CENTRAL AMERICA – EL SALVADOR
Without rushing but without stopping
Despite a settled period in their history, El Salvador is still a poor country for several reasons. It remains in the shadow of the US with trade agreements that mean its markets do not flourish as they might. Climate change is having a huge impact on agriculture and the stability of the land with communities experiencing mudslides and floods. The violence of war has also been exchanged for the violence of gangs, a culture imported from Los Angeles, and which is so strong that few people, especially the young, can escape it. Territories in the cities and towns are clearly marked and it is common to find dead bodies in the streets. There is a strong machismo culture and crime is high.
With all this happening many young people feel disenchanted with the future and want to get out of El Salvador to make a new life in the US. Gloria Fuentes is part of a youth group in Cacaopera in northern El Salvador. She shared her plans for the future ….
“I want to go to the US. Many do go. I have family there. Why go to the US? I feel there is no future here. There is no work as a graduate. “
They see families who have members living there, both legally and illegally, sending money home to supplement incomes and provide a much better standard of living. However her plan is fraught with danger from the journey and the extortion and slavery she may encounter. So many young people do not make it across the border.
With such problems, Christian Aid partner, ISD – INICIATIVA SOCIAL PARA La DEMOCRACIA works hard to create active, engaged citizens and to promote a culture of democracy. They help groups find a life at the heart of their communities rather than in the gangs, but it is difficult.
José Maria Ortiz shares his concerns for his future….
“Our main problem is that we have no money. That is why university is too expensive. I work on handicrafts, making hammocks (a local craft).”
In the past there was a dominant authoritarian traditional economic power that had control over political parties and took over state institutions. This created institutions that did nothing for the rights of the people. It was seen that political power was only for those in politics. In elections voters voted for one person in a party, then the whole council was that party. Access to justice was unequal for society as a whole.
However, through education and training from ISD, José is learning that governments should be transparent and accountable and that, as voters, they have power to challenge.
“Every time we learn one thing we want to do something else. We feel the need to teach it to others. Workshops are motivating.”
explains Santos Wilfredo Ortíz a member of the youth group in Cacaopera.
Active citizenship is not enough without change at the national level so ISD are also seeking to make partnerships, by working with churches, unions, rural peasants (campesinos) and students to make them stronger. By acting as mediators they hope the dialogue that takes place will, in years to come mean that young people, like Gloria, will be proud of their country and want to contribute to its future, but there are many steps to be taken before that happens.
The mission statement of the youth group is Sin prisa pero sin pausas. – without rushing but without stopping (slowly but surely) and that is the way it has to be at present.