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!!
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?
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!