Over the past few months, as part of our Environmental Education Program in the Bajo Lempa, VOICES along with the help of Marco Antonio González, a professional in Biotechnology, held a series of training workshops. These workshops covered important public health topics, like this one on Solid Waste Management facilitated for the Amando Lopez community. The participants are leaders, many of them young, and they are now tasked with educating their friends, their families, and visitors to the community on the topics they’ve learned.
Educación Ambiental en el Bajo Lempa
Durante los últimos meses, como parte de nuestro Programa de Educación Ambiental en el Bajo Lempa, VOCES realizó una serie de talleres, con la ayuda de Marco Antonio González, Lic. en Ecotecnologia. Los talleres cubrieron importantes temas de salud pública como este último en comunidad Amando Lopez, Gestión de Residuos Sólidos. Estos líderes, muchos jóvenes, ahora tienen la tarea de educar a sus amigos, sus familias y visitantes de la comunidad.
It’s that time of year again for Voices on the Border’s Solidarity Concert!
Last year, we surpassed our fundraising goal of $2,000, and this year we hope to do the same. We will be fundraising to pay the amazing bands that will be performing and to support a Sexual Health Peer Education program run by adolescents and young adults in the rural department of Morazan.
¡Es esa época del año nuevamente para el Concierto Solidario de Voces en la Frontera!
El año pasado, superamos nuestra meta de recaudación de fondos de $2,000 y este año esperamos hacer lo mismo. Recaudaremos fondos para pagar a las increíbles bandas que se presentarán y para apoyar un programa de educación de pares sobre salud sexual dirigido por adolescentes y adultos jóvenes en el departamento rural de Morazán.
Socially speaking, El Salvador was already deteriorating before COVID-19 hit, owing to rising rates of poverty and extreme poverty, the persistence of inequalities and growing social discontent. In this context, the pandemic was to inevitably have a profoundly negative impact on various social sectors, particularly public health and education.
Even before the pandemic, VOICES has been working with rural schools and families in an attempt to radically improve the culture of learning throughout these regions, by identifying and addressing major gaps in educational outcomes. Since the pandemic began, we’ve been supporting initiatives that deploy distance learning modalities through a variety of formats and platforms (both on and off-line), while also supporting the mobilization of education personnel and students and helping these institutions stay equipped with the necessary biomedical resources to ensure the overall well-being of students and their families.
Building a Dignified Learning Environment
Isla de Monte Cristo, Bahia del Jiquilisco
In 1992, the Island of Monte Cristo was resettled by local farmers taking advantage of the postwar land transfer program. Today, the remote community contains acres of fruit trees, a handful of farming families, and hundreds of nesting birds.
Due to years of abandonment by both local and the national government, organizations like VOICES have been approached by local leaders to help them tackle specific issues like their lack of vital resources such as potable water and access to education.
Thanks in part to the generosity of South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, and the efforts of the islanders themselves in managing the logistics, the transportation of materials and the labor, their small school is in the middle of a complete makeover.
Rural Mobile Technology Lab
Centro Escolar Amando Lopez, Bajo Lempa, Usulután
The Mobile Tech Lab began in 2020, in response to the official closure of all Salvadoran educational institutions. Luckily for the kids, the Amando Lopez School staff have always been at the forefront of developing creative initiatives to entice students and keep communities learning.
The Lab is helping bridge the digital divide in the Bajo Lempa, by offering direct technology to students and computer skills to teachers. 112 students are currently taking part in the Lab, by attending in-person or virtual classes in communities Amando Lopez, La Canoa and 14th de Abril. The teaching staff continue to say that their goals are being accomplished through this program, goals such as keeping students and teachers connected, providing students the critical technological tools they need to succeed and strengthening the technical capabilities of the teachers.
It is also important to note that because of the school’s stringent biohealth approach, Amando Lopez has become a model for other institutions who wish to teach kids, during a global pandemic.
Early Childhood Education Improvement
Bajo Lempa Preschools, Usulután
Preschool teachers are critical agents of children’s social and emotional development, which in turn is a key predictor of their current and future academic and social success. Rural pre-schoools in El Salvador however are notorious for being left of the equation when it comes to government funding around paying dignified salaries, operational budgets, building infrastructures, etc.
For VOICES, it is important to support these institutions in their educational proceses by helping to supplement these shortcomings and offering them quality continuing education workshops with pedagogical professionals.
Recently, we worked with five different preschools in the Bajo Lempa to facilitate a series of highly interactive age and developmentally appropriate activities aimed at improving the methodological foundations of their curriculum and internal organizations.
We want to reiterate our gratitude for our dear friends from South Bay Sanctuary Covenant of Northern California, St.John of God Church of San Francisco, the Carlos Rosario International school family in Washington D.C. and generous individuals and families who continue to understand the need for providing quality education in the middle of a pandemic. If it weren’t for each and everyone of you and the dedication and perseverance of our Salvadoran patterns, who knows how many bright young futures would be stifled and lost.
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Con los Acuerdos de Paz, en 1992, se pone fin a la guerra civil y se inicia una nueva etapa en la vida política de El Salvador, caracterizada por la desmilitarización de la sociedad, el surgimiento de nuevas instituciones y el ejercicio de elecciones democráticas.
El sistema democrático salvadoreño adolece de debilidad institucional y persisten comportamientos antidemocráticos en la mayoría actores políticos, pero se ha logrado institucionalizar elecciones de manera periódica. Desde 1992 se han llevado a cabo 13 eventos electorales. 6 para elección de presidente y 7 para elección de diputados y concejos municipales.
En una sociedad democrática, la celebración de elecciones justas, libres, transparentes y competitivas son esenciales para el sano ejercicio del poder y sobre todo para que la decisión de la población, expresada en su voto, se traduzca en servidores públicos electos por mayoría, quienes, durante un periodo de tiempo, efectivamente deberían estar al servicio de la población.
Si bien, las 13 elecciones realizadas han sido en el marco de la legalidad, la celebrada el pasado 28 de febrero tuvo ciertas particularidades; en primer lugar, una desproporcionada campaña electoral, en la cual el partido Nuevas Ideas (partido del presidente Nayib Bukele) concentró más del 70% del gasto en publicidad.
Otra característica fue una exacerbada violencia electoral; al grado que, a pocas semanas de la elección, un grupo de militantes del FMLN fue atacado a balazos luego de participar en un acto partidario en San Salvador, como consecuencia dos activistas murieron y tres resultaron heridos. El ataque fue condenado por varios representantes diplomáticos, entre ellos el encargado de negocios de la embajada de Estados Unidos en El Salvador, Brendan O’Brien. Sin embargo, no fue condenado por el propio presidente, quien en cambio culpó al partido FMLN por llevar a cabo un autoataque.
Adicionalmente, hubo una constante violación a la legislación electoral, especialmente por parte de funcionarios del más alto nivel del gobierno y del mismo presidente de la república, así como la utilización de abundantes recursos públicos para fines electorales.
Estos factores representaron ventajas antidemocráticas para Nuevas Ideas; quienes, como era de esperar, ganaron las elecciones, y no solo porque llevaron a cabo una campaña bien planificada que no temía romper las reglas, sino también por una acumulación de instituciones desacreditadas, promesas incumplidas, deficiencia de liderazgo y la corrupción generalizada de los partidos políticos tradicionales.
De confirmarse los resultados preliminares, “el partido del presidente” obtendría 56 de 84 diputados y 145 de 262 alcaldías y concejos municipales. Para tener una apreciación de lo que esto significa, hay que decir que nunca un partido había logrado tantos diputados. La cifra más alta la logró Arena en 1994, al sumar 39 parlamentarios.
Con estos números a su favor, el presidente Bukele no necesitará de ningún otro partido para tomar decisiones como la elección del Fiscal General; elección de Magistrados de la Corte Suprema de Justicia; del Procurador General de los Derechos Humanos y de Magistrados de la Corte de Cuentas de la República; aprobación de nuevos préstamos, otorgar concesiones estatales al sector privado, entre otras leyes. Con lo cual tendría un poder político, casi absoluto.
Otra preocupación tiene que ver con la reforma constitucional, que ya está en marcha, y la cuestión de si el presidente Bukele buscará o no reformar la constitución para permitirle ser elegido para otro mandato, considerando que el actual mandato presidencial es por 5 años, sin oportunidad de reelección.
No obstante, la concentración de poder político en la figura del presidente, incluida la posibilidad de su reelección, no parece ser asunto de mucha transcendencia para la mayoría de la población. En 2018 una encuesta del Latinobarómetro reveló que El Salvador era el país de América que menos importancia le daba a la democracia, solo el 28%, la consideraba importante, mientras que el 54% reportó que le daba lo mismo vivir en una democracia que en una dictadura.
Afortunadamente, la democracia no se reduce al ejercicio del poder institucionalizado, la democracia también se encuentra en la organización y participación de sociedades marginadas movilizadas, que trabajan incansablemente para exigir el respeto de los derechos humanos de sus comunidades.
Nada le haría más daño a la precaria democracia salvadoreña que un rol pasivo de la sociedad civil. Hoy más que nunca, la academia, la prensa independiente, la iglesia progresista y el movimiento social en general deben asumir un rol de contrapeso frente a las estructuras de poder gubernamental que actúan en contra de las necesidades tangibles del pueblo, y hacerlos responsables, sin importar el color de su partido.
WHAT’S NEXT, AFTER THE ELECTIONS IN EL SALVADOR
With the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, the civil war ended and a new political era began in El Salvador. This era was characterized by the demilitarization of the society, the emergence of new institutions and the free exercise of democratic elections. Despite all this, the Salvadoran democratic system has continued to suffer from institutional weakness and undemocratic behaviors from the majority of it’s politicians, still, it has been possible to hold elections on a regular basis. Since 1992, 13 national elections have been held, six for the president and seven for the National Assembly and municipal councils.
In a democratic society, the holding of fair, free, transparent and competitive elections are essential for the healthy exercise of power, and above all so that the decision of the people, expressed in their vote, is translated into public servants who, for a period of time, must actually be at the service of the population.
Although the 13 elections held have been within the framework of legality, the one held on February 28, 2021 had certain peculiarities; such as a very expensive electoral campaign, ran by Nuevas Ideas (President Bukele’s party), which concentrated more than 70% of it’s party’s budget on advertising.
Another unfortunate issue was exacerbated electoral violence; which a few before the elections, led to a group of FMLN party supporters being shot at after participating in a party rally in San Salvador. Two activists died in that attack and and three others were injured. The attack was condemned by numerous diplomatic representatives, including Brendan O’Brien, the charge d’affaires of the United States embassy in El Salvador. It was not however, not condemned by the President himself, who instead placed the blame on the FMLN party for carrying out a self attack.
Additionally, there was the constant violation of electoral laws, especially by officials from the highest level of the government and the President of the Republic himself, as well as the abundant use of state resources for electoral purposes.
These factors represented antidemocratic advantages for Nuevas Ideas; who unsurprisingly won the election across the board, not just because they ran a well-strategized campaign that wasn’t afraid to break rules, but also because of an accumulation of discredited institucions, broken promises, leadership deficiency and the overall corruption of the traditional political parties.
If the preliminary results are confirmed, “the president’s party” would secure 56 out of 84 parliamentarians and 145 out of the 262 mayorships and municipal councils. These are historical numbers for El Salvador, before this, the highest figure achieved was by a single party was the ARENA party in 1994, who secured 39 parliamentarians.
With these numbers in his favor, President Bukele will not need any other party to make decisions such as the election of the Attorney General; Human Rights Ombudsman, Supreme Court Magistrates; Magistrates of the Court of Accounts of the Republic; approval of new loans, granting state concessions to the private sector, among other laws. With this level of influence, he would have almost absolute political power.
Another concern has to do with constitutional reform, which is already under way, and the question of whether or not President Bukele will seek to amend the constitution to allow himself to be elected for another term, considering that the current Presidential term is for 5 years, with no oppurtunity for re-election.
However, the concentration of political power in the figure of the president, including the possibility of his re-election, does not seem to be a matter of great importance for the majority of the population. In 2018, a Latinobarometer survey revealed that El Salvador was the country in America that gave the least importance to democracy, only 28% considered it important, while 54% reported that living in a democratic state was the same as living in a dictatorship.
Fortunately, democracy is not reduced to the exercise of institutionalized power, democracy is also found in the organization and participation of mobilized marginalized societies, who all work tirelessly to demand respect for the human rights of thier communities.
Ultimately, nothing would do more harm to El Salvador’s precarious democracy than a passive civil society. Today more than ever, academics, the independent press, the progressive church and the social movement in general must assume a counterweight role against the governmental power structures, that act against the tangible needs of the people, and hold them accountable, regardless of party lines.
2020 has been a whirlwind year and we want to share it with you.
Click Here or below to read our latest annual report.
COVID-19 Prevention Protocol in English
El Salvador’s public school students, both rural and urban, are facing an uncertain academic future due to COVID-19. As institutional disorganization at a national level leads to essential services, like education, becoming too complicated for communities to maneuver, at the same time, the Ministry of Education expects teachers, who have had very little experience with technology, to learn said technology on their own and teach via digital platforms to students who themselves often times cannot afford internet to access these platforms.
The Centro Escolar Amando Lopez Technology Lab is an inter-institutional initiative to connect teachers and students with the technology they need to advance in their academic goals. While we are confident that MINED will eventually achieve coherent policies and practices, we also recognize the current threat of mass retention and desertion looming over the country’s schools located in more marginalized regions.
This week we concluded our program and staff development as well as community orientations. Next Tuesday (7/28) the program begins!
In the end, we hope that this project can be an example of how to run a rural mobile technology lab, both during and after a pandemic.
CLICK HERE to learn more
Protocolo de la Prevención de COVID-19 en Español
Moviéndose con Propósito: El Uso de la Tecnología para Mantener el Alumnado en la Escuela
Lxs estudiantes de escuelas públicas de El Salvador, tanto rurales como urbanos, enfrentan un futuro académico incierto debido a COVID-19. Por la desorganización institucional a nivel nacional, los servicios esenciales, como la educación, se vuelven demasiado complicados para que las comunidades puedan gestionar y, al mismo tiempo, el Ministerio de Educación espera que la facultad de la escuelas, que tienen muy poca experiencia con la tecnología, aprendan dicha tecnología por su cuenta y enseñar a través de plataformas digitales a estudiantes, pero ellxs mismxs muchas veces no pueden pagar por internet para acceder a estas plataformas.
El Laboratorio Tecnológico del Centro Escolar Amando López es una iniciativa interinstitucional para conectar a maestrxs y estudiantes con la tecnología que necesitan para avanzar en sus objetivos académicos. Si bien confiamos en que MINED finalmente logrará políticas y prácticas coherentes, también reconocemos la amenaza actual de retención y deserción masiva, que se cierne sobre las escuelas del país ubicadas en regiones más marginadas.
Esta semana, concluimos nuestras reuniones de desarrollo del programa y de personal, así como las orientaciones de la comunidad. ¡El próximo martes (28/7) comienza el programa!
A fin de cuentas, esperamos que este proyecto pueda ser un ejemplo de cómo ejecutar un laboratorio educativo rural, tanto durante como después de una pandemia.
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MOVING FORWARD, ALWAYS
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March 19, 2020
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.
The VOICES Team
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In 2012, the Octavio Ortíz community decided to rebuild their casa comunal.
The new infrastructure is more spacious and has a higher foundation, which is fundamental considering that in the past the communities in this part of the country have suffered greatly from floods caused by the overflow of the Lempa River. This building will serve as a shelter for natural disasters and emergency situations.
The beginning wasn’t easy.
Elmer Portillo, who at that time was serving as the President of the community, recently commented on the committed effort put into the the project, “When we began the construction of the new communal house, we didn’t have enough money, nor secured support from NGOs or institutions, we only had the will and the ability to work.”
Despite these limitations, this is the result. A spacious modern structure with impressive architecture.
The community contributed 100% of the labor and also some of the economic resources to purchase materials such as concrete blocks, cement and zinc sheets. Various other sources, among them VOICES, have supported the project with small donations over the years. VOICES made a final donation of $4,750 for the installation of the floor, which will conclude the project in the next few months.
VOICES ON THE BORDER congratulates the community, especially its board of directors for all their determination and hard work.