size as Ciudad Romero, with about 220 families. The two communities are different though because Salinas is divided between the 11 shrimping and agriculture cooperatives. For this reason, it has been difficult over the years to maintain a united community board since the organizational structure usually remains within each cooperative. Over the last few months, the current board has had some success coordinating the different sectors to construct a flood shelter in La Hermita. There are also plans underway to create a representative structure to coordinate future projects. Participating members are calling themselves the ‘Committee for Local Development’ and their successes include negotiating with local pick-up drivers to lower fares. Voices supports their initiative, but is hopeful that community members will elect a more representative and dedicated community board in 2010.
United Communities (ACUDESBAL)
United Communities is a local organization that has grown to be the predominant force for development and coordination in the Lower Lempa and in other communities throughout the country. There are 4 major projects in which they are currently executing with other organizations such as Horizons of Friendship (HOF), the Swedish Cooperation Center (SCC), the Inter-American Foundation of El Salvador (FIAES), and Christian Aid. There are also some smaller or more intermediary projects.
Voices remains United Communities’ most reliable partner in advocacy initiatives, and these initiatives show much promise. Members of the National Movement of Communities Affected by Flooding (led by ACUDESBAL) will be meeting with Hugo Flores, the new vice minister of agriculture in the coming week.
United Communities is still learning how to successfully carry out project administration and monitoring, and in the future should be insuring the openness of committee nominations. It will be important for Voices to continue to play a strong role in constructional criticism and support to United Communities throughout the process of their organizational development.
Ciudad Segundo Montes (Morazán)
Voices volunteer, Julie, has been living in Ciudad Segundo Montes since November of last year, and has volunteered with a number of different organizations and community activities in the area to best determine what the most immediate needs are in this area and look for initiatives for future development and community organization.
She has been participating in meetings and assisting programs with the local Pastoral Team, ALGES (organization for war veterans), FECANM (a group of cooperatives with a separate sector for youth), local schools, and other youth programs.
Julie has witnessed several exciting developments during her time in Morazan, and has been grateful to be a part of the communities in which she has been volunteering. She began her volunteer work living with a host family in Hatos I and now lives in San Luis. These are some updates on some of the aspects of life in CSM.
While the majority of the people in the communities are Catholic, other religions are accepted in the area. The Pastoral Team welcomed three international delegations recently. They have also begun raising funds to repair the leaky roof of their church in San Luis. This group is made up of mostly church elders. There are at least two prominent Catholic leaders in the area, Miguel Ventura and Rogelio Ponseeles. However, they do not work together as they could. This is partly due to Ventura’s failure to keep his priestly vows. More projects may have the chance of being successful if these leaders would collaborate more in the future despite their differences, encouraging more people in the community to coordinate efforts as well.
Unidad de Salud, ASPS, and Alianza are just a few of the organizations working to improve health care in CSM.
There are elderly centers in Hatos I and San Luis where elderly community members can have access to meals and rehab services. ManComunidad also works with a Spanish organization to provide the elderly with care baskets.
In El Salvador, water contamination is a serious problem. CSM’s water was tested in July and found to be uncontaminated at this time.
One of the most serious health problems that Julie has encountered in CSM is alcoholism. There are daily AA meetings for support, but this continues to be an issue in this area.
Farming in CSM is very important, especially as a source of staple food items for families. There are also many micro-businesses such as convenient stores, carpentry, metal workshops, and small restaurants.
Remittances are a large part of the economy in CSM, though it is difficult to determine their impact at times. Some families may receive regular monthly payments, while others rarely get money from relatives abroad. Also, payments vary in amount both from month to month and from household to household.
The mayor of the municipality of Meanguera holds regular workshops with big businesses carrying out projects in CSM. The goal is to create jobs for local community members instead of outsiders.
Julie has been teaching weekly flute classes to local youth throughout her time in CSM. The girls have been learning rhythm, music notation, and various songs. They are hoping to collaborate with the boys’ guitar class to play at religious celebrations in the future. She is hoping to find someone to continue her work with the youth when she leaves at the end of this year.
Education and Youth
The majority of children in CSM have access to and attend school. There are some that do not attend because of personal choice. High school classes are also offered on Sundays in San Luis for those who work. This is provided through a program created by the Ministry of Education.
Though education is free through high school, transportation and school supplies are not free, and since internet is needed for many homework assignments and there is no access at school, many students must pay at local cibers to complete assignments.
There are various scholarship programs in the communities for college students. Only about 20% of college graduates attend college from CSM. Of those who do not attend, about 40% go to the United States to find jobs. The remaining 40% usually tries to find jobs in the cities.
There is a new youth organization in CSM created by a group of university students. The group, Organización Social Casa Abierta (OSCA), hopes to create education, sports, history and culture programs to enrich and engage local youth. Julie has been supporting them in their initial organizational efforts and setting the foundation for a relationship between the organization and Voices.
National Issues in a Local Setting
CSM can be seen as a microcosm for some of the most serious national issues in El Salvador. From the high dependence on remittances and high rates of migration to political and social divisions that inhibit sustainable development, there are many problems to be overcome in the next few years.
Voices has been fortunate to have Julie volunteering in this area this year. The organization has a rich history in this area, and hopes to reengage its efforts in the next few years and be a part of the community development process.