May 01, 2009

El Salvador Day 1 (March 10, 2009)

By Sarah Steinberg
El Salvador Day 1 photo

Eric Schockman (President of MAZON) and I, along with some of our board members, arrived safely in El Salvador early this morning after our short overnight flight from Los Angeles. The sun was just about to peak as we met the representatives from our long-time grantee, the SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today. Our mission for this trip is two-fold: 1. To experience where MAZON’s grants have gone in El Salvador and the lives we have impacted and 2. To be International observers for a historical election to take place on Monday, March 15.

After a short rest period after we arrived at the hotel in San Salvador, we went on a brief walk to a local park. The park holds the Monummento La Memoria Y La Verdad, the historical memory wall. The wall commemorates the lives lost and those who have disappeared since the 70s through early 90s when the country was faced with war and despair. SHARE’s Executive Director Jose Artiga shared with us his story from 1980 when the militants came looking for him. He lived on a farm outside of San Salvador and was entering his last year at the university. Instead of returning home one night so that he would not miss his 7 a.m. exam, he decided to stay in San Salvador. That was the night that changed everything for him. The militants came to his family’s home, but he was not there. For fear that they would return, his family picked up everything and left for the city (according to Jose, the militants returned two hours later). As soon as they got to Jose the next morning, he left the country immediately. Today, Jose took a picture pointing to the place where his name would have been if he hadn’t left. As the Executive Director of SHARE, Jose is now giving back to his home country.

El Salvador Day 1 photo

Jose pointing at the memorial wall where his name could have been.

We had a few extra moments early in the afternoon to visit El Salvador’s acclaimed archeological museum. We learned about the history of El Salvador’s cultural influences, the agriculture and religion of the smallest country in Central America.

Upon return to our hotel, we began the briefing process to become electoral observers. According to our presenter, El Salvador’s electoral system is severely broken. The election this Sunday is a Presidential election between Arena (the more conservative party) and FMLN (the more liberal party). As election observers, we will be monitoring and recording activities occurring in the polling places. Additionally, our presence will hopefully prevent illegal activities (campaigning outside of polling places, providing incentives or paying for specific votes for one party, illegal propaganda, illegal voting by others who are coming into the country…etc.) during the voting process. More to come on the elections in the coming days.

After one amazing day, it is time to say goodnight. The goal is to post a blog daily through March 16. Please visit this site regularly.

Until next time…

Heather Wolfson