MOVING FORWARD, ALWAYS
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On Sunday May 31st, the country of El Salvador issued a State of Emergency and Red Alert, after nearly two days of the constant terrential winds and rains carried by Tropical Storm Amanda. The storm touched down in various parts of the country and is leaving mild to large-scale devastation in it’s path.
The hardest hit departments are San Salvador, Sonosonate, La Libertad, and San Vicente.
Over 2,200 families have been evacuated, 44 government-run shelters have been set up, 34 major landslides have been reported, 26 entire sectors are underwater, hundreds of trees, electrical posts and street lights are down, many of the country’s tunnels have flodded, and entire coastal communities have been swept away.
At the time of this writing, 11 people have lost their their lives, including a young child.
“At the national level, in 48 hours we had up to 400 millimeters of water in some areas of the country, which is more than 10% of what falls in a year in the territory,” explained the Minister of the Environment, Fernando López.”
Unfortunately, our communities are also being hit hard by the storm. In the Bajo Lempa, entire crops have been lost and communities are on high alert for the possibility of flooding of the Lempa River.
The President of ACUDESBAL, by 3 p.m. 1,000 cubic meters of rain per second had fallen and by 5 p.m., they expect 1,500 cubic meters per second of rain to fall. Communities are being told to keep a close eye on the river and constantly verify its level and to work with local civil protection teams that are being assisted by the Army.
Communities Amando Lopez and Octavio Ortiz have also begun to clean and adecaute their casa comunals in the event families need to be evacuated.
In Morazán, the affects of the storm vary depending on the location. In Segundo Montes, things are relatively calm with no major damages reported except for downed trees.
However, places like San Carlos, San Francisco Gotera and Jocoatique are facing flooding and have had to evacuate various communities. Rio Torola is also being closely monitored and communities are preparing to evacuate if necessary.
According to the Ministry of Environment (MARN) the storm is supposed to lessen over the next 12 hours before eventually making it’s way towards northern Guatemala. MARN also projects that by the storm’s end, nine rivers, including the Jiquilisco Bay will overflow.
Our team remains in direct contact with our communities and groups in order to render whatever aid necessary, and we’ll continue to keep you all informed about the storm’s progression.
In the meantime, we ask that you keep El Salvador in your hearts and your prayers as it deals with yet another natural catastrophe during a most inopportune time.
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?
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.
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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.
Voices on the Border staff couldn’t do what we do without the confidence and support of our amazing U.S. Board of Directors. They are a diverse cadre of talented people with historical links to El Salvador and each year they come they strengthen these familiar bonds of solidarity, the very reason for VOICES’ existence. Below are some of the highlights from this year’s delegation held in January.
In San Salvador:
In Morazán :
In the Bajo Lempa
At the end of the delegation we took a detour and hiked in Cerro Verde, an extinct Volcano in Santa Ana.
CLICK HERE to read what one board member wrote.
Educators from both Washington D.C. and community Amando Lopez began an intentional partnership aimed at improving the educational environment of the community and the pedagogical capacities of each group.
This intentional connection is based on a common purpose, working cooperatively to create community that reflects shared core values.
On August 25, Ecclesial Base Communities (CEBES), family members, the Archdiocese of El Salvador and international visitors said their goodbyes to a well-known Liberation Theology priest at the Awakening Center in San Salvador.
Father Pedro D’ Clercq, though born and raised in Belgium, had spent the past 47 years living and working with the Salvadoran CEBES as one of it’s founders as well as a prolific proponent of Liberation Theology throughout Central America. Although he died peacefully in his sleep after battling lung cancer, he’s already been imprinted in history next to such martyrs as Oscar Romero, Octavia Ortiz, Rutillo Grande and Segundo Montes.
According to the CEB’s he was born in Izegem, Belgium on the 10th of February, 1939.
In June of 1964, Padre Pedro was ordained as a priest by the Roman Catholic Church. He stayed in Belgium as a teacher, until he received the calling to come serve in the Americas, oddly enough, at a soccer game. He began his service in Panama and then came to El Salvador in 1968 where he formed base communities and cooperatives throughout San Salvador, Chalatenango and Usulután.
In 1977 he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, due to expressing his critical views on the Salvadoran reality from the pulpit. He moved back to Belgium following the decision and from there formed numerous CEBES, in fact, he had formed CEBES in Panama and Nicaragua as well.
In 1992, he came back for good, settled in the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután and formed base communities, supported cooperatives, wrote publications, facilitated workshops, and even started a blood bank among many other projects. His writing, “Walking with Jesus and Monsignor Romero,” inspired the faith formation pre-school model of Community Segundo Montes, in Morazán. Padre Pedro, up until the end, tirelessly continued to travel throughout the country visiting and working for the people.
He often said, “Who would I be without Romero? Who would I be without Rutillo? Who would I be without all the Martyrs? Who would I be without the ecclesial base communities?”
It was apparent, as hundreds came to pay homage to the beloved priest, that he had touched so many lives and hearts and will remain fixed as a man who genuinely loved the Salvadoran people.
(closed captioning in Youtube)
Last month a joint delegation of students from a Stanford University Liberation Theology and Human Rights class and members from the South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, one of our U.S. partner organizations, travelled to El Salvador. Upon her return to school, Erin Inman, one of the Stanford students, wrote the following article for her school’s newspaper about her experiences in El Salvador on the delegation trip.
Traffic looms on either side as police officers attempt to direct the crowd off the street, too large to be contained by the plaza. Spanish words buzz past my ears at speeds too fast to comprehend, so instead, I focus on retrieving my bagged dinner and candle for the vigil.
Just before 6 p.m., the chaotic crowd transforms into three orderly lines drawing people down San Salvador’s main avenue. The march in honor of El Salvador’s martyr and unofficial saint, Oscar Romero, has begun.
People of all sorts flow past me in the sea of celebration: Salvadorian youth energized for a man of another time, Salvadorian elders who remember their hero with pride, international students and workers affected by the legacy of Romero and us, a group of 20 Americans attempting to build solidarity with the Salvadorian nation.
As participants and professors of the winter quarter class, El Salvador: Liberation Theology and Human Rights, we were joined by members of South Bay Sanctuary Covenant (SBSC), a local religious group committed to creating social justice in Latin America, for a week of confronting the past and present realities of El Salvador.
Throughout the week, we met with social activists about the evolving tension and violence in the Cabañas province due to mining and environmental issues. We heard from a variety of voices detailing El Salvador’s current drug, gang, female inequality and immigration problems. Though 19 years have passed since the end of its civil war, many of the issues prompting it remain unresolved.
At the chapel where Monseñor Romero was assassinated, we stood with our hands on the altar, each offering a word of what the man, a conservative, Roman Catholic archbishop turned liberal voice for the oppressed, represented for us.
“Faith.” “Hope.” “Love.” “Justice.” Each word is said with conviction, as if a strong voice could will these words into being.
“The transformation of our people and our society is in our hands. Not in those of Obama nor those of Funes,” offers our guide, a Carmelite nun, in closing. “Rather, change is brought about through my hands and the small decisions I make each day in which I act with justice, peace and solidarity.”
After five days of meetings in San Salvador, interlaced with good food and good conversation, we packed up our mini bus for the two-hour drive out of the capital and into the rural countryside of the Lower Lempa. Every time the bus stopped along the shack-lined roads, we were met with a chorus of “Mango! Pan dulce!,” as sellers thrust food items towards us through the open bus windows.
When the bus pulled into Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, a partner community of South Bay Sanctuary Covenant, signs and general excitement welcomed us. After introductions, we jostled through a rendition of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” for the children.
“You do realize this means we’ll never be able to run for public office,” a fellow Stanford student joked, upon realizing we were being taped.
Soon, as the energy dwindled down, I was following my host brother down the main road toward his home. We approached a house with two girls preparing dinner near the outside fire, a dog sleeping quietly beneath it. A quick peek into the house revealed hammocks as the only furniture, besides a table or two, upon which sat a stereo and a blaring television.
As the girls chopped vegetables, preparing a soup for dinner, I took in the scene around me. Laundry hung on multiple lines. A heavy duty truck stood alone on one side of the lot; firewood was stacked against the house, and a pile of freshly picked corn lay waiting to be husked, while four dogs, a cat and many chickens snuck in the house, only to be shooed out.
A dog approached me, and when I asked for its name, my host brother looked up from his work, smiled and said “Gringo,” the irony not lost on either of us.
The next two days passed in a blur of tortilla and jam making, sugar cane processing, soccer games, mishaps with outdoor showers and latrines, loud music waking us up at 5 a.m., a developing hatred for cockroaches and my own attempts to avoid butchering the Spanish language.
After living with my host family, meeting with the community board and partaking in the community’s Celebration of the Word, what speakers in San Salvador had alluded to became a reality for me: the Salvadorian people welcomed our solidarity. Young and old alike passed “La Paz” after service, and few of us were without a little girl climbing onto our laps or laying siege to our hands.
On the last night, at a concert celebrating Romero at the University of Central America, stood the very same segments of society from the march a week prior, only this time, our group was not interested in building solidarity. Instead, I smiled, realizing that we embodied it.