Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Day by Day in El Salvador Day Six - Chalatenango

Troops attacked the hamlet with artillery and fire from two helicopters. The villagers and other people displaced by the operation attempted to cross the Sumpul river to take refuge in Honduras. Honduran troops deployed on the opposite bank of the river barred their way. They were then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood.
Day Six: except from Tour Builder

All day: A visit to Chalatenango province with a focus on the model town of San José Las Flores
(a town repopulated by internal refugees during the civil war) to learn more about the work of
CRIPDES and CORDES in the region. The visit will include an interpretive eco-tourism hike to
the Our Lady of Resistance statue of the Virgin Mary erected by community members as an
emblem of community opposition to large-scale metal mining (much of it Canadian) in the
region (with possible short workshop on popular opposition to Canadian mining in El Salvador
by the civil society National Roundtable on Metal Mining).

San Jose las Flores is the town we stayed in for most of our last trip. This is a beautiful place with a tragic history during the war.  Here is a selection from the journal entry describing our first day in the town:

We have now moved our group to Chalatenango.  We will be in this very interesting and beautiful part of the country for the next eight days.  We began our journey by meeting members of the The Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango-CCR was founded in June of 1987 during the armed conflict in El Salvador, as an answer to the need to repopulate the communities of the North-eastern part of Chalatenango that had been destroyed by the armed conflict. (Sister Cities website)  One of their board members is Nelson Orellana-Secretary of Popular Education, from San José Las Flores.  Nelson will be our host while we are in san Jose Las Flores.  We also met other board members working on women’s issues and health.
The CCR started as a response to the displacements caused by the war.  People in the region no longer had access to health care and education.  For the first time, we learned that the children during the conflict learned under the trees in the mountains.  People developed methods of popular education based on the desire to keep basic education services going even though the war raged al around them.  Nelson started as a teacher when he himself was in grade 5.  This was typical of the teachers at that time.
Over time, these volunteer teachers were trained and certified to work in towns throughout the department.  They are unified by their desire to build a better society out of the ruin on the war years.  There are now 19 schools and over 1700 students in the communities surrounding Chalatenango.
Another major theme that was discussed in this introductory session was mining.  This is a topic we will come back to later in this journal.  It makes a great deal of sense that this is a major concern for the  people of Chalatenango.  Members of the CCR spoke to us about their struggle to return to the land in the midst of the war.  They tell stories of people being escorted back to their communities by nuns, priests and members of the international community.  People continued to be killed by the military for years after they returned to the towns and villages.  People who have struggled so valiantly for their lands will not now easily give up territory to mining companies from the North.  More on this later.

Our first meeting with members of the CCR

 This year will be very different.  We spent eight days in the community last time and we lived with the families.  It was a great experience and we learned so much.  We decided not to stay this time so that we can expose the group to more people in different communities throughout the country.

Having said this, there is great value in being in this community.  As mentioned earlier, San Jose las Flores was at the center of the conflict throughout the war.  The Sumpul River Massacre  occurred close to here in 1981.  Over 300 men, women and children were killed by Salvador and Honduran military in one day as people tried to flee the approaching Salvadoran army.

Everyone we know in San Jose las Flores lost a family member during the massacre.  We spent two days talking about this terrible time during the sharing sessions we had every day with the teachers from Nelson's school.  These conversations were some of the most powerful I have had on any trip to the Global South.  They were completely open with us as they described the horror and the grief they still feel.  Nelson's story is typical of what we heard over the two days:

Nelson was two years old when the massacre took place.  He lost his mother and his seven-month old brother at that time. She disappeared, he drowned in the river.  The family of Nelson’s mother was totally wiped out at this time.  In total, 15 people from his family were killed, many drowning in the river as they fled the army who was determined to clear the area of anyone who could support the insurgents.  Nelson was obviously traumatized by what he experienced.  He still sees dead people when he sleeps and sometimes he gets depressed.  He says it helps when he talks to his daughter Ireni.  Sometimes they try to imagine what her uncle would look like now if he was alive.  His experiences have motivated him to do the best he can for the current generation of students.

There is so much to this town and its people!  We will take in as much as we can, including local resistance to Canadian mining companies. 

This is truly one of the highlights of the trip and I can't wait to get back there!

The Sumpul - we liked to sit in the river and enjoy the lovely cool water

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 comment:

  1. It is truly inspiring to hear stories of strength and perseverance from the people of San Hose Las Flores - it solidifies that hope, faith, and community can overcome obstacles - it is an eye opener for me who grew up in a peaceful country with no limitations on my future plans!
    God Bless+