There are certain routines that define the passing of time in different places. When I am in Guajoyo, the passing of the tarp-covered pickup truck marks the passing of the hours. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the young boys´soccer team practices. At 4 in the afternoon every day everybody is in the street — some are waiting for the pickup truck, the students are getting out of class, and the women young and old are walking with bowls of corn balanced on their heads to the community mill, while men who recently finished working in the fields come out with renewed energy to play soccer on the muddy field.
Now I have a new routine that marks the passing of each of the last 5 weeks of my stay in Guajoyo: at 2 I walk next door to the house of Niña Marta, one of the historic leaders and a force to be reckoned with in Guajoyo. She is organizing groups of women in 4 different communitites to get together and talk about how to create the El Salvador we — and they — want. Last week was the first meeting, and a huge storm came in at 1:45 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, women trickled in under the pouring rain with an eagerness to learn that was energizing to me.
In view of the presidential elections coming up in February of next year, we reflected on the achievements and shortcomings of the current government — the first left wing President in El Salvador. The women piped up energetically about the huge benefit that the “school packets” program has been, which gives uniforms, shoes, and school supplies to every student, so that no child has to miss out on education due to financial limitations. They talked about the support to small agriculture, and the new institutions that serve and empower women. They also chimed in about the work still to be done — that high schools should provide meals to their students, that envirnomental measures need to be taken and made into law, that the wealthy of this country should be held accountable to pay their taxes, and that legal action must be carried out against public figures who steal — or “divert” — money. They were full of ideas, and by the time 4:00 rolled around and the meeting ended with a snack of bread and juice, the conversations were still rolling. I was awed by the maternal power that filled that space on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, and it filled me with hope for this country that is working seriously hard to listen to that maternal voice and create spaces for maternal power where the patriarchy has historically reigned.
Then at 4:30 comes the hour of Niña Marta´s granddaughter, another example of a powerful woman in this community.
Wendy is 17 going on 18, a scholarship recipient in her second to last year of high school, and she is leading a litteracy group with older women in the community. This is one of the requirements of scholarship recipients through CRIPDES, and Wendy has started up with gusto. About half of the group of women who come to Niña Marta´s group stick around after bread and juice to make up for the opportunities they didn´t have in a childhood that demanded work and submission instead of offering opportunities to learn. Some learned a bit through the radio-transmitted educational programs that the guerrilla radio stations would broadcast during the armed conflict. These groups understood that this was not a war to be won with arms alone, but also by educating and empowering the population.
The current government has made literacy a priority, and dozens of municipalities have already been declared “illiteracy-free” thanks to the efforts of people like Wendy, and with the support of the government. Wendy gives each woman a workbook, and they laugh their way through the hour-and-a-half of copying sentences, drawing pictures, and sounding out written words. The themes of the lectures they study include reproductive rights, parenting, agriculture, and citizen-centered democracy. These women have vast knowledge to share on the subjects, and the literacy groups are a horizontal exchange of knowledge.
I love this routine of Wednesdays, of learning with these women who are the arteries of this community, who are thirsty for knowledge and eager to share the profound knowledge and wisdom they have collected through their decades of living. And I am proud to be a neighbor to Wendy and Niña Marta, who take an active role in the growth and improvement of their country.