Alex Salvador, a member of our Board, took time out of his home visit here in El Salvador to accompany various projects in the Bajo Lempa. These types of visits are an essential stimulant for us as staff and a way for our Salvadoran partners to share their incredible work.
The Voices’ Annual Board of Directors meeting is a space to evaluate our work and strategize what’s to come. It is also a wonderful occasion for us as staff to get to know our board members on a deeper level. After more than a year of exclusively connecting via everyone’s favorite video conferencing program, it was decided that the time had come to meet face to face.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sheryl, an ESL teacher at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in D.C., who for the past 23 years has been unflaggingly helping adult immigrants – many of them Salvadorans- to reach their potential here in the U.S.
I asked her about her decision to join the board, and she reminisced on her first delegation to El Salvador with VOICES back in 2017:
By that point, I already had so much affinity for my Salvadoran students and the Salvadoran people, and I had also been actively working to raise my own awareness around racism, classism, and immigration.
Then I went on a Voices’ delegation, which opened my eyes and helped to confront the Salvadoran narrative I had long held in my mind. You see, up until then, I had mainly only heard the testimonies of those who fled or left El Salvador for whatever reason, not of those who stayed behind.
I remember being so impacted by the young community leaders, who were fully committed to staying and vigorously working to improve societal conditions so that future generations don’t feel the need to migrate.
Even under “normal” circumstances, that type of dedication would’ve been admirable, but at that time, things were far from normal on the contrary things were downright toilsome. But Voices as an organization never faltered in their support.
I’m honored to be on the Board and in a position to learn more and offer more support to our students at Carlos Rosario.”
2020 has been a whirlwind year and we want to share it with you.
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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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Voices has two full-time staff in country which means we regularly rely on the strength and direction of our Board of Directors to ensure we’re doing what’s right and doing it right. Our current Board of Directors is full of amazing folks, many whom have been with Voices since the 1980’s, and others who have watched it grow. What’s clear is that these histories have created strong connections and bonds with our communities and partners making our jobs on the ground easier and more impactful. This June, our Board and field staff met in Maryland’s beautiful lakeside to reconnect, to share, to learn, to inspire and be inspired, and recommit to the work at hand.
Below is a collection of short interviews taken at the close of this year’s meeting.