Friday, January 22, 2010

Remembering El Salvador for Martin Luther King Day, Part 1

This past summer, students from Eastern Michigan University travelled to El Salvador on a delegation with SHARE. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, they gave presentations on their trip to El Salvador in connecting the experience to the human rights that Dr. King advocated for. This is the first part of the talk.

Introduction, presented by Katie

Universal social justice is the right of everyone in society to have a fair share, based on the principle that all people are created equal. Unfortunately, this is a concept that is often times forgotten. We get caught up in school, with work, with our families. It's easy to forget sometimes that even though so much progress has been made, there is an entire world out there fighting for their right to justice and equality. As Martin Luther King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Today, we are here to share our experiences in El Salvador with you. We spent two weeks meeting with human right activists, government officials and community leaders. We abandoned the comforts of our normal lives to live in the homes of the rural Salvadorans who struggle with social injustice every day. We'll begin our discussion with an eye opening look into health care in the third world. We'll also talk about what it's like to be young in El Salvador, what it's like to be a woman in a culture entrenched in sexism and we'll end our discussion talking about transnational corporations and the deadly battle over mining rights that is going on as we speak. In doing so, we hope to bring to light the social inequalities of El Salvador and show you how you can get involved with their struggle.

At the end we will answer any questions you may have and Dr. Stahler-Sholk and Dr. Judith Kullberg will talk about how you can get involved in the program this summer.

Without going on any further, let's begin with Kendra and her discussion of health care in El Salvador.

Health Care, presented by Kendra:

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it”

This quote from Martin Luther King Jr. explains why I am speaking to you today. During my trip to El Salvador I say many problems in the medical system there that desperately need attention. The right to adequate medical care is not a new theme; in 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of human rights. This recognized what rights all persons should have regardless of nationality.

Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” El Salvador became a member of the UN in 1968 and now has not, along with many other countries, brought these universal human rights to fruition.

Of the many locations we visited I found the health care sectors the most disturbing and hopeful. We met with the doctor's union of El Salvador, Sindicato de Medicos Trabajadores - SIMETRISSS. We spoke to Dr. Rene Soto Perez and Dra. Evelyn De Calderon, they told us of the White March when the medical workers took to the streets to protest the privatization of the health care system; because many of the people of E.S. cannot afford medical care on their own. After speaking with Dr. Soto he conveyed his hopes that we would use our knowledge to help bring change to the world and his country.

We also visited the Private Hospital Diagnostico where Dra. Daniela took us on a tour. Most were private rooms and looked much like our hospitals in the U.S. Patients who wished treatment needed to have the money to pay for services. If the patients were not able to pay they would be stabilized then sent to the public hospital.

Next we visited the public hospital Rosales with Dr. Melendez, this hospital was built in the 1900's. The first rooms we visited were large dormitory style with beds lining both sides of the room. Renal patients were being dialyzed by draining their blood into buckets then taken to be cleaned, and then returned to the patient's body. There were also insufficient numbers of ventilators for the number of patients needing them. Those without machines had an attendant pumping a manual ventilator to keep them breathing.

The intensive care unit had only 16 beds and so many patients die before an opening can be found for them. This hospital is one of the major public hospitals in the country, so many people travel great distances to receive treatment. They then may have to wait days before they are admitted. Dr. Melendez hoped by our visiting we might help bring attention to the lack of funding that the public hospitals receive. This hospital has a very nice section that German funding helped to build but sits empty due to a lack of funds to staff it.

I would like to share one more of Dr. King's quotes with you:

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man what will happen to me?' But… the Good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”

If we do not learn to care for the rights of people who are without rights, we are all diminished. And we all deserve the right to health, be it here in the U.S. or in El Salvador.

Youth Issues, presented by Jeff:

One the most marginalized groups of people in El Salvador are the youth. A quote about this I heard so frequently that I wrote it down verbatim was “To be young in El Salvador is a crime.” That's a pretty grave statement was you consider that a third of the population is between 15 and 24. (27% in US)

The reason for this discrimination is the prevalence of gang violence in Salvador. It means a young man can be pulled off the street at any time and scrutinized by the police. In the eyes of the police, any young person is a possible gang member. And in fairness, in a country where education is underfunded and unemployment rates are considerable, the gangs have a powerful draw.

The State Department will you tell that since schooling through high school is free, 92% of the population has at least a 9th grade education. This might be close to true in some urban areas but it is truer to put the education level at sixth grade since local communities will come together to build elementary schools but can rarely come up with the funds to build a high school. University education is also underfunded, which may be deliberate since university students are on the forefront of fighting for youth rights, among other important human rights issues. Student organizations at the universities play a huge role in developing interest and motivating young Salvadorans to participate in political and social issues. In fact, the student organizations we met with were very much stunned by our own low level of involvement in United States issues. It was barely conceivable for them that voter registration drives were about the extent of our participation. To them, apathy is the enemy.

We can definitely take a lesson from them and try to be more actively involved in domestic and global issues. For us here in the States, supporting human rights in El Salvador happens in a couple ways. Some USAID projects have had positive influences in difficult areas of the country. These projects seem to be the most successful at the local level. As such, we can't underestimate the power of letter writing campaigns. Most of the people who vote on these projects never know how efficient or inefficient they are.

Perhaps more difficult is convincing our politicians to respect the social and cultural rights of the people of El Salvador. This means not always viewing the country through a corporate lens. Fostering a relationship of respect with today's youth in El Salvador could earn us a strong regional and global ally and begin to reverse a multitude of errors made in Latin America.

1) Eastern Michigan Students in El Salvador
2) "Everyone to fight for the right to water and health care"
3) Youth in urban San Salvador

1 comment:

Daniela said...

Hey EMU-ers: you're phenomenal. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom!

Thanks Laura for posting and adding perfect pics!

I'd say we have the best delegates in the world; wouldn't you, Laura?