Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day Five

¡Hola and Bienvenidos!

Our first visit today was visiting the Divina Providencia where MonseƱor Romero was assassinated.  Romero was a Catholic bishop from El Salvador who was murdered while offering Mass (in the picture below) in 1980.  He was killed for speaking out against the government and military and advocating for the rights of the El Salvadoran people.  He is revered as a national hero and martyr, and his presence and legacy is found all over this country and all over the world.  We also visited his house, which has not been changed at all in thirty four years.  The robes he was wearing when he was killed and pictures of the assassination were hanging up inside.  His work was very noble and inspiring and is a testament to the fight for human rights and the end of oppression.

Our next stop was meeting with David Morales, who is the Procurator for the Defense of Human Rights.  El Salvador's government has an office for Human Rights, much like how the United States has different departments.  His role would be equivalent to meeting with the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense in the United States.  We were honored that he took time out of his busy schedule to meet with us.  I learned a lot from him today about the past and current state of different social, political, and environmental issues in El Salvador.  He was very knowledgable and passionate about his work and I have much respect for him.

After we ate lunch, we went to a local community park and met with two groups of young women who are shelter residents at a home for human trafficking victims.  I do not have any photos of them to keep them safe and protected.  We played basketball (I made a basket!) and engaged in two other group games (one of which was the human knot game).  It was nice to be able to interact with them in a safe and neutral environment in a fun and safe way.  While at the park, Mario and I met a young boy and played football with him for a while.  It was fun to play with the kids and donate our time with them.

After dinner we watched a film on the community of Santa Marta, which we will be visiting this weekend.  The film was about how this community rebuilt itself after being destroyed by the war.  I deeply admire the ways in which the community stayed strong and was resilient and determined to start again.  It was truly inspiring and I wish more communities came together like this and fought together for social justice and change.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day Four


Today we first went to Equipo Maiz and learned about the popular history of El Salvador.  We learned so much today.  I was very interested in the political role of the United States in prolonging the war.  I was also very interested in the effects of the fairly recent dollarization of El Salvador currency.  Many humans rights issues arose during this presentation and narrative of history.  There is much work to be done from a social work perspective and much has been accomplished.  Despite all of the challenges and hardships this small country has faced, it is very inspiring learning about the strength and determination of its people.

We next arrived at the San Miguelito Market and split into groups.  We each received pieces of paper with items on them that we needed to locate and buy.  The food we bought will be used later in the week.  This was an economic exercise for us to comprehend how much food costs in comparison to the average amount people make.  The market was very interesting and I was able to use my Spanish.

We spent a good portion and most of the rest of our day in the town of Suchitoto.  We ate lunch and met with Sister Peggy at the Art Center for Peace.  She is a very inspiring and full of life and I enjoyed listening to her testimony.  She is an admirable agent for social change, social justice, and for human rights.  We visited the museum on site and learned more about the town and what the war was like in this town.  We went shopping for a few hours and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Day Three


Today we visited the community of La Selva and met with gang members.  We learned a lot about the history of the country in terms of politics and social structures and how gangs factor into the equation.  Gang members face discrimination, harassment, and heinous brutality from the police and the military on a daily basis.  Our presence in the community kept the soldiers and police from entering the community.  I am not posting pictures of the young men we talked to or other pictures of graffiti and paintings in order to protect the privacy and perhaps safety of the men we talked to.  Unfortunately the social structures, institutions, media, and other members of the community do not allow gang members to re-enter society or change easily.  The testimonies today of the young men reminded me of numerous human rights violations, especially the right to not be subjected to torture and discrimination.

We next visited a community health clinic.  This center is focused on providing services and resources that members of the community are unable to receive from the public health system.  Two doctors come and treat patients in the morning and afternoon.  This center is committed to helping and treating everyone the same, and the gang members that we talked to earlier are welcome to go there for medical attention.  Health care and access to adequate health care is a human right and unfortunately medical resources are politicalized and are not available for everyone based on monetary greed.

Our next stop was a Masculinidades workshop with San Bartolome de las Casas, which I loved.  This group works to prevent gender-based violence and works with men, women, youth, and children discussing gender and what it means to be a man.  As a group we did some exercises discussing this topic and had a very good conversation as to how gender intersects with numerous social issues all over the world and in individual communities.  I loved this site because this is not only one of my favorite subjects and a topic that I am passionate about, but I enjoyed working in small groups and as a whole group discussing these issues and how they play a role in our own lives.  Equality is an essential human rights goal and value and this workshop was beneficial in striving toward this goal.

After dinner we watched a short documentary on Probusqueda, which is an organization that is committed to reconnecting lost children (now adults) that were separated from their families during the war.  During the war the soldiers would kidnap children and sell them to adoption agencies under the guise that their parents were dead (although some of the children's parents were murdered either in front of them or later on) or would raise them as their own children.  After the war ended in the nineties, parents were able to safely demand for the whereabouts of their children.  This movie was very emotional and was a reminder as to the severity in fighting and advocating for human rights and an end to violence and injustice in government and societal structures.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day Two


Today was a very long day and luckily it was much cooler than yesterday!  We began our day by hearing the testimony of a gentleman's fight for social and political justice, beginning during seventies and continuing to today.  His testimony was very emotional, due to the numerous hardships he endured and yet was very inspiring.  He is a great example of the motivation and audacity individuals and groups possess for working toward change.  His testimony was a reminder as to the importance of human rights for everyone, the impact of violations of human rights, and the challenges that arise in achieving these rights in societies that are adamant that such change does not occur.

We next journeyed up the mountainside and visited a coffee co-op, where organic fair trade coffee is grown, processed, and exported.  I thought that it was very good and I am not much of a coffee drinker.  I myself had a few cups and as it was hot out, drinking a hot beverage was not in my favor, but it was too good to just have one.  The gentleman who is one of the partners running the co-op was very knowledge and passionate about the coffee process.  I learned a lot about coffee and was given a tour that guided me through the entire process.  Not only did I learned about the agricultural component of coffee, but about the social and political global component of the coffee industry.  I learned about roya, which is a fungus that infects coffee plants and is a crisis for coffee growers worldwide.  Unfortunately, being an organic and fair trade co-op is difficult and costly, despite the benefits of having such products and their benefit to the economy.  Both fair trade and organic products are human rights issues because resources should be shared equally and both the environment and the health of humanity should not be comprised for monetary greed.

We next went to Paseo El Carmen, which is a shopping area.  I bought some items and got to sit in bench that was sculpted to look like two hands cupped together.  I unfortunately do not have photos of this area, as my camera died toward the end of our tour at the co-op.  Another group member took a photo of me sitting on the hand bench, so all is well.   ;)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day One

Greetings from El Salvador!

After two good flights today, I arrived this afternoon to the very HOT and beautiful San Salvador.  We arrived and had lunch at a cafeteria type restaurant.  We then stopped at the beach and dipped our feet into the Pacific Ocean!

The water was warm and we interacted with two young girls selling mangos.  They were selling them for a quarter a piece.  When one of the other members of the group told them to keep the change, they were unsure as to how to proceed.  They insisted on giving him back his 3 quarters, but he insisted that they keep it.  It was interesting to witness how a gesture such as keeping the change is experienced differently in different cultures.

After the beach we headed to La Libertad Port, which is a fishing community and is lower-income.

A fishing community is not complete without a pier, which we explored. The pier was full of all sorts of seafood, vendors, and boats. We watched fish being caught and saw that someone had caught a baby shark!

While we were exploring, we were "joined" by a young girl and her brother.  They followed us all over, but said little to us.  She was selling cut fruit, but did not try to push it on us.  I spoke to her a bit in Spanish and learned that she was 9 and her brother was 8.  I believe he sold items as well.  She told me that her parents were around, so I assumed that they sold goods to locals and tourists as well.  The pier and surrounding area was full of vendors, selling all sorts of things.

Encountering this young girl, the two girls selling mangos, and the other young children selling items has been very tough and I am curious about the hardships of their young lives and what lies ahead for them in the future.  Witnessing the poverty of children has been challenging, especially as I reflect on how vastly different children in the United States are expected to be treated and my own experiences in my privileged childhood.  Child labor is a human rights issue, as humans have the right to an adequate standard of living that meets their needs and children have the right to special care and assistance.  This issue is an important social work issue and I am interested in learning about what policies are in place surrounding this issue and what work has been done to advocate for this group.

Later we arrived at our beautiful hotel (pictures to soon follow!), the Hotel Oasis.  Our hotel is located near a volcano and we are lucky to be taken care of by a wonderful staff!  We had a yummy dinner and celebrated Mario's birthday.