education, Public Health, Voices Developments, Womens issues, Youth Development

Our Note on the COVID19 Situation El Salvador

Download the PDF letter

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March 19, 2020

Dear Friend,

El Salvador, like many countries around the world, is reeling from the effects of COVID19. To clamp down on the spread of the virus, on March 15th, the government declared a state of emergency and approved a partial suspension of constitutional rights. What does that look like?

  • Foreigners are prohibited from entering the country by land, air or sea. All who enter illegally or legally are subject to a mandatory quarantine in a government run facility.
  • All educational activities are suspended, private and public.
  • Crowd sizes exceeding fifty people, such as concerts or sporting events are canceled.
  • All bars, cafes and discos are closed; restaurants can only offer delivery or take out.
  • Trade will continue normally. Commercial activities will remain unchanged, including imports and exports, under the proper sanitary control at customs.
  • People are told to shelter in place and only venture out if truly necessary.

On March 18th, El Salvador registered it’s first single confirmed case of the virus, from a Salvadoran returning from Italy, who defied the barrier the President put in place around the perimeter of the country. Because of citizen denouncements, he was picked up and tested positive for the virus and subsequently the entire municipality of Metapan, in the department of Santa Ana has been cordoned off for the next 48 hours in an effort to find his line of infection.

Impacts on the Salvadoran Society
The majority of the population has reacted with panic, no matter how many calls for calm are made. Supermarkets are crowded and supplies are beginning to become scarce, partly because there is hoarding and price inflations. For example in some places bottled water is selling for three times its normal price.

Bukele has said that the department of labor will do what it can to make sure employers and workers are economically supported during the quarantine, but every hour labor abuses are being called out via social media of workers being indiscriminately laid, off, mistreated or made to work when they aren’t supposed to.
The sectors most economically impacted by this national quarantine are the service industry, domestic workers, day laborers, street vendors, factory and sweatshop workers. Also affected are those Salvadoran families who already live in El Salvador’s precarious situation of water shortage. For young girls and women who face abuse at home, the situation of isolation becomes even more serious. It encourages victim control and greater submission of the victim.

Impacts on VOICES’ work
VOICES, like other NGOs, is having to adapt to these measures. For example, this situation forced us to cancel the annual South Bay Sanctuary Covenant delegation this March, as well as suspend the special delegation of teachers from Amando López to the United States in April.
Likewise, the SBSC fundraising event scheduled for April 26 in California, at which our director was to speak, was canceled.

Also with the suspension of classes the reproduction phase of the ECHO project workshops in Morazán is on hold; likewise, some community activities, workshops and meetings.

It’s safe to say that human rights don’t simply go away because of a national quarantine, and neither will VOICES’ commitment to accompanying our local partners as best as we can. As an organization, VOICES’ staff are adhering to the rules put in place by working from home.
This involves catching up on programming materials and fine tuning our evaluation frameworks, but we are also finding other ways to support our partners in the following ways:

Women’s Network of Morazán (9 municipalities served)
– Providing 15 canasta basicas for the Network’s most vulnerable members and their families.

Amando Lopez grade school (9 communities served)
– While some students may enjoy the meal provided by the school, other families may see it as a lifeline. The school’s staff compiled a list of 88 students who are most at risk from malnutrition and we will work with them to find the best way to help feed these kids during the quarantine.

Youth Development Association of Morazán (3 communities served)
– This inspiring youth group has had to cancel all of their programming including their special activities, community events, workshops and schools like their school of nutrition, which not only serves as a means to teach recipes, but also supports families’ ability to practice food sovereignty through the family farms component. We will work with AJUDEM to ensure that those most affected will have access to plants, seeds and compost to keep their farms growing.

El Salvador is a resilient country full of ingenuity and as long as we continue to practice true solidarity, we will all be able to come out of this pandemic with heads high and the prospect for a brighter more sustainable future.

Atentamente,
The VOICES Team

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Womens issues, education, Capacity Building

Maria’s Dream to Teach

Meet Maria, 

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Maria is a popular education teacher in the Amando Lopez community grade school who VOICES is committed to supporting this year, by providing her with the living wage that she is not entitled to by the Ministry of Education because she lacks certain academic credentials.

Maria teaches Science, Health, Environment, Literature, Arts and Physical Education classes to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

Maria’s days begin early.

She wakes up at 4AM to clean her home, wash dishes and prepare breakfast for her husband and 4 year old daughter Hazel. After she drops Hazel off at Preschool, she begins her own school day. At noon, she picks up Hazel and goes home to prepare lunch, rest in her hammock and if she’s not called on to be a substitute teacher for the afternoon session, she prepares for the following day of classes. At the end of the day she washes clothes and prepares dinner for everyone before going to bed around 10pm.

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Maria is no stranger to hard work.

“I’ll always remember the summer before 9th grade, when my father told me that I wouldn’t be able to study because it was time for my younger siblings to start school. I felt really sad. I told him that I would pay my own way. That was the day I began working mornings with my brothers and father in the sugarcane fields. When we were done, I would run home as fast I could to wash up and get ready for my afternoon classes. After school I worked on my aunt’s chicken farm. That is how I put myself through high school.”

Increasing the quality of education in our partner communities continues to be of importance to VOICES. In recent years, we have supplemented teachers’ salaries, provided school transportation, covered operational expenses, provided small scholarships for high school students and continuing education courses for teachers.

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Last year, VOICES’ board members were so impressed by Maria’s commitment to teach that we were compelled to make a commitment of our own. Since Maria doesn’t officially show up on the school’s roster, they can only pay her $100 per month.

Maria’s goal is to get her teacher’s license through a distance learning program offered by the National University of El Salvador (UES). Supplementing Maria’s salary will allow her to support her family, afford the costs involved in her coursework and assure a brighter future.

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Visit http://www.votb.org/donate to help make Maria’s dream a reality.

* Popular education is a people-oriented and people-guided approach to education that creates a horizontal transmission of knowledge from a teacher to students by adapting to participants and their context. LEARN MORE
Capacity Building, women & girls, Womens issues

Self-Defense for Morazán Women

Watch the Morazán Women’s Network take their first course on self-defense.

This special workshop was giving by Claudia Fuentes, a Salvadoran martial artist who has developed a self-defense program with a feminist approach especially for women and girls in El Salvador.

women & girls, Womens issues

Community Action Protocol: Step by Step Guides

The Women’s Network of Morazán continue to develop their community Action Protocol to address the very real problem of gender violence in the department. This month they began working on an important section, the actual step by step guides that different actors should follow in order to ensure the safety, justice and healing for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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Advocacy, annual report, education, Environment, Food Security, News Highlights, Voices Developments, Womens issues, Youth Development

Celebrating 30 years of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador – 2016 Annual Report

2016 was a dynamic year for Voices. We said goodbye to old friends and opened the door to new ones. We began an extensive education revitalization project in Bajo Lempa, started supporting women’s empowerment in Morazán and even joined in on environmental justice protests in the capital San Salvador.

This year is even more special because we turn 30! Since our inception in the refugee camps until now, we have never deserted our communities and are committed to being a critical source of support for them now, and in the future.

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Read our report to find out what our partners have been up to, the large scales issues they are facing and how Voices has been working hard in collaboration with leaders to find solutions to issues and pathways to accomplishing goals.

Advocacy, Womens issues

Las 17: Women Convicted of Murder for Having a Miscarriage

The application of El Salvador’s complete ban on abortion is among the most draconian in the world.

One thing that makes it so barbaric is that women who miscarry can be convicted of murder and be sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison. Right now there are at least 15 women (called Las 17) living in El Salvador’s notoriously over-crowded, violent prisons just for having a miscarriage.

Approximately one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, so in El Salvador every woman who gets pregnant is at risk of ending up in jail.

Actually, its not every woman – those who can afford it go to private hospitals and clinics where they receive proper care (including abortions) and privacy. Poor women, however, must rely on the public hospitals and clinics where they may receive good care, or be treated as criminals.

In recent months, the case of Carmen Guadelupe Vasquez has gotten some international attention. After a long battle, advocates secured her release after she miscarried and was convicted for murder. Guadelupe served more than 7 years of her 30-year sentance. Guadelupe’s is not an uncommon story. At the age of 18 she was working as a maid for a family in San Salvador. The family’s neighbor raped Guadelupe and she became pregnant. She miscarried and sought care at a public hospital where a nurse or doctor called the police. Guadelupe was arrested and handcuffed to her bed.

The Salvadoran Supreme Court recently recommended to the Legislative Assembly that Guadelupe be pardoned due to the manner in which the courts handled her case. It took the Legislative Assembly two votes but in January 2015 they finally voted to release her.

One incredible aspect of these cases is how easy it is to convict women accused of violating the abortion ban or homicide. The impunity rate for violent crimes against woman (including rape and murder) is between 95 and 97%. That means if a man rapes or kills a woman, he’s got a good chance of getting away with it. Prosecutors and judges, however, have no problem convicting women for having a miscarriage, and basing that conviction on little or no evidence.

Last year National Public Radio did a story on Christina Quintanilla who was convicted for murder after having a miscarriage. Her conviction was over-turned when an attorney argued that her original conviction was not based on any evidence.

At least fifteen women remain incarcerated for murder after having a miscarriage. While advocates like Morena Horrera of the Feminist Collective and Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion celebrate Guadelupe’s recent release, they continue to seek justice for the others. Advocates have petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of all 15 women. The court has denied six of these petitions and has yet to decide on the other nine. Advocates have asked the United Nations and other international agencies to intervene.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently circulating a petition asking that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intervene on behalf of Las 17 – please go to their site and sign the petition… and stay informed – El Salvador won’t be repealing the abortion law anytime soon, and more women are likely to be convicted.