Voices’ staff just finished up a newsletter reporting on our work and the important issues going on in Ciudad Segundo Montes (CSM) in the Mountains of Morazán, as well as the Bajo Lempa and San Juan del Gozo Peninsula regions in the Bay of Jiquilisco, Usulután.
In addition to information about the 25th Anniversary Celebrations in CSM, and the November Fact-Finding Delegation to the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula, our newsletter provides details on the workshops and trainings we’ve been holding, our small grants program, and the delegations we’ve led so far this year.
One the 18th of November, 1989, the 10,000 people living in the Colomoncagua refugee camp in Honduras began to repatriate to El Salvador (they repatriated in 4 different groups from November 1989 to March 1990). Upon their return, the majority settled in the municipalities of Meanguera and Jocoaitique in Northern Morazán, founding Ciudad Segundo Montes, inspired but the works of Father Segundo Montes, a Jesuit Priest who was assassinated just two days before their return. As late as August 1989, Segundo Montes had been in the camps working with the refugees to negotiate their repatriation, facilitating communication with the United Nations, and Salvadoran and Honduran military.
Last week the Ciudad Segundo Montes commemorated the 24th anniversary of their return. One of the most interesting activities was a conversation about Historical Memory and Youth, an event that allowed the adults to share with local youth their experiences in the refugee camps.
Santos Chicas, one of the participants said, “many of us that today live in Segundo Montes, we are the children that appear in the videos and photos from the camps. [During the event, Voices staff showed a video clip from the return] Under the weight of military repression and poverty, our infancy was happy because it [the refugee camp] was a model of community life, without prejudice and discrimination of any type.” He added, “in the refugee camps we did not have drugs or liquor, nor mobile phones or Internet, nor continuous electricity, but we did not need these things to be happy.”
Betsy Shepard, a member of Voices’ Board of Directors, echoed Santo’s testimony when she recounted her trips to the refugee camps. “Colomoncagua did not fit the usual image of a grim refugee camp, rather it was seen as a model community in the middle of difficulties, and an example of a society that transformed from a group of illiterate campesinos to a community with new capabilities and the ability to confront the powerful in a creative way. These attributes of the community of refugees were key for their survival.
In actuality, after 24 years of hard work, the advances in the development of the community are visible, according to the majority of the population. The have the best library in all of the eastern region, the best high school in Morazán, and 20% of all youth have finished or are in the process of finishing their university degrees. There is no gang presence in the region and youth dedicate their free time to practice sports, or learn dance, theatre, painting or music. There are childcare facilities as well as community centers where older residents receive meals and other services.
When asked what factors made this level of community development possible, Santos Chicas gave a very clear and firm response – “the life in the camps showed us the way.”
With the renewed interest in preserving the communities history, we at Voices have begun going through our archives. Poco a poco, we are digitizing the tens of thousands of documents, photographs, posters, and materials that we have from our work in the camps and the early years in Segundo Montes. During last week’s celebration, for example, we showed a video of the November 1989 repatriation that one of our early delegations shot (we’ll post that on the blog after we clean it up a little more). For now, here is a small sample of the thousands of slides we are scanning in for our friends in Morazán. There is much more to come!!!
Media coverage about youth in El Salvador often presents a pretty bleak picture. Youth, especially males, are portrayed as either belonging to the gangs alleged to be responsible for the country’s violence and insecurity, or as migrants leaving in droves for the United States.
Right now the media in El Salvador is focusing heavily on the gang truce and the assassination of Giovanni Morales, a 33 year-old rehabilitated gang member who worked with Padre Toño in Mejicanos, a Spanish priest who has been working with youth involved in gangs. Media has also been talking a lot about the growing link between MS-13 and the Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel.
These are very important issues that affect all Salvadorans, but focusing only on the violence or immigration presents a very skewed reality of Salvadoran youth.
According to the CIA Factbook, there are 1.27 million youth in El Salvador between the ages of 15 and 24, and there are approximately 15,000 to 20,000 Salvadoran gang members. Even if all those involved in gangs fall between the ages of 15 and 24, they would still only account for between 1.2 and 1.6% of that demographic.Similarly, if El Salvador’s net rate of migration (-8.78 migrants/1,000 population) holds for those between the ages of 15-24, a total of 11,150 youth would have left the country in 2012. If these numbers are considered accurate, there are approximately 1.24 million youth who are neither involved in gangs nor migrating.
That does not mean that gangs and migration are not issues for these 1.24 million youth. It means that a lot of youth are making the most of being in El Salvador and finding more productive ways to channel their energy and talent.
For instance, in Northern Morazán, where Voices on the Border has worked since 1987, there is network of well-organized youth groups that are trying hard to improve conditions in their communities.
These groups, which are all non-profit and not affiliated with any political party, are comprised of youth between the ages of 13 and 30, with an equal ratio of male and female members. Most of the youth come from families with extremely limited economic resources, yet they share many commonalities with their peer age group from around the world. When possible, they like to attend school, play soccer, and hang out at the cyber (internet) café where they check Facebook and chat with friends. Most aspire to find work that will allow them to stay in their own communities. Some want to be artists, others want to be psychologists or doctors, and a few want to maintain their ancestral ties by farming like their parents and grandparents.
In Cacaopera, a rural indigenous community in the mountains of Morazán, youth formed the Youth Mission Social Organizations (OSMIJ, in Spanish). The 40 members of OSMIJ strive for integration and development within Cacaopera through community service. They are engaged in a variety of activities related to local, economic, social, and political issues. Last month, for example, the OSMIJ held a workshop for all youth in Morazán to discuss their rights under the Salvadoran Law on Youth. In February they also set up an obstacle course in Cacaopera and held a well-attended community race, providing an opportunity for all ages to have well-deserved fun.
Members of OSMIJ recently gave Voices and a delegation from Georgetown University a tour of the community and a local indigenous museum. A 13 year-old member of OSMIJ named Ah tzict Amaya Martinez was our guide through the museum. With the confidence and knowledge of someone three times his age, Ah tzict spoke in depth about the community’s indigenous history, culture, and religious traditions. His knowledge of the native, and virtually extinct, language, Kakawira, was a testament to his dedication and intimate connection to his heritage. Many other youth in OSMIJ share his passion and commitment.
In Ciudad Segundo Montes, also in Northern Morazán, youth have formed the Open House of Segundo Montes (OSCA, in Spanish) to promote youth leadership, development, sports, and culture. They offer a wide variety of workshops and trainings on an array of topics that impact local youth. During the municipal elections in 2012, OSCA hosted a series of debates between the mayoral candidates in Cacaopera, Jocoaitique, and Meanguera. The debates were well attended and offered an opportunity for youth to voice their priorities and concerns.
OSMIJ and OSCA both operate with almost no financial support from outside their community. They raise a little money from local organizations and residents, and often reach into their own often-empty pockets to fund activities. The lack of money has never prevented either organization from having a clear vision of what they want for their community and organizing activities to achieve that vision. In just a few years OSMIJ has become an important player in Cacaopera’s development.
These are just two of the many strong youth groups in Morazán, which is one of the poorest of El Salvador’s 14 departments and one of the most affected by the civil war. The region’s residents struggle with immigration, machismo, and many other issues, but the members of OSMIJ, OSCA, and other organizations are an inspiring example of how some Salvadoran youth are responding to their economic and social conditions.
It is important to understand and discuss gang violence and immigration in El Salvador – they are very serious issues. But these issues should not define all Salvadoran youth or overshadow the important role that groups like OSMIJ and OSCA play in their communities.
We at Voices on the Border have partnered with members of OSCA, OSMIJ, and other groups in Morazán on a number of activities in recent years, and have several activities planned for the coming year. If you’d like to support or be involved in these activities, please contact us at email@example.com.
As we close out 2012, we thought we’d provide one more update on our efforts to promote just and sustainable development in El Salvador. In addition to news from our partner communities in Morazan and Usulutan, we have some other exciting developments to announce.
One such development (detailed inside the newsletter), is that after 6 years, Rosie Ramsey is leaving Voices – she has some great things happening in her life and we are grateful for her years of service and friendship. We are pleased to announce that Jose Acosta will be taking over the field director position and implementing our new Grassroots Resource Center in the new year.
Here’s a link to our Winter Newsletter:
Also, thank you for your great response to the Matching Grant Opportunity, but we still need to raise $3000 between now and the end of the year.
Reality: it’s easier to raise money during emergencies (like floods and droughts) when the damage already is done.
Reality: It’s much more difficult to raise money between emergencies when preventative measures can be taken to mitigate damage.
Your support during past emergencies has helped Voices on the Border provide aid in shelters and assist with recovery efforts. But it’s what we (you and I) do between emergencies that has the greatest impact.
Everyday we work side-by-side with communities in Morazán and Usulután to mitigate the risks of disaster. As climate change results in even more extreme weather, these efforts become more and more important.
Mitigating risks, however, is not just making sure the local rescue squad is trained and equipped – we have done that. It is also ensuring that our community partners are able to achieve economic sustainability and preserve their natural resources so that people are more resilient and extreme weather has less of an impact.
After a lot of dialogue about how we can best serve our partner communities in Usulután and Morazán achieve their goals of achieving economic sustainability and protecting their natural resources, we decided to re-focus our efforts on building local capacity.
In January 2013, Voices will launch a Grassroots Resource Center that will help empower our community partners to achieve economic sustainability and better protect their natural resources. We will do so by implementing two programs – a Civil Society Training Center and a Research Institute.
The Training Center will offer local leaders workshops and other opportunities to local leaders to increase their capacity in strategic planning, project management, and others. We will also provide workshops on land use, public health, education, and sustainable agricultural.
The Research Institute will gather and disseminate information and analysis about issues that impact economic sustainability and mitigating risks associated with climate change and other issues. The information will allow citizens and local leaders to have a stronger voice in the policy decisions that affect them.
With your support, Voices has been engaged in this kind of empowerment for over 20 years. But as free trade agreements, tourism, and aid programs like the Millennium Challenge Corporation create new barriers to economic sustainability and threaten natural resources, we have to be more efficient in our response.
To launch the Resource Center in January, we need to raise $12,000 by December 31st. We have a generous donor willing to match donations up to $6,000, meaning that if you donate $100 today, we receive $200.
It’s just a matter of time before our partners experience more extreme weather. Your contribution today will help us ensure that it does not become another tragedy.
So please click on the Donate Button at the top of the page and contribute to Voices’ important work! Thank you and Happy Holidays
Over the past few months, we (the Voices staff) have focused most of our energies on programs and activities in our Salvadoran partner communities in Morazan and the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan. That focus has meant that we haven’t had as much time to post articles and updates on this blog as frequently as we have in the past.
To fill you in on our activities and progress, we put together a Summer Newsletter that includes some of the analysis of national issues we would normally post here. Some of the highlights include:
– An update on the Amando Lopez Forest Project and our work to scale that project up to surrounding communities;
– Elections in Comunidad Octavio Ortiz;
– Voices volunteers in 2012;
– Nueva Esperanza Five Months After the Floods;
– The CSM Youth participation in an Inter-Departmental Exchange;
– Standford University’s Delegations to Morazan;
– An Update on the Mining Issue;
– A Preview of the 2014 Elections;
– The Truce Between the Gangs; and
– An Update on the MCC and Partnership for Growth.
Even if you are not familiar with our work in Morazan and Usulutan, the community updates are interesting for getting an on-the-ground perspective about how larger national and international issues play out at the local level.
The Amando Lopez Forest Project is an example of a small, rural community struggling with the growing impacts of climate change. Their environment is changing and preserving the forest is one way they are trying to deal with this global reality. Amando Lopez is also a story about a community’s efforts to grow and survive in a globalized economy.
The Partnership for Growth and MCC are equally as interesting. Few North Americans have even heard of these U.S. “aid” programs, even in the context of other countries. In Morazan and the Lower Lempa, however, they are the topic of many conversations as people try to understand what they are and how they will impact their communities.
I hope you take a moment to read through the Newsletter. If you have any comments or thoughts, we’d love to hear them.
And of course we depend on your support to maintain this blog and continue our work with out partners in Morazan and the Lower Lempa. To ensure these programs continue, please click on the Donate Now button at the top of the page and consider signing up for a $25/month donation. It is easy and will go a long way to ensuring our partners continue to develop the skills and capacity necessary to face these global issues.
Last Friday, we posted information about the South Bay Sanctuary Covenant fundraising event being hosted in Palo Alto, CA. It had a great showing from the local community, and Mark Reedy, the President of our Board of Directors was there to report back to the rest of the Voices’ communities about the event. Here’s what he said-
“Ninety-nine people came to our spring fundraising event– one of our largest groups ever! This event featured a presentation and slide show of the March 2011 delegation to El Salvador, a pupusa and enchilada dinner, Latin American music and fair trade crafts sale. The delegates were ten Stanford University students enrolled in a liberation theology and human rights class, the two Stanford campus ministers who taught the course and nine members of South Bay Sanctuary Covenant (SBSC). The Rev. Amy Morgenstern of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, a member church of SBSC, served as the emcee. The Rev. Greg Schaefer of the University Church, another member church, provided a reflection from words spoken by Archbishop Romero.
The program began with the delegation presentation accompanied by a slide show. Each of the delegates spoke about some part of the delegation itinerary or reflected about an experience during the trip that had touched them deeply. There were many highlights of the presentation, including participating in a candlelight procession marking the 31st anniversary of Romero’s assassination, learning about the anti-mining movement and struggle against corruption and impunity in Cabañas, and staying in the SBSC partner community of Comunidad Octavio Ortiz (C.O.O.).
Attendees enjoyed the flute, drum and guitar music of Peruvian-born Nayo Ulloa, as well as participating in singing the popular Salvadoran song “Sombrero Azul.” Near the close of the program, Geoff Browning, one of the Stanford campus ministers and delegation leaders, expressed gratitude to SBSC for inviting the Stanford students and ministers to participate in both the 2010 and 2011 delegations. As a result, they participated in a powerful bicultural and intergenerational experience of solidarity through interactions with Salvadoran community members as well as older SBSC delegates. He gave special thanks to Arlene Schaupp for her leadership and the hope and inspiration she has provided to so many in SBSC’s work of solidarity with the people of C.O.O. and El Salvador over 28 years.
The proceeds from the event will support several projects and causes, including a project to preserve and promote local Salvadoran culture in communities in the Bajo Lempa region, salary support for both Voices’ staff and Bajo Lempa health promoters, and emergency security measures for the staff of Radio Victoria in Cabañas, who have been receiving death threats for courageously speaking out against impunity and corruption.”