Thursday, October 28, 2010

The SHARE Board meets with U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador

The Board of Directors traveled this past week to El Salvador for intense strategic planning discussions.  Our new strategic plan is a visionary attempt to position SHARE for its next stage of work.  Watch for more information about this as communication is rolled out soon!

To help frame our strategic planning work, the Board met with partner organizations, office staff from the Berkeley and San Salvador offices, and visited a number of grassroots projects that SHARE supports.  We met with youth who were a part of a leadership development program.  We spoke with women whose coop community had organized a community garden with SHARE’s help.  We met with representatives from women’s empowerment, economic development, and climate change organizations.  Wednesday morning we had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy and to meet with the newly appointed Ambassador, Mari Carmen Aponte.  Only the third woman to have served in this position, Ambassador Aponte warmly greeted our delegation in Spanish.  What a delightful surprise, especially after having met with previous office holders who lacked fluency in the language.

But it wasn’t just this change in ability that caught my attention.  The political changes in El Salvador and the United States seem to have produced a change in tone and emphasis.  Ambassador Aponte and her staff were enthusiastic about the work of SHARE and were interested in creating ways to perhaps partner on future projects.  Additionally they seemed interested in finding ways to reach out to the community of El Salvadorans living in the United States and intrigued by some of SHARE’s new outreach among “hometown associations” in the US.  Who knows what might be possible with the change in administrations.  At the very least, it was a refreshing encounter and one might pave the way for a more open line of communication between the El Salvador Office of SHARE and the embassy.

For more information about the new embassador,

-Contributed by SHARE Board Member, Pastor Jeff Johnson

Friday, October 15, 2010

Youth Assembly in Chalatenango

This article was written by Grassroots Delegations Leader Bethany about her visit to the CCR youth assembly in September.

Since the end of the summer delegation season, I have continued to deepen my understanding of and appreciation for SHARE's work. I have had several opportunities to visit some of SHARE's counterparts, and see their processes of organizing. I particularly enjoyed attending a regional youth assembly in Arcatao, Chalatenango, organized by the CCR, one of CRIPDES' regional offices. Over 200 youth ages fifteen to thirty filled the community center with clapping, laughter, and encouragement. Well designed to keep the youth engaged, the assembly included brief talks on the current national reality and the history of organizing in Chalatenango, a skit about migration presented by a local youth theatre group, an academic competition, and dinámicas throughout.

Facilitators and presenters often wove in reminders of the roots and reality of organizing in Chalatenango, while maintaining the focus on youth as the light of the present and future. The Assembly opened with the national anthem and the anthem of unity: El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido. A moment of silence followed to remember all of the students who have died and all migrants currently trying to make their way to the United States. Milton Monge, a representative of the local government in Arcatao, began his brief address stressing the need for doctors, nurses, future mayors and legislators, engineers, priests, nuns, and agronomists. At the same time he called on the youth to remember all those that deserved to be present at the assembly, but continue disappeared since the time of the war. Similarly, at the close of her brief analysis on the current moment in El Salvador, María Ofelia Navarrete, Vice Governor of Chalatenango, spoke of her daughter who died during the 1980s. Her daughter wanted very badly to finish sixth grade, but was not able to. María encouraged the students to study hard not so much because of their scholarships, but for those who were not able to go to school.

Monday, October 11, 2010

UCRES Scholarship Students

Meet José Neftaly Valencia, participant in the SHARE-UCRES High School Scholarship and Integral Youth Development Program in Northern San Salvador. Thanks to SHARE’s accompaniment and the support of our US Grassroots base, Neftaly is able to continue his studies and work for community development.

Neftaly is from the community La Joya, a community repopulated by people who fled their homes during the brutal civil war in El Salvador. He lives with both his parents and two sisters in this small, rural community. Neftaly is currently in his third year of technical high school, studying accounting at the National Institute of El Paisnal, the final resting place of Father Rutilio Grande. He is a very dynamic young man that makes one feel immediately at ease and in confianza. Neftaly is the President of the youth committee and in addition to his studies and work as a youth leader, he loves soccer.

Neftaly identifies to two main benefits of his involvement in the youth program: the financial support he and his family receive so he can continue his studies at the high school level, a feat only the minority in El Salvador are able to achieve (the average Salvadoran is able to complete the sixth grade); and having the opportunity to be more involved in regional organization, being organized as a young person, and in participating in youth development.

Neftaly receives a monthly scholarship that covers the costs of transportation to and from class every day, school materials, and a uniform. The program he participates in places emphasis on integral youth development and provides active support and guidance for his youth organizing work in his community. To make all of this possible, SHARE provides a mere $375 per year per student.

As the President of the youth committee, Neftaly helps in the organization of many community activities. One example: the youth committee organizes community movie nights, and uses the proceeds to hold Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations. Neftaly emphasizes that the funds the youth committee raises are not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the community.

As an evolving leader, Neftaly was invited to participate in an intense three-day training to become a Culture of Peace facilitator. With a focus on youth development, the main objective of these workshops is to prevent violence in the zone. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, an epidemic according to World Health Organization’s standards. In a country where youth have few options—migrate to the United States in search of work or join the gangs—youth working together to seek alternatives is a powerful statement.

Culture of Peace workshops, true to their name, focus on building skills for conflict resolution and peace building, taking the place of anger and violence. These popular education circles also deal with issues relevant and of interest to youth, including sexual and reproductive rights, STDs, youth organizing. Neftaly now leads youth groups in twelve communities in his municipality through this transformative process.

Because of his work in community and regional development and organizing, Neftaly has been selected to participate in a Catholic Youth Exchange in Austria this November. This has motivated him to continue his work and help others realize their potential. His dream? To study medicine at the university level and work in his community as a health promoter, to provide this basic service to those who need it but cannot offer financial remuneration.

When we ask Neftaly what he likes to do in his free time, he smiles and hesitates. “It’s really hard for me sometimes,” he says. “With my studies, sometimes the clock hits one in the morning and I still haven’t gone to bed.” But despite his own sacrifice and the many challenges he faces as a youth leader, he likes working in organization and supporting others: “so that young people learn, and are able to share their own perspectives, to see that there are benefits to being organized, and that we have no limits as youth.”

With your support, SHARE is able to accompany this amazing young leader, who in turn is able to accompany dozens of other young people as they develop and grow. Please continue to help us make this work possible, which is changing the future of El Salvador and the lives of thousands of people!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Effects of Hurricane Matthew in Tecoluca

Due to rains from Hurricane Matthew and a following low pressure system, brining chilly weather, grey skies and almost non-stop storms for over a week, many communities in El Salvador have flooded once again.  The squatters community of Bendición de Díos in Tecoluca was overcome by water in the middle of the night and forced to seek shelter in a nearby public school.  Over 100 people have stayed in this temporary shelter for five days, walking to the river that destroyed their homes to wash themselves and their clothes as the school has no running water, sleeping on four-inch thick mattresses on the schoolroom floor, and counting on the organization of CRIPDES San Vicente for food. Bendición de Díos is located between two small rivers and has been declared a non-inhabitable area.  Working with different government institutions, CRIPDES has found a place for these 30 families to resettle once the waters subside.  

Just down the highway, in San Carlos Lempa, another 50 people are sheltered in the CRIPDES offices.  A city council member stops by the shelter on his way to assess the flooded community, to decide whether people can return.  The sun has finally come out, and although many of the streets that run through this community still resemble mud puddles more than roads, the homes are dry, and people would prefer to sleep in their own beds and resume their lives the following day.  And there are those that see the bright side of the rains:  a handful of children from this community have stayed behind to swim and play in the temporary pools created by a weeks worth of rain.  They'll need to bathe well afterwards, but certainly enjoy this afternoon splashing and cannon-balling.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

On Beginning at SHARE

This reflection was written by Bethany Loberg, our new Grassroots Sistering Coordinator.  Bethany writes about her first few months at SHARE with our summer delegations.

I arrived in El Salvador in the midst of Tropical Storm Agatha and began at SHARE the last day of May. My new room and various other parts of Casa Clara had flooded, and visits out to the various regions the SHARE Grassroots program partners with hung in the air due to intense flooding. My house mates and I knew the flooding at our house was only a minor nuisance compared to communities settled on flood planes and families living in houses cobbled together from sheets of tin and cardboard boxes.

In spite of being greeted by torrential downpours and the resulting national emergency, I felt excited to begin at SHARE, as I saw coming SHARE as a continuation of a path that has called me for much of my life. Social justice and human rights have caught my attention for as long as I can remember. I became more and more drawn to U.S. Foreign policy towards Latin America in particular from eighth grade on, through my participation in the School of the Americas protest in Ft. Benning Georgia, and the local SOA Watch group.