Knowing vs Knowing

Don Francisco, President of Guajoyo's Junta Directiva

Don Francisco, President of Guajoyo’s Junta Directiva

This post goes specifically to the East Side Group (ESG), the cluster of friends in Austin who make possible not just my time in El Salvador, but also the various projects that improve the dignity of life here in Guajoyo and the San Vicente region.

I was drawn to this opportunity as much because of ESG as the work of US El Salvador Sister Cities.  That there exists a group of friends who have managed to stick together for decades, dedicating themselves to supporting one another and supporting social justice in some of its many forms is an inspiration and source of hope for me.  In my 23 short years of life I have seen lots of good and lots of bad, and it seems that most of the bad that plagues society – wherever it may be –stems from isolation and lack of knowing.  The ESG is dedicated to knowing each other and to knowing the realities of other people in Austin and around the world, and that is something all at once healing and revolutionary. Austin who make possible not just my time in El Salvador, but also the various projects that improve the dignity of life here in Guajoyo and the San Vicente region.

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These first two months have been a struggle for me in trying to figure out what my role is here.  I at least knew better than to enter with a superman complex, thinking my presence was going to solve problems and turn life from bad to good.  I also know enough about cultural differences to know that what I might see as an issue may not be considered so by others.  So where did that leave me?  What good is my presence here doing, and why did the Austin committee and the community of Guajoyo think it was such a good idea to send me here?

The best answer I have found goes back to the foundation of the ESG I mentioned earlier: knowing and being known.  That is the whole idea behind solidarity in US El Salvador Sister Cities.  I am here to know Guajoyo, its story, and the daily triumphs and struggles of people who live here. In Spanish there are two different words for knowing: saber is when you know facts or are aware of something.  Conocer is knowing a person, seeing them for who they are.  I am getting to conocer Guajoyo and El Salvador.  And that knowing is transmitted not just to me, but to the ESG and other family and friends who care about me.  Because once we know, those of us with an active conscience have little choice but to live differently.

And ultimately that is the goal of the sistering relationship as well.  The Austin committee (that’s the official name that Sister Cities calls the ESG) funds projects, but that is not the goal itself.  The goal is to know our brothers and sisters here in Guajoyo, and if that knowing reveals ways that the dignity of life can be improved in the community, the ESG is compelled to participate in that because of the relationship they have.

Celebrating the small triumphs, like catching this rooster

Celebrating the small triumphs, like catching this rooster

I’m happy to learn that the ESG has been reading my blog, and even printed out sections to discuss at their most recent gathering.  One of the questions that have come up in comments was how youth projects might help persuade young people in the community to stay here and invest in the future of the community rather than risking their lives to pursue the dream of migrating north to the United States.  I think the cyber café project they are currently working on is a great example of that idea, because it provides an opportunity for these young people to dream something up and then see it to reality.  Often the reality is that dreams stay dreams, and that’s why people tend to look elsewhere to place their hopes.

I think other questions that would be useful for the group include how the relationship can be strengthened.  I really encourage anyone who can to come visit Guajoyo this year in June.  You will be changed for conociendo, knowing the people of Guajoyo and the story of El Salvador.  How can you connect issues in Austin, in Texas, and in the United States with issues here?  And in what ways can this sistering relationship be used to encourage people in Guajoyo to have dreams and to pursue them?

Members of the youth committee working out the final budget for the cyber cafe project

Members of the youth committee working out the final budget for the cyber cafe project

The opportunity to study is a huge success for young people in rural El Salvador.  Education in its various forms is important for growth on a personal and community level.  Things like leadership trainings and community cultural exchanges help connect us to the larger picture of how individual realities fit into the national and international picture.

In closing, thank you again and again and again to the East Side Group for caring about El Salvador, and for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this relationship.  I look forward to continuing to be a part of this conversation about what our role is as people who care and who want to conocer.

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So sweet it will rot your community

Raul Carbajal Clima displays some of the toxic chemicals used to treat sugarcane plants

Raul Carbajal Clima displays some of the toxic chemicals used to treat sugarcane plants

 

The cultivation of sugar cane, although a staple of trade in the Caribbean during the 16th and 17th century, only truly arrived in El Salvador in the past twenty years.  This new agricultural development in the country has had devastating effects on the environment and on countless communities along the coastal region of El Salvador, where sugar cane cultivation is concentrated.  According to people in the communities and those who work in the cañaels, or sugar cane fields, it isn’t the sugar cane itself that is damaging but rather the fertilizers and pesticides that are used.  Toxic chemicals are applied by hand or by airplane to rapidly increasing quantities of land where sugar cane is grown, alarmingly close to people’s homes, schools, and water sources.

Raul Carbajal Clima, 28 years old, lives and works in Las Anonas, in the department of San Vicente to the east of the nation’s capital.  “The owners have us put chemicals on the plants so they mature faster, and if these chemicals touch your skin it burns.  And when you breathe in the fumes it can be toxic and causes kidney damage.  I know a man who died last year because of it.”  He pulled a few bottles out of a box; their labels read in large letters “Toxic Chemicals.  Do Not Touch.”

Where Raul works these chemicals are applied by hand, but he says they also spray chemicals from airplanes.  These chemicals kill fish and birds upon contact as well as plants and trees surrounding people’s homes.  “We used to have a banana tree right here by our house  that we ate bananas from, but when the chemicals came from the airplane the tree died and now we can’t grow any fruit around our house.”  Raul and his family’s house, made of corrugated metal nailed to posts, is just 50 meters or so from a sugar cane field.

It is not only the application of chemicals that is concerning, but also the practice of burning the fields before harvest.  These fires are hazardous to the communities that are interspersed with the sugarcane fields, killing livestock, endangering children, and re-releasing harmful chemicals into the air.  It is common knowledge that this practice  reduces the nutrient level and sugar yield of crops, but because it increases harvesting efficiency, burning continues to be widespread.

The majority of the residents of communities like Las Anonas work in the cañaleras due to the fact that in the past 10 years nearly all agricultural land has been turned over to sugarcane.  Where in the past people grew corn, millet, papayas, yucca, and other produce that is consumed by the local population, there are now acres upon acres of sugarcane.  That means that these basic grains upon which the local population depends now have to be purchased whereas people used to cultivate their own.  A laborer working in the sugar cane fields earns about $4.45 a day, hardly enough to feed a family and pay for other basic needs.

Yet for all the environmental and health problems that accompany the cultivation of sugarcane, the benefits are few for the communities that are suffering.  Owners of sugarcane production are almost exclusively wealthy investors who live in the city and who rarely show up on the haciendas.  Some of the land occupied by sugarcane is owned by locals but rented to large investors.  In tough economic times, the offer of around $400 per acre per year to rent land for cultivation of sugarcane is hard to turn down.

“People who rent their land to the sugarcane producers don’t realize what they’re doing until after, when their land is so contaminated with chemicals and stripped of nutrients that they can’t grow anything else there,” says Raul.

64,000 hectares of land in El Salvador have now been converted to sugarcane production, according to a 2012 report from the Global Agricultural Information Network.  Raul  is not alone in hoping that the government of El Salvador and more importantly the owners of sugarcane production take into consideration the devastating effects that this cultivation has on  the local population, and work to pursue environmentally sound agricultural practices that will yield crops without devastating the landscape and population.

*Las Anonas is one of the Sister Cities communities.  The US Sister committee is in Philadelphia.

From paper to reality

Now that I’ve been here for nearly 2 months, I’m finally beginning to get into the work of being a Sister Cities volunteer.  Like I said in my last post, things move slowly here.  But I am learning about the decision making process and what the trbajo organizativo – organizational work – looks like in Guajoyo and in El Salvador in general.

The Austin committee is funding several projects in Guajoyo this year, and I’ve been involved in the slow process of seeing those projects go from paper to reality.  The project I’m most involved in, as it involves the youth and that is one of my areas of focus while I’m here, is a youth-run cyber café.  The Austin committee collected 4 used computers to donate, which the youth hope to use to start a community space that brings technology to students and adults alike.  As it is, anyone who wants to use a computer has to pay 50 cents to take the bus or pickup (which only pass about 6 times a day) into San Nicolas to go to the cyber café, which charges $1/hour for internet use.  Such an excursion ends up costing at least $2 (transportation there and back plus time in the café) and at least 2 or 3 hours.  It’s a great project that, once in effect, will be a huge support not only to Guajoyo but to the surrounding communities.

But getting it off the ground is quite a feat.

First, it requires gathering a group of dedicated community members – in this case youth – who are going to see the project through.  We planned a preliminary meeting last week on Wednesday, but nobody showed up so we moved it to Thursday.  Thursday only the president of the community council, 2 youths, and myself showed up.  We ironed out some details, like sending a few people out to gather cost estimates for the project (for things like an internet modem, desks, printer, etc), and we planned a follow up meeting for this coming Tuesday – tomorrow.

The process of calling a meeting is still something that bewilders me, a product of the facebook generation.  I am used to meetings being planned at least a week in advance and details about the meeting being published online and in some cases in writing.  Here, in this community of oral communication, planning a meeting just means informing the right people, and they spread the news through the community.  They go to the soccer field at 4:00 when there is sure to be youth gathered.  They go to the church on Saturdays and Wednesdays where people gather weekly.  Or, they just walk up and down the main road poking their heads into the yards of people’s houses as they pass by, shouting the important information to residents as they lounge in their hammocks or pat tortillas by the fire.

Then the meeting itself, if it is scheduled for 3:00, people begin to show up at 3:30and fill the plastic chairs arranged haphazardly in spots of shade.  By 4:00 or 4:30 the meeting begins, and an hour into the meeting people finally warm up and start to contribute.

Meeting with the Junta Directiva

Meeting with the Junta Directiva

The idea for the cyber café came from the youth, and has evolved since it was first mentioned as an idea.  Since a certain amount of funds are available, it is the job of the youth committee to figure out how to execute the project within the limitations of available funds.

There is an irony in the speed of decision making here.  On the one hand, it moves at a slug’s pace, but on the other hand, decisions are made swiftly without waiting for full attendance or participation.  At meetings I’ve attended in the US, it seems that decisions made usually require follow up and the input of individuals not in attendance.  But here, those who show up are those who have a say.  If the meeting is called to elect a new committee, those who show up are the candidates, and it’s tough luck for those who don’t.  So I hope that enough youth who are really interested in seeing this cyber café project through show up to the meeting tomorrow, because those in attendance will be the ones who design the project and make decisions.

One critique I have to offer, and that I brought up in our last meeting, was the need to constantly come back to the question: “How will this benefit the community?”  The cyber café, for instance, will definitely benefit the community, but the moments when the conversation got lost down an unproductive path was when they strayed from this foundational question.

I’m getting used to the whole process, and even initiated two meetings of my own this week.  We’re starting an English practice group for those who want to improve their English outside of the classroom.   The second meeting was on the very important subject of dance in the community.  I called it a dance class, and I did teach some swing dance moves, but it was really just an excuse to get together and dance on a Saturday morning.  I’m looking forward to more of these meetings

First (un)official Swing Dance Class in Guajoyo!!!

First (un)official Swing Dance Class in Guajoyo!!!

This Week in CRIPDES San Vicente…

Each Monday the CRIPDES San Vicente team meets to touch base on events and activities of each of the 5 organizers.  As often as internet and time allow, I will be posting weekly updates with highlights of some activities CRIPDES is currently involved in.  These are not necessarily directly part of Sister Cities’ work, but because Sister Cities supports the work of CRIPDES, we at Sister Cities are indirectly supporting these activities and more:

The CRIPDES San Vicente team is down one organizer; Rosaura, who was one of the two youth organizers on staff, took a position with the mayor’s office last week, leaving an open position here at CRIPDES.  The team has posted the job opening and will be reviewing resumes the first week of March.

The communities of Las Achotes, El Socorro, Bethanio 1, Bethanio 2, and La Florida have been in the midst of a heated struggle to secure potable water for over 2 months now.  The communities receive water from a spring located up the mountain that is filtered and then directed to the five communities.  The system is managed collectively by the communities; however, due to mismanagement, water has not been arriving to the lower communities.  The coordinators of CRIPDES along with the community councils facilitated a visit with an engineer last week that revealed contamination of the water due to lack of upkeep, as well as some structural issues.  Representatives from these communities are currently working to improve the management of the system and resolving the issue of funding in order to repair the current problems.

Last Friday was the first of a series of trainings offered to 15 young women on the topic of Self Esteem and Leadership.  5 women attended the first training, held at the CORDES office in El Playon, with hopes for full attendance of 15 women at the following trainings, which will continue until March 22nd.

Last week CRIPDES enjoyed a visit from two representatives of the Spanish organization  Pro Clave Betica, one of the many international organizations that supports organizational and developmental projects in the area.  Their projects include high school scholarships, support to artistic groups made up of youth in the area, and other projects that provide opportunities for formation and diversion for youth in the region of San Vicente.

Last Wednesday CRIPDES hosted the first assembly for high school scholarship recipients of 2013, funded by US-El Salvador Sister Cities and the SHARE Foundation.  43 students, most accompanied by a parent, came to receive their first installment of this year’s scholarship, and to learn about the commitment expected of them as young leaders.   These students will attend monthly assemblies, each with a different theme.  The next assembly, to be held on March 1, will be hosted by youth leaders of the organization MPR-12, who train the students in youth leadership.

Update from Scholarship Assembly

Moms and students at the first Scholarship Assembly of 2013

Moms and students at the first Scholarship Assembly of 2013

Edith, one of the CRIPDES organizers, explains the history and work of CRIPDES to scholarship recipients

Edith, one of the CRIPDES organizers, explains the history and work of CRIPDES to scholarship recipients

Scholarship recipients enjoying an ice breaker game

Scholarship recipients enjoying an ice breaker game

Working in groups to brainstorm topics for future assemblies

Working in groups to brainstorm topics for future assemblies

Slow

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Anybody who knows me, especially in the last year and a half, knows that slow is not a word that describes how I work.  I walk fast.  I type fast.  I like meetings to be fast.  I don’t know what to do when I don’t have 3 things to do at a time.

That’s not an option here.

The working pace here should infuriate me, but it doesn’t.  It does amaze me though.  Here in the CRIPDES office, editing a Word document might take a whole morning.  In a meeting, we might spend 30 minutes talking about things people already know and for no particular purpose.  In a community meeting, 5 people might make 15 minute speeches saying the exact same thing.

But it’s not about poor work ethic or laziness, I think it has a lot to do with being an oral culture.  I come from a visual culture, where, thanks to the internet and accessibility of technology, recording and sharing written information is super easy.  Invitations can be sent out via email, meeting minutes can be posted for anyone to look up, and if I need background info on anything, I can just google it.  But in a culture where those technologies are not widespread and accessible  — and much of the population has limited literacy – people depend on the spoken word.

So even here in the CRIPDES office where computers and internet are (sort of) available, we’re surrounded by, and employees are coming from, that culture where information is spread verbally.  So when you ask a question, the answer is lengthy and gives more back story than I was hoping for, and sometimes doesn’t even answer the question.  And more importantly, it explains the whole process of the junta directiva meetings, which can last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.  These meetings are a space for information to be spread throughout the community, and for background to be given to all sorts of things.

It’s also a space where people process through things.  When you write something, like I’m writing this blog, you have time to think about the words you’re choosing and what exactly you want to say.  But spoken conversation, by nature, is a bit more about processing through thoughts as you go.  If you think of something you meant to say after the meeting, there’s no going back and emailing the group with follow up commentary.

These meetings, and the slow conversations, are how we know what is going on in the world around us in rural El Salvador.  It is the space where we connect with each other and bring our stories, ideas, and concerns together in one big slow cooker.

As for me, I’m getting really good at doing nothing or doing things slowly.  It’s good for me.  But I also get really excited when I get to multitask J

Scholarships

One of the major projects that Sister Cities and other similar organizations in El Salvador are working on is offering scholarships to rural youth for whom money is a barrier to attending high school or university.  But the idea of the scholarship program is not simply for kids to go to school, although that’s a lovely thing in and of itself.  The idea of the scholarship program is to give the support necessary to raise up new leaders in these communities that otherwise have limited access to such opportunities.   The hope is always that these young people will use the knowledge and experience they gain from formal education to improve their communities.

That’s why in addition to getting good grades at school, scholarship recipients are also expected to attend assemblies that provide training in diverse topics such as leadership, gender issues, and political formation.  They are also expected to get involved in the organizational process of their community, which means joining the youth committee or participating in the junta directiva.  Because here, having an education is great, but it’s not going to change the situation for these communities.  Those who are lucky enough to get a solid education and a job have to leave the community, because there are no jobs there.  So perhaps that family benefits by having a family member with a salary, but the community stays pretty much in the same.

But if you are selective about who the recipients are, and if you emphasize that the purpose of the scholarship is to build up leaders in the community, then you’re getting into something bigger.  Then you get young people thinking critically about their situation and immersing themselves in the process of figuring out how to improve their communities overall.  And then the resources invested into one person are spread throughout the community.

Meet Wendy, one of Guajoyo's 8 high school scholarship recipients.  She's also my neighbor

Meet Wendy, one of Guajoyo’s 8 high school scholarship recipients. She’s also my neighbor

Tomorrow we have the first assembly of the year with the high school scholarship recipients, and it will mostly be like an orientation to the scholarship program.  The main goal is for the students to understand that by accepting the $25 a month that cover transportation and food expenses to get to school each week, they are committing to attend each of the monthly assemblies and become actively involved in their communities.

Future assemblies will cover topics like popular education, gender issues, organizational tools, political formation, risk management, etc.  We’re currently working on planning these future assemblies with youth leaders from MPR-12 (see glossary for more info!).  These are young men and women 18-26 years old who already have years and years of training and experience being involved in the social movement and popular education in El Salvador.  They are incredible and inspiring, and exemplary of what we hope to achieve with these high school scholarship recipients.

This relationship with MPR-12 is a new one, and one I’m really excited to be a part of facilitating.  Sister Cities and CRIPDES are in the process of shifting their focus from being project-based to being more formation-based.  Just as scholarship recipients will be expected to attend these trainings, in the communities we are hoping to offer more opportunities for leadership formation, giving tools and building a community of leaders with men, women, and youth who are already involved in the organization of their communities.  It is a process founded in the idea that the best support for the communities is within the communities themselves.  By offering tools and support to community members, you are equipping the true experts to take part in this process of development.

More photos will come soon, don’t you worry.

In other news, the mangoes on the trees are getting bigger and beginning to paint themselves yellow, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The Daily Grind

Representatives from organizations and communities that work with sistering relationships

Representatives from organizations and communities that work with sistering relationships

I have spent this week in San Salvador, as much to get better from having a skin parasite as to help out with the mountain of work that needed doing here in the national office.  The week has been full of meetings of all sizes and configurations, and it has been interesting to see what the day-to-day work of Sister Cities looks like.

The role of Sister Cities is to facilitate solidarity relationships between US and rural El Salvador communities with the purpose of promoting social justice and sustainable development in both countries.  That’s a mouthful.  But how does one do that??  Sister Cities itself, made up of a network of committees and supporters around the US, is staffed by 2 ladies here in El Salvador and 1 in the US.  On the ground in El Salvador, Sister Cities is part of a network of progressive organizations working to improve the conditions of human rights, health, agriculture, democracy, gender rights, non-violence, etc. in the country.  Check out the glossary section for more info on some of these organizations.

The main organization they work through is called CRIPDES, a Salvadoran organization that is charged with development in rural areas.  CRIPDES works in 7 of the 14 regions of the country, and their main goal is to support the organizational process in communities; helping communities themselves identify and advocate for their needs.  Some of CRIPDES’s current areas of focus are:

  • Political Advocacy (topics include water rights, food sovereignty, anti-mining, tax reform, election observation)
  • Youth Organization
  • Human Rights
  • Solidarity and Human Rights in Honduras
  • Women’s Organizing
  • Risk Management

CRIPDES does their work on the ground through regional organizers (who are, of course, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated, but they are true heroes in this country) working with the Junta Directivas, or community councils.  Sister Cities does practically nothing outside of CRIPDES, because CRIPDES is made up of Salvadorans, and dedicated to meeting needs as defined by communities, using methods defined by communities.

But beyond CRIPDES, Sister Cities works with a whole boatload of other organizations, only a few of which are listed on the glossary page.  This week was spent in meetings because the daily work of Estela and Alexandra, the staff members here in El Salvador, is about knowing what’s going on in the country, in each region, and in individual communities.  It’s about knowing who is working on what, and how we can come together to support common goals.

A great illustration of this connectedness came in the form of 10 youth organizers who were arrested in December and just released this week, thanks to a press conference held by Sister Cities and supported by several other organizations.  They were arrested for suspected gang involvement, a common problem for youths who are involved in the organization of their communities, the very youth who are actively working against the gang culture of violence and destruction.

One of the released youth organizers with his sister and nephew

One of the released youth organizers with his sister and nephew

More info on their case coming soon 🙂

So, moral of the story, sometimes doing incredible work means sitting in lots of meetings and working slowly because of the interruptions of all the people you’re connected with.  But it’s such, such good work.

Let’s talk about the issues…

In the world of activism and social consciousness, we tend to feel the need to pick an issue, the one cause we feel is most worth supporting, and then it’s a mad rush to let the world know about that issue and fight for what scarce resources are out there.  We get lost in the issue itself, and forget that it’s about something bigger.

One of the things I have been most impressed with not only with Sister Cities, but with all the organizations and communities I’ve been working with, is that they don’t just work on their one issue, they are part of the social movement.  This social movement isn’t just about advocating for the poor or speaking out about harmful international policies or about environmental protection (even though it is about all of those things), it’s about engaging in a critical process that will never end.  The thing is, the point of the social movement is not to achieve success on a checklist of demands, it’s about seeking JUSTICE and DIGNITY.  And wherever those two elements are absent, it’s about mourning and inviting the rest of the world to mourn, and then to inject it with justice and dignity.

When I was in Chile a few years ago, the student movement was still nascent but well under way, and I witnessed demonstration after demonstration of different majors and student organizations.  I asked one of them one day what exactly they were demonstrating for, and at the time their response seemed laughable.  “We are protesting to practice protesting, so that we don’t forget that we have the right and the responsibility to protest.”  They had no specific demands.  Every year, they organized, made posters, and marched in front of the university instead of going to classes one day.  Their demands were students’ rights and better education – but how?  That was not the point.

I shrugged that experience off at the time, but now that I am here, waist deep in the social movement, I see that they are right.  The way the world works, things will always be broken.  People will always make poor choices.  That means we can never stop engaging in the critical process, and I really think it’s great that it’s designed that way.  The thing is, when you are engaged in this critical process, you are in a constant state of seeking GOODNESS in everything, and seeking CHANGE where goodness is absent, whether that be personally, in communities, in business, in art, in religion – in everything.

People involved in the social movement here have seen that the poverty and hunger that plagues the majority of the country is an absence of goodness.  They have seen that policies that consider environmental impacts over potential profits are full of goodness.  They have seen that women and youth in leadership brings goodness to communities.  That is why the social movement exists, and that is why it will never end.   And though people might invest themselves in one particular area, the movement is never just about that one issue.

So when you ask a woman working at a health clinic what is the gravest problem they face, she might tell you it’s lack of education.  If you ask what the biggest problem is behind environmental issues, someone might tell you it’s health.  Everything is connected, it is all part of the bigger social movement.

And now,  recommend you watch this:

The Junta Directiva in action!

I’m going to try to start the process of describing the organizational structure of the community councils (called a Junta Directiva) here in El Salvador, and specifically in Guajoyo.  But don’t worry!  Even if that sounds like a (very poorly written) thesis sentence for a boring essay, I’ll try to make this interesting!!

Here's a picture of a cute little girl to make this more enjoyable!

Here’s a picture of a cute little girl to make this more enjoyable!

So if this gets boring, just scroll back up and admire how precious this little girl is.

So when people came back to Guajoyo as the war was ending (we’re talking 1991-ish here), for the most part they were coming back to a barren land full of the evidence of bombings, shootings, and overall destruction, and there was certainly no sort of local government or anyone to advocate on their behalf.  So they get organized, and what started then has developed into today’s Junta Directiva.   The community elects a president, treasurer, secretary, etc. to be the people in charge of figuring out what the community needs and how to make it happen.  They meet as a Junta, and also as a General Assembly, which includes everyone in the community who wants to hear about what’s going on and have a say.  Also part of the Junta are representatives from multiple committees, such as the Women’s Committee, the Youth Committee, the Water Committee, etc.  The people on these committees are also elected by the community to make decisions for their particular area, and each committee also holds its own meetings apart from the Junta meetings and the General Assemblies.

Communities all over the region, and all over the country, are made up of a similar structure, and they are united on various levels.  The communities surrounding Guajoyo, for example, often hold meetings together, like the general assembly on health that was held earlier this week to discuss the effectiveness of the health clinic.  This kind of coordination happens on a pretty organic level.  On higher levels of coordination (sectoral, municipal, regional, and national — in that order) is where organizations like CRIPDES and Sister Cities get involved.  They bring together representatives from communities for different kinds of coordination.  For example, youth representatives from the municipality of Tecoluca came together earlier this year to plan a Walk Against Cultural Violence and For a Culture of Peace, which will take place next Friday along one of the main highways in the municipality.  These kinds of representatives set the pace for projects and development in their sector/municipality/region.  Those organizations like CRIPDES are then connected to international aid organizations that want to support the development of rural El Salvador, that way, instead of foreigners coming to El Salvador with money and ideas about how to put it to work, CRIPDES facilitates the involvement of community members in deciding how that will be put to work.  CRIPDES also does tons of training and capacity building in things like leadership, human rights, and technical skills like welding or computation.

How are we doing? Do you need another picture to keep going?

Just look at that chicken laying on her eggs!

Just look at that chicken laying on her eggs!

Alright, let’s continue.

So, back to Guajoyo.  The Junta Directiva, as well as each of the committees, gets together at the beginning of every year to come up with a work plan, a list of projects they want to, when they want to do them, and why. This is sort of the road map for the year.  When organizations like Sister Cities give money to the community, they have to create project profiles for each project, which outlines who will be responsible, how much is budgeted, and how it will be managed and maintained.  For example, one of this year’s projects is to create a sort of cyber cafe in Guajoyo so the youth can gain computer skills, and so the ones who go to high school can complete homework assignments — and of course, the international pastime of Facebooking.  The Youth Committee, who proposed this project, are responsible for figuring out who will be in charge, how they will fund ongoing expenses like electricity and internet, and how they will arrange for security of the computers.  CRIPDES and Sister Cities provides them with a format to create this project profile, making sure they have thought it out fully.

The part I’m still not completely clear on is how these meetings and elaboration of plans occurs. Meetings happen where shade can be found, and people are informed by word of mouth, or by sending a little kid to run over and let people know when a meeting is happening.  And if you say the meeting is at 2, you’re lucky if it starts at 3.  I am very impressed with how people take off from work and alter their plans to be present for these meetings.  Because when you work in the fields, coming in for a 2:00 meeting means you’re taking the afternoon off of work, or if you’re in school then you’re taking the afternoon off of school.   Those who are dedicated to the organization and development of their community are happy to make this sacrifice, and that group is ever growing and changing.  It is a stark contrast to the US where planning a meeting means trying to find a time in everyone’s busy schedules when nobody has other things going on; here, this is what is going on.

Next week we’ll have a meeting with the Junta Directiva, so I will be able to give more information about how they are working and what they’re working on.  I’m spending the weekend in San Salvador helping out in the national office with a few projects.  On Monday I’ll be attending a press conference about the situation of organized youth who were detained as suspected gang members, and whose release the community has been fighting for.  So keep an eye out for more coming soon!