May 01, 2009

El Salvador Day 2 (March 11, 2009)

By Sarah Steinberg

Today began by interacting with all of the participants (MAZON’s delegation of eight people is part of the larger SHARE delegation of 150 individuals) while also going through an in-depth orientation on health, safety, and the elections as well as on the SHARE Foundation. Important health, safety and election takeaways:

1. Brush your teeth with bottled water only.

2. The cars have the right of way, so even though they might see you, they may not stop. Therefore, avoid crossing the street.

3. Don’t go out on your own. Partner system.

4. All official campaigning for the election ends tonight (Wednesday, March 11).

5. El Salvador becomes a dry country at midnight tomorrow (Thursday, March 12).

The SHARE Foundation has been mobilizing residents of El Salvador since the late 80s. SHARE supports poor and historically marginalized communities in their struggle for empowerment, to meet basic needs and to build long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty, underdevelopment and social injustice. Their objectives are to empower women (social, political, economic), to develop successful models for local development, to create alternative rural policies and to build solidarity between the United States and El Salvador through community groups. To achieve these objectives SHARE engages in local development in El Salvador, participates in advocacy both in El Salvador and in the United States and through works on the grassroots level. With offices in San Francisco, Washington, DC, and San Salvador, SHARE has become a critical organization for the people of El Salvador. SHARE’s staff believes that we will be making and writing history on this trip.

This afternoon, I had the honor and privilege to hear Mirna Perla a Supreme Court Magistrate. She is also known for her human rights activism in El Salvador. During our discussion she gave us some context about the situation in El Salvador. On January 16, 1991, the peace accords were signed which was followed by a period of democratization. During this time, there was the abolishment of security forces since the army was key in violating human rights during the civil war. They were responsible for the systematic practice of torture as well as the forced disappearance of persons, including 700 children. Mirna has played a critical role in locating these children and currently approximately 350 of these children have been located, and of those, 200 have been reconnected with their families. Unfortunately, because of an amnesty law, the former army cannot be brought to justice.

Although El Salvador is experiencing some level of peace, there are still many human rights issues. Mirna explained that over the years, instead of the government offering its residents opportunities to get out of poverty, the leadership has led with a strong hand. This has a direct affect on families, where many parents are leaving the country for work in the United States and leaving their children with grandparents, other family members or friends. This leads to the decomposition of family life. Children sometimes end up participating in gangs as there are no community resources to keep them off the streets. From other conversations I’ve had in the past 24 hours, I’ve also learned that children typically only make it through elementary school (which is paid for, except for books, supplies and the uniform). Beyond that, families must pay for further education.

Additionally, El Salvador was built as an agricultural country, but the government has ignored this sector for many years and has imported grains, beans, rice, corn and other staples. This has directly affected food security with 70% of the population in poverty. The average wage is $196 per month, but the typical family needs $350 per month to live moderately.

The question at hand today is, is there enough democracy in the country for a transfer of power? Regardless of the results after Sunday’s election, Mirna will continue pursuing human rights for the people of El Salvador.

Tomorrow, the MAZON delegation will be going into the field to see some of the projects we help to fund.

Until then…

Heather Wolfson