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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VIII

It is interesting to note the reaction of our delegation members to their meetings with teachers and civil society organizations. There was an increasing awareness of what people are working for in El Salvador. They also gained a good understanding of the country’s recent, violence history. We visited sites where Jesuit priests were killed in 1989. We went to mass in the basement of the cathedral next to the tomb of Oscar Romero. We visited the chapel where Romero was killed. We heard many stories about the savagery of the war and its lasting impact.

My sense from the teachers is that El Salvador is a country where we can contribute a great deal. We have a sense of the spirit of the people and the incredible difficulties they have endured. I think this is a place where we can contribute and we can learn.

We have great wealth, and with wealth comes responsibility. We need to share what we have with those who want a better society. We have all the tools and we are very good at what we do. If we turn our focus to El Salvador, what can we accomplish?

Post script: We expect to hear soon what next year's project will look like. It will be more focused than the last two years and will be designed to allow Canadian teachers to interact in a meaningful way with educators in El Salvador.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Continuing problems with Pacific Rim in El Salvador

This article comes from upside down world. It goes into the Pacific Rim response to accusations made against it regarding the violence in Cabañas. Investor confidence in the company seems high and plans to pursue the lawsuit against El Salvador continue on track.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VII

The analysis is very important for us. Too often, we are willing to give without ever asking the question – why is it really necessary to give? Why are they so poor and we are so rich? Whatever we do in El Salvador, it will be important for teachers to understand the root causes of the poverty they see.

What does economic and social development look like? CORDES believes in following an approach that is different from the current economic model. For CORDES, it is important that the producers are the owners of the production chain. The market is simply an instrument to allow people to share the wealth.

There is a strong focus on food security, crop diversity and fair trade. There are many examples of projects that CORDES has funded that allow people a greater share of the wealth. These include women’s co-ops producing cheese and cashews for national and international markets, production of fruits and vegetables for the national market, production of organic sugar and the training and technical assistance for local fishermen with the objective of selling produce nationally.

One example of CORDES work is cashew production. The communities are involved in the total production process from the planting of cashew tress to the production of cashews and cashew juice for export to Brazil. Production is going well; they now have machines to extract the cashew from the husk. Before this, workers would bask the hard nut to get to the cashew. This is part of the organic agricultural movement that also includes the production of sugar cane, vegetables as well as non-chemical pesticides.

Cashew production at a CORDES project in the Bajo Lempa region
The cashews are exported to Europe

CORDES also has links to other Latin American organizations. They have taken part in international forums on transitioning from war to peace.

If we ask the question, what does it mean to build a better world, CORDES members would respond it means a world that is more just than now. There is a need for change in the North. The level of consumption is too high in Canada and the United States. We need to learn to consume at a responsible and realistic level. There needs to be more solidarity with the North to better understand the challenges of the Global South. What CORDES has seen through their student program with Spanish universities is that the students go back transformed and better able to follow responsible consumption practices. What would happen if our teachers were exposed to such an environment?

Because of the economic crisis, there are now fewer remittances from the North. Remittances is a major source of income for the people of El Salvador. People who are working in Canada and the United States send money back to their families. The flow of money is beginning to dry up. This leads to further economic pressure on the people. More opportunities need to be created for youth so that there is incentive to stay in the country. For example, in Bajo Lempa there is a youth project to produce clay bio-filters for water. The technical expertise for this project comes from Brazil. The filters can extract over 90% of bacterial contaminants in the water. There is only one production centre in all of El Salvador and the filters are in high demand.

The bio-filter project

Monday, September 14, 2009

Compadres Journal Part VI

It seems to me that there are some good possibilities for partnership in this area. Unlike San Jose Las Flores, there are few international partners working with the schools. The University of Barcelona sends students each year to work in the schools. There is some exchange of information through this partnership, but the teachers want more. Here we can explore ways to exchange ideas and develop strong, sustainable links.

There seems to be some amount of hope in the country now. We met with many civil society organizations who now for the first time feel that they will be heard by the government. In the case of CRIPES, there is the possibility of government funding. Some of their senior members are now part of the government. Their agenda for change is quite ambitious. In our discussions with their leaders they outlined their plans. The strategic plan for the future of CRIPDES is designed to build a new world for Salvadorans. They are putting the focus on the welfare of the people. There is a driving desire to change the poverty that has existed for years. People need to reclaim their right to speak and advocate for themselves. Specifically, CRIPDES needs to create opportunities for youth so that they stay in the country. The first step is to provide greater access to higher education. There is also a need for a political plan to protect the environment and provide clean drinking water for all people. It is essential that organizations continue to work with women’s groups as well. CRIPDES also plans to continue work on mining and water privatization, lack of access to resources and credit. There also needs to be more security so that people feel safe in their local areas.

discussions with local CRIPDES group in
Bajo Lempa

Another Salvadoran organization, CORDES clearly outlines what needs to be done for the growth of the country and its people. This is taken from an interview with the CORDES director of international relations.

CORDES works closely with CRIPDES in many communities especially in the area of local economic development. CORDES is active in half of the Departments of El Salvador. More specifically; they work to support food production, technical assistance, housing and infrastructure. After the war, there was no infrastructure. With the help of international agencies, CORDES has been able to work on the development of many communities. Their main source of funding is from international groups and they have established links with some universities in other countries.

CORDES started working during the war accompanying Salvadorans in their struggle. Sine the war, their work has developed in three distinct directions:

1) Analysis of the condition of the people and their social and economic conditions
2) Developing a plan for the future – what dreams do Salvadorans have for their future?
3) Economic and social development for the people

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What would you like to be?

One of the really interesting visits on this trip was to one of the schools in the Bajo Lempa area.

We had time here to talk with the students about their future.  Their answers reflect that students where ever they are want the same things for themselves and their families.

Notes from high school students – what do you want to do in the future?

“I want to be a lawyer to fight the injustice that occurs is El Salvador”

“I would like to study journalism because it is active and I like the news”

“I want to go to university and be a professional and get a doctorate”

“I want to get a good job to help my community and help my family”

“I want to get a college education. It is very difficult because transportation is expensive. If I can’t go I would like to find work”

“I want to get a degree in language or business”

“I would like to be a lawyer so I can be a help to my country that has suffered so much”

“It is our role to help people in return; they have helped us”

“I want to study communications so that I can defend myself and am prepared”

“I want to get a degree in public accounting and help those in need and to defend myself”

“I would like to study medicine in the university”

For these students to get to university, they will need assistance.

I wonder how many of these students will get the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. It has always struck me as so unfair that students with so much energy and promise do not get the opportunity to develop their skills to the point where they can lead change in their country.

At the same time, there is no question that education is the key to their future.  Over the years since this visit, I have met many young committed Salvadorans who are doing their utmost to make their country strong.

We can never lose hope when so many young people aspire to change the world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Compadres Journal Part IV

This is a system just now receiving support from their government. The current vice-president is a former teacher. Teachers now have growing expectations that things will change for the better. What a wonderful time to get involved in partnership with Salvadoran educators!

We visited schools in the Bajo Lempa area and in San Jose Las Flores. There is a great discrepancy between the schools in these areas. San Jose Las Flores has a thriving school community headed by Nelson, a true education innovator. Their first schools were built from the rubble of crumbling buildings. Nelson started teaching with a third grade education. His students used charcoal to write on rocks. By the end of the war, a group of teachers were able to upgrade their education and become certified. Now there is a branch of UCA, the Jesuit University in San Jose Las Flores. Over 300 students have signed up to take courses at this satellite school. Teachers now receive training in the community. This community has had a long-lasting connection with the Sisters of Ascension in Spain and from the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts through the Sister Cities Program. Linkages with groups outside the country work very well to assist the Salvadoran people to develop strong, vital communities. This is part of the social and economic rebuilding that needs to take place throughout the country. While communities like San Jose Las Flores receive a good deal of help from international donors, there is no question that the local people are the ones in control.

The schools in Bajo Lempa receive less support. Teachers in this area are poorly paid and many student come to school without food or water. Transportation is a major expense for parents costing up to $1.00 a day. The teachers are completely dedicated, apart from teaching; they are responsible for the physical maintenance of the school. The administrator of the school has the standard duties of one running a school, but she receives no compensation for these duties.

Meeting with high school students in Bajo Lempa was a wonderful experience. For over an hour we asked them about their lives and struggles, but we mainly focused on their hopes. I record them all here, one thing is very obvious, they want to be a part of the change that is coming to El Salvador.

meeting with high school students
in the Bajo Lempa area

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Compadres Journal Part III

Students from the Bajo Lempa area

I think we have learned a great deal about education over the last two years. The schools are understaffed and underfunded. The previous ARENA government ignored the schools for twenty years. The attention is only turning to the education of children now with the election of the Funes government. On both trips, participants spent a good amount of time talking with students, teachers and administrators about the challenges they face every day.

The list of difficulties is long, but it leads to many ideas on how we can contribute in a meaningful way. Here are a few examples gleaned from discussions with teachers this year. Most teachers work two shifts a day – up to ten hours – in order to make ends meet. The building and unkeep of the schools is the responsibility of the teachers and the surrounding community. If you need new lights, the teachers provide this, if you need furniture, the school turns to the community, if you need to build a school, you build it. Traditionally, no help comes from the government. On a professional level, teachers yearn to learn more about advanced teaching methods but there is no provision for releasing them from their weekly duties. Any professional learning would have to take place on the weekend. This is not practical given their working conditions. In fact, there is no school specifically designed to train teachers in El Salvador.

Children can travel up to two hours to reach school and many come to school hungry. There are few resources to assist students with learning difficulties. Often these students leave school to find jobs selling items on the streets.

Wall painting in San Jose Las Flores
depicting the first schools in the area

Many students are pulled from school to help their parents with farming or fishing chores. While many of the students we spoke with aspire to achieve great things, access to high school and especially university is limited. The state of education is in very poor shape, but we should remember that twenty years ago, there were no teachers and few schools. Students were taught by teachers with only slightly more education than their students under the trees. In some cases, schools were strafed by government planes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Compadres Journal Part II

Over the past two years, we have gained a greater understanding of the work of CRIPDES. The NGO started during the war assisting refugees to return to the land they had abandoned at the start of the conflict. The organization has evolved from resettlement to social and political organizing. They now work in 350 communities across the country. They work on a whole host of issues, including land redistribution, mining practices, the privatization of water and the empowerment of youth and women.

For our part, our teachers have mainly come from the Ottawa Catholic School Board, but we are working on expanding to other parts of the province. This year, we had our first teacher from Toronto. We have brought relatively small groups down for the last two years and this has enabled us to explore different ideas on partnership for the future. Each trip builds on the last. We now have a good idea on where we should be heading. CRIPDES along with Salvaide are now working on ideas for a project. After two years of trying to define what we are about and what we will do, it is very appropriate to turn this task over to our hosts who have such a complete understanding of the social, political and economic situation in El Salvador.

students at recess in El Pacun

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Compadres Journal Part I

The Compadres Project

The Compadres project represents a two-year effort to develop partnerships between Ontario teachers and teachers in El Salvador. Compadres stands for Collective of Ontario teachers moving for peace, action, development and relationships in El Salvador. The idea of this project is to forge links that can be sustainable and that lead to programs of benefit of all involved.

As the project has developed we have gained a number of important partners. Salvaide is a Canadian NGO that has been instrumental in setting up our links to groups in El Salvador. They play an important role in bringing Canadians and Salvadorans together. Development and Peace is the development arm of the Canadian Catholic Church. Development and Peace has supported partners in El Salvador for over twenty years. On this visit, we talked with many of the partner organizations associated with Development and Peace; all are involved in bringing about social, economic and political change in El Salvador. One of their main partners is CRIPDES, centered in San Salvador. CRIPDES was the host organization for our trips.