Changing the root of things
After I got back from Suchitoto in the state (departamento) of Cuscatlan, I wrote “People never cease to amaze me in wonderful ways.” I see people, with almost nothing, working so hard for improvement in their community.
On Friday I went to Suchitoto with my friend Yeny Rivera. She works for the government of El Salvador in the Department of Education. Right now she is working specifically on a project in Suchitoto with the Concertación de Mujeres. Her area of concentration is sexual violence and reproductive education.
But the first activity on the agenda that morning was a “Caminata Por Paz” (A Walk for Peace) with all the various schools in Cuscatlan. The event was commencing at a school outside the town of Suchitoto. Kids were milling about, chatting, playing music on their phones, giggling, fixing one another’s nametags, as 12, 13 and 14 year-olds will do. Everyone was going in and out of the cafeteria where women were serving coffee and pupusas for breakfast. I noticed a long line of policemen lined up, waiting for their food. It’s something to get used to, seeing policemen or vigilantes at every activity.
There was an assembly, similar the ones I attended as a child in school. Everyone sang the national anthem, as well as the song for Suchitoto. I thought it was pretty cool the town had it’s own song.
All the children were called into their walking groups and we started to head out. We were walking down a rocky, dirt trail through beautiful cornfields, with grand mountains on the horizon. Parts of the trail were shaded by heavy trees and leafy bushes. We came across some cows, hanging out, eating some leaves. The landscape was beautiful and peaceful.
The walk is an activity the schools use as an opportunity to teach young people about the civil war in their country, to remember their history.
This painting of Monseñor Romero was on the side of a building in the country. Romero was a priest and archbishop of San Salvador. He advocated for human rights and peace. As the civil war was starting, he spoke out against the United States’ military support of the new Salvadoran government. He was assassinated in 1980. He is an adored figure by many people in the country. His words still ring true in a country plagued by violence.
“Las violencias seguirán cambiando de nombre, pero habrá siempre violencia
mientras no se cambie la raíz de donde están brotando
todas esas cosas tan horrorosas” Monseñor Romero, septiembre de 1977.
“[The violence will change in name, but there will always be violence until you change the root from where all of these horrific things come.]”
Yeny and I only walked for a little while. We needed to drive into Suchitoto for her meeting with the Concertación de Mujeres at the Centro de Arte.
The center has been around since 1914 when it was a school for girls. Then in 1980 it was abandoned and used by the rebel army during the country’s civil war.
Now, the Centro de Arte is a beautiful compound where they teach art classes, music, computer skills and classes on conflict resolution. I saw a few older American women working there. Yeny told me one was a monk, or something along those lines. It’s funny how much it surprises me now when I hear people speaking English. I think, “Well that’s strange.”
Displays of art lined the outdoor walkway that made a square around a garden in the center of the compound. Off the walkway were big rooms designed for meetings and classes.
That day the Concertación de Mujeres was holding discussion groups at the center. Yeny and I went around to each one to listen in for a bit until arriving at Yeny’s focus group. They were discussing outreach and partnerships with other organizations to address the problem of rape, domestic violence and teen pregnancy in the region.
In August I am going to return with Yeny for an event helping young men cope with domestic violence. As Yeny pointed out, it is important to develop confidence in young men and boys as well. Too often they take out their anger and shame on women. Young boys suffer from psychological and physical abuse when they do not live up to the expectations of their fathers, in sports for example. Boys show signs of interests in areas that are not “masculine” and are then marginalized by their family or community. So this effort is not only attempting to address intolerance with homosexuality, but diversity.
I was so impressed by the resources provided by the art center and by this group of women. There were also a few men present at the meetings. Getting men involved with a feminist movement may be an even bigger hurdle, for reasons I mentioned above. I wish we had outlets such as these in the small town I grew up in.
I met two young women, Marisol, 22 and Gertrudis, 25, who work at the Concertación de Mujeres in Suchitoto. We saw Gertrudis walking to the bus stop that morning on our way to the school. She lives in a small pueblo outside of Suchitoto made up primarily of farmers. In these small towns, women make food and other goods to sell in the street.
There was Gertrudis, walking down the rocky road in her wedge shoes. 25, unmarried and without children, she was going to do her job. She was going to make discuss with her colleagues about how to change the future for women in her community, in her country.
A woman, a former guerrilla combatant, started the Concertación de Mujeres in 1990 at the end of the civil war. Suchitoto has had an especially high rate of adolescent pregnancies and rape. Right now the organization is investigating and targeting these issues specifically.
I plan on returning to Suchitoto a number of times. Not only because it is beautiful and I still have more to see. I plan on interviewing Marisol and Gertrude as part of my reporting on the condition of women in El Salvador. Specifically, I am continuing the reporting I began in Washington, D.C. There are an increasing number of women, now more than men, migrating to the U.S. with some education. Marisol has spent some time in university and plans to go back. Gertrudis hopes to go to college one day as well. Both of them agree that finding work will not be easy. Will they choose to leave their country or stay and try, as they are doing now, to change the status quo?
This is why I was amazed and humbled by the experience of these people, so very different from my own. It is important for me, and for all of us, to remember that there are stories like Magaly’s, but there are also stories like those of Marisol and Gertrudis. There are women who are fighting against their cultural demise. They are uniting and educating women. They want their future to be different.