Voices Developments

2014 Annual Report and 2015 Priorities

Last year was a very productive year for Voices on the Border, empowering communities and organizations in El Salvador to achieve their priorities and goals. Voices Grassroots Resource Center has struck an important balance between building local capacity and ensuring our Salvadoran partners have access to information and analysis about issues that affect them. Along with our small grants program, these activities make a real difference!

But Voices’ goal is that at the end of the day the communities and organizations we work with sit back and say “look what we did!” 2014 Annual Report

I invite you to take a few minutes and flip through our 2014 Annual Report/2105 Priorities (click on image to the right) – it details a lot of the successes we have had over the past year and what we have planned for this year.

If you like what we’re up to, please click on the Donate Now Button at the top of the column on the right. Everything we do is because people like you still believe peace and justice is possible in El Salvador.

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Voices Developments

Colomoncagua to CSM – Former Refugees Celebrate 25 Years Since Repatriation

Last Sunday, November16, 2014, the 12 Northern Morazán communities that comprise Ciudad Segundo Montes (CSM) celebrated the 25th Anniversary of their repatriation from a refugee camp in Colomoncagua, Honduras where they lived for 10 years. They left El Salvador in 1980 to escape civil war and extreme repression from the Salvadoran military. Their November 1989 return coincided with the FMLN’s final offensive, the assassination of 6 Jesuit priests at the University of Central America, and the beginning of the end of a long, brutal civil war.

Though the main celebration took place on Sunday, residents of CSM held activities for more than two weeks beforehand. During the day local organizations such as the Pastoral Team at the San Luis Temple held historical memory events and in the evenings other groups organized dances and events that featured traditional folk music and other local artists.

(Here is a slideshow from Sunday’s event – photos taken by Ebony Pleasants)

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Residents of CSM have been in high spirits all year, preparing for the celebrations and reflecting on all that they have accomplished over the past 25 years. When the refugees arrived in the Colomoncagua camp, they were poor and persecuted. Illiteracy rate was extremely high and people had nothing. Despite almost complete isolation and little support from foreign aid organizations, the refugees did more than survive – they thrived. They created an exemplary community based on cooperation, solidarity, and the common good. Refugees grew and made all of their food, made clothes and shoes, and took care of all of their basic needs.

When they repatriated their adult-literacy rate was 85%, 100% of children were in school, and people were empowered with a sense of community and liberation. In 1989 and 1990 the new communities in Northern Morazán were challenged with starting over. They have faced significant barriers over the past 25 years, but each community now has its own primary school and the region shares two technical high schools, two libraries, a youth center, and a community radio and television station. Currently 60 youth have scholarships to attend university. The local economy isn’t great, but it’s stronger than other rural communities in El Salvador. CSM also has a vibrant civil society, several strong youth organizations, museums, and crime rates remain relatively low. There is still work to do but people are proud of all that the have accomplished.

On Sunday morning, members of the Pastoral Team arrived early at the Temple in San Luis to clean and decorate the grounds, and prepare 1500 tamales and large vats of coffee and hot chocolate. The festivities began at 2 pm when 150 students from 10 escuelitas de fe (faith schools) marched from the Segundo Montes monument in San Luis to the Temple. The afternoon celebration was elaborate and included youth reading poems they’d written; interactive, community-building activities; and first communions. Father Miguel Ventura, who has been part of the liberation movement in Northern Morazán for more than 40 years, gave a stirring talk that covered much of the region’s history and recounted stories of hardship overcome by community, cooperation, and solidarity.

At 5 pm, people from all over Morazán as well as visitors from San Salvador and the international community gathered up the hill from San Luis for a candlelight procession to the Temple, where they joined the celebration. As people walked they chanted “Que Viva la Comunidad Segundo Montes, Que Vive!” People joined the procession as it made its way to the Temple, swelling to a group of more than 500 people.

Among the participants were a two hundred people from the Lower Lempa region of Usulután. In the early 1990s, as refugees repatriated and leftist militants demilitarized, many moved to the Lower Lempa to establish new communities along the coast on El Salvador’s most fertile agricultural land. Most families in the Lower Lempa have parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters and childhood friends in the Morazán, and they often gather to celebrate their common history. Sunday was no exception.

When the procession arrived at the Temple, the celebration turned into a vigil for the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter who were assassinated 25 years ago at the University of Central America (UCA). Father Segundo Montes, who was one of the Jesuit martyrs, had been an important advocate for the refugees in Colomoncagua. In the months leading up to the first wave of repatriation (there were four waves from November 1989 to March 1990), he visited the Colomoncagua camp on several occasions to negotiate their return with the Salvadoran and Honduran governments, and the United Nations. Father Segundo Montes’ encouragement and presence in the camps were what convinced the refugees that it was time to return.

Don Lorenzo, a community leader in San Luis, participated in the first wave of refugees to repatriate. He says the refugees didn’t learn about the UCA massacre and the loss of Father Segundo Montes until after they crossed back into El Salvador. It took several months to repatriate all 10,000 refugees, but by March 1990 they were all home. On March 25, 1990 the communities held an Inauguration Day Celebration in which they named their group of resettled communities Ciudad Segundo Montes.

IMAG0005Here is a translation of an Inauguration Day speech given by community representative, Juan Jose Rodriguez. The speech is an important accounting of the history of the refugees, as well as a vision for their future. The speech was given almost two years before the January 1992 Peace Accords ended El Salvador’s civil war, and reflects the hostile environment they came home to. This is just one of many documents from Voices’ archives that we are digitizing and sharing with the CSM.

For the past year, Voices field volunteer Ebony has been living in CSM and helping the Pastoral Team implement a historical memory project. Over the years, many outsiders have collected testimonies and written good accounts and even books about Colomoncagua and CSM, but the communities have never written their own history. The first phase of the historical memory project was to build the skills needed to take on such a large, complex initiative. Members of the Pastoral Team participated in numerous workshops to learn how to conduct interviews, and provide support for people who were recounting tragic events, some for the first time. They also learned how to organize information and materials, given oral presentations, and much more.

After the workshops, members of the Pastoral Team spent months conducting interviews, collecting documents and artifacts, and organizing their materials. Community members led this entire process, with no outside interference or influence. This is important because the target audience for the book, video, library, and other products are the future generations of Morazán. The generations that suffered extreme repression before the war, lived liberation theology, organized themselves in a refugee camp, and established a new kind of community want their children, grandchildren and future generations to know their story – much of which remains untold. Though the Pastoral Team is not finished with the historical memory project, they put together a powerful exhibit of their work to date. They presented photographs, testimonies, and materials they have collected over the past year.

The celebration on Sunday went well past 11 pm. There were speeches, hymns, live music, stories, and even a baptism. After the last songs were over, speeches concluded, and the 1500 tamales and vats of coffee and chocolate consumed, the celebration came to a close. Members of the Pastoral Team agreed that it was a great success.

Like the historical memory project, the 25th Anniversary Celebration of repatriation was more than looking back. It was an opportunity for people who experienced the worst kids of repression and hardship to assess how much they have accomplished and all that they now have. Perhaps most importantly it was an opportunity to give future generations a since of identity and root them in an ongoing struggle for social justice and liberation.

Voices on the Border is forever grateful for the ongoing support of our friends at St. Peters Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC for their ongoing support. Their friendship and financial support over the years has allowed Voices on the Border to maintain a constant presence in Northern Morazán, and fund numerous activities such as the Pastoral Team’s historical Memory project. It is impossible to quantify the impact that St. Peters has had in the region, or fully express our gratitude.

Voices Developments

Voices’ Fall 2014 Newsletter (Eng & Spa)

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.

Voices Newsletter Sept. 2014 (spa)Vocies Newsletter Sept. 2014 (Eng)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Enjoy!

Voices Developments

Ciudad Segundo Montes Celebrates 24 Years

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.

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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!!!

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violence, Voices Developments

Salvadoran Youth: Gangs and Immigration are only Part of the Story

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.

Jose, a member of OSMIJ discussing the significance of the colors in the Kakawira flag
Jose, a member of OSMIJ discussing the significance of the colors in the Kakawira flag

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.

Sulma, a member of OSCA, during a planning workshop
Sulma, a member of OSCA, during a planning workshop

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 voices@votb.org.

Voices Developments

La Voz – Voices on the Border Winter 2012 Newsletter

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:

Winter_Newsletter_2012Also, 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.

You can click here to get to our Network for Good page and make an online donation – its easy and secure, and your funds will be used to directly empower our partners in Northern Morazan and the Lower Lempa region of Usulutan.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Uncategorized, Voices Developments

Matching Grant Opportunity!!! Please Donate Today

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.

Rosie with the Amando Lopez Community Borad
Rosie (Voices’ Field Director) with the Amando Lopez Community Board

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