jueves, 16 de agosto de 2012

Mujeres de la Guerrra: Rosa Perez

Two scraggly dogs bark a welcome as we make our way down the narrow, rocky path through lemon and banana trees to Rosa’s home. It is small, made of earth, found materials, corrugated tin. Rosa lives with her four daughters and grandson, whom she raises as if he were hers. Grandson and a nephew watch the interview with great curiosity from behind the bushes, then proudly show off their bike tricks for us and laughing, learn to use the digital camera -- while posing for it, of course.

Rosa is making a hammock, which she will sell at a small artisan store up the road. She shows us her work and her daughter’s work, whom Rosa taught to embroider typical clothing. This is common in rural El Salvador: every family has a handful of different ways of making a little bit of cash, and somehow, they get by.

In her photograph, Rosa is joined by two large sacks. These are bags of corn husks. Hundreds of them. Rosa and a few members of the women’s committee woke up before the roosters to prepare and make 400 tamales. This process is labor intensive; husking, cooking and grinding the corn by hand. The tamales were sold to make a little extra income, but Rosa had saved a handful for her visitors, two of whom were complete strangers until that day.

Rosa talks about her life: before the war, during the war, and after the war. She tells us about the violence and repression they lived before the war, and the violence and repression they continued to suffer at the hands of the Honduran military in the refugee camp. But the suffering isn’t the point of her story: her story is about resilience, about making decisions of conscience and following through on them, no matter the cost. It’s about family, about caring for and taking care of one another.

Rosa’s oldest daughter was born in 1980 at the height of violence in El Salvador. Rosa was in guinda, hiding in the mountains during the day and running from the military at night. Maria Flora has epilepsy, and Rosa believes it is because of the trauma of her birth. But Rosa, a single mother, put her other three daughters through high school -- no small feat in a country where the average rural resident only completes the 4th grade.

Rosa ends her interview talking about her work. “Today, I’m an associate of the cooperative Sueños de Jocoaitique. We began the cooperative in ‘93, and that was a struggle, too. To stay organized. Because if we’re not organized, we’re not involved in anything.” 

Rosa is one of the rural, organized Salvadoran women interviewed for the project Mujeres de la Guerra, Historias de El Salvador, which documents the lives, stories and work of twenty-eight women leaders in El Salvador. Through a documentary film, photography exhibits in both the US and El Salvador, and a photo essay book, we hope to provide these women with the opportunity to tell their inspiring stories and share their hope, wisdom and dedication with the world. To read more about this project, please visit Mujeres de la Guerra

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2012

Threats and Violence Continue against Salvadoran Environmentalists

Violence and intimidation continue in El Salvador against environmental activists and defenders of human rights who have publicly opposed metallic mining. The latest round of threats was focused against a Salvadoran Catholic priest, Father Neftalí Ruiz, and a community radio station, Radio Victoria.

Fr. Ruiz, the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Cabañas Environmental Committee and a member of the National Working Group against Metallic Mining (“The Mesa,”) was attacked on January 20th, when he opened his home to a group of supposed university students who had expressed interest in his work. The two young people then tied him up at gunpoint and proceeded to search the files on his computer. They left the home with the computer and media storage devices, but did not take anything else of value. The young men stated numerous times during the assault that they were looking for information and made several calls to a third party while searching the computer to report their findings.

Environmentalists detailed the events and their evaluations of the continuing violence against the community at a press conference held by the Mesa on Tuesday, January 24th “These acts are meant to intimidate us so as to weaken our resistance,” emphasized David Pereira of the Investment and Commerce Investigation Center (CEICOM).

domingo, 21 de noviembre de 2010

Where the Hibiscus Blooms

Bendición de Dios. God’s Blessing. If only I had thought to ask Mauricio, this community’s young leader, why they decided on this name. At one time, this place made have seemed like a blessing—a place for thirty poor, rural families to finally put down roots, to have something of their own, to give stability and a sense of belonging to their children. But from an outsider’s perspective, it seems that this community has seen nothing but the opposite of blessings since coming to this land.

In the middle of the night on Sunday, September 26th, torrential rains due to Hurricane Matthew caused the two rivers that surround this little community to flood. One women tells of lifting her three-month old baby over her head, arms fully extended, as she struggled to keep her own head over water. Others tell of scrambling onto their shaky roofs in the pitch black night by light of cheap cell phone, watching the waters rush by.

These humble homes—shacks by any other name, pieced together with found and collected bits of corrugated tin, wood, thick, heavy sticks, cardboard, mud, plastic tarp—are constructed on packed dirt, and interiors of homes and the narrow roads that run through the community turn immediately to mud in heavy rain. Disease, manifested by mosquitoes and white mold that grows everywhere in the dampness, accompanied by threats of continued rains and further flooding that keep coastal El Salvador on orange alert, force the community out. There is no formal shelter nearby, and so, as so many other Salvadoran communities do in times of crisis, the community seeks refugee in the nearest primary school.

lunes, 6 de septiembre de 2010

The Women of Llano Grande: Walking the Unpaved Road Towards Development and Justice

Llano Grande's residents—thirty-five families, many composed of various generations—are among the many rural families that live in extreme poverty in El Salvador. People have lived in tin and clay shacks since arriving to the community, some ten years ago, waiting for land titles to apply for housing projects. When it rains, they and all their belongings get wet, and when it doesn't, their homes are converted into ovens. After the Ida rains last November, the bean crop was largely destroyed and corn rotted.

The community has no electricity, no health clinic, no community center, no school and no corn mill. In the community, there is “no paid work, there is no development, especially for women, and we're responsible for providing for and caring for children,” according to one of the many women in the women's committee I was able to meet with. From Llano Grande, it is a twenty to thirty minute walk down the dusty, unpaved road to the main street. From there, it is another hour's walk to Tecoluca, where the nearest health clinic is located. A grassroots organizatin in the region had offered a high school scholarship to a young person in this community, but the only high school age youth had already stopped studying. Because of the distance to the nearest school—an hour-long walk—many children make it to the sixth grade, at the most. At our late-morning meeting, the time that children should be entering the last class of the day, a handful of young, school-aged girls were present.

martes, 24 de agosto de 2010

Organic Veggies and Powerful Women Tucked away in the Chalate Mountains

This article was originally written, in a slightly different version, for the SHARE Foundation, who, thanks to sistering groups in the US, was able to support a women's organizing and leadership project for 2010, the continuation of similar projects over the years. Part of this project, to support women's organization and empowerment and respond to the ever-worsening food crisis in El Salvador, was the funding of ten women's communal vegetable gardens. Following is the story of one of these gardens.

Los Pozos, Carasque. From Chalate proper, its another two-hour drive down roads that remind you of the many corners of El Salvador long abandoned by many consecutive governments. It's almost the Honduras border, across the Río Sumpul, site of one of the largest massacres during the twelve-year civil war, taking the lives of some 600 women, children, babies and elderly as they tried to cross the river and escape from the Salvadoran army, only to find the Honduran military shooting down at them from the other bank.

We make it to Los Pozos, but only about halfway up the mountain to the vegetable garden, where the women are waiting for us. We leave the Share-mobile and, in our flimsy flip flops, hike our way up. As we emerge from the brush, we see the vegetable garden, encompassed by cyclone fence, overlooking the view that could make even a lifelong city slicker fall in love: every shade of green imaginable, with the shadows of the clouds lazily making their way over hills and through valleys. Out here, there are no telephone polls, electric wires, bus noises or pollution.

lunes, 16 de agosto de 2010

"us" and "them"

I have spent some time recently poking around for insight into the immigration debate in the US, to see what the proposals are and what the rhetoric is. And while the banner drop in Phoenix (as part of protests against the Arizona law) puts a big smile on my face, the vast majority of the discourse and sentiment leaves me dumbfounded. Anger and fear abound, while real conversation about all of the realities of the immigration issue has been left out, completely.

In mainstream media, there seems to be no talk of the hundreds of people this year alone that have died of thirst, heat stroke, exhaustion or hunger while trying to cross the Arizona desert to feed their families. Certainly not about the situations of poverty and lack of opportunity and employment and hunger and, yes, violence that push people out of their homelands and communities, and never discussion about the US policies that exacerbate—if not create—these situations.

I'm not in the United States to witness the immigration debate. I know that not all people share the hateful, ignorant, bigoted, racist ideas that have left me angered, heartbroken, speechless. I know that not all people share these ideas, and man actively oppose them. And not all people in the US have had the opportunity to live outside of their country, to experience other realities and walk alongside the people whose futures and livelihoods this debate so coldly banters around. And not all people in the United States have a vision of history beyond a fourth grade textbook or a connection to native America.

jueves, 8 de julio de 2010

On Believing

I never thought of myself as an idealist, but I have always very strongly held to the idea that things can and should and must be better, have to be just and right. And lately I find myself wondering, do you reach a point in life where you let that go?

These days, I am finding it increasingly difficult to believe in and hope for the most and the best in others and the world and have these ideals met, and it's painful. Not in every situation or with everyone, of course. There are amazing people in my life and amazing things happening. But I live in a country, in a world, where life is pretty raw, and I wonder: Do I have to stop expecting and demanding and hoping for the most from everyone, because it might just run me into the ground if people keep failing to live up? Do I agree with that? Is it okay? Would it somehow make me a sellout? Because it feels like a very uncomfortable idea to me. I simply don't want to expect less, or demand less. I just don't want to. Things should be right and just, because they should be. And everyone's voice should be heard and people should be empowered and participation and consensus should be the base of decision-making and human dignity and relationships...

But I also don't want to burn out at twenty-six.