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.
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.