“Santa Marta” – El Salvador Days 7-9/15

Making generalizations of a whole based off a piece will never give an accurate representation, nor set constructive expectations. My first full weekend in El Salvador would be in a community known as Santa Marta, though first our group had a very important stop to make.

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Ciudad Mujer is an organization focused on women’s services for health, employment skills, legal rights and child care if needed for the clients. Because this facility also supports women who may have been abused in some way by their partners, I was thankful that the other males and I could partake in the tour. The facility is very modern with high-tech equipment and the most up-to-date services for the women they serve. Health literacy, work skills, legal counsel, and other empowerment activities were the foundation of Ciudad Mujer. After touring the facility our group had lunch at San Rafael Cedros where we stocked up on supplies before heading to the rural Santa Marta.

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After driving for about an hour or so, we reached Radio Victoria, which is close to Santa Marta and will be detailed later. Our group had the great opportunity to hike to Santa Marta from Radio Victoria and the sights, trails, and views were amazing. I had to keep reminding myself I was in another country as I looked at the scenery and reflected on this new area. The mountains, volcanoes, trails, and vegetation all looked new and historic, leaving me in awe with each new area or path I encountered. I was personally thankful for this opportunity and wondered what new college students would see these same sights in the future.

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Later this night, I met the host family I would be staying with, and it was a phenomenal experience. Foremost, their living area was not as modern as I was used to, yet was filled with organization, love, community, and spirit. After touring the area, my roommate/classmate and I met the family, and this would become the highlight of my trip this far. There was a high schooler, college student and an elementary student. I connected with the 10-year-old not through Spanish communication, but through video games.

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He liked Pokémon (just like me) and had a Nintendo DSi (I had a Nintendo 3DS) and we momentarily traded games to play and played a multiplayer racing game. It was genuine bonding and we both connected on a very high and relevant level even though we spoke different languages (video games was the common language understood by both of us) . While I liked the experience as a whole, connecting with him really reinforces my notion and advocacy that video games are teaching and educating tools, and I was glad to be able to share it with such an awesome niño. We also colored in a coloring book together and I gave him a drawing of a Pikachu which we colored together after I sketched it out.

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Santa Marta is a very strong and resilient community. I cannot do it justice in a brief paragraph. In between staying with my host family, we heard testimonies for residents who lived through the civil war struggle, political corruption and brutal deaths and action. I would recommend researching the El Salvadorian civil war, and getting context for what these residents were speaking on. The most impactful aspect of their stories were two aspects: The first was they were still smiling, still positive after dealing with such inhumane actions and giving hospitality to us as United States citizens, who aided in prolonging the civil war due to providing funding to ARENA, the fraction fighting against FMLN, the party which supported and protected them. The second is how EVERY person said in some way we cannot stop talking about this to remind the next generation and others of these actions. Where I’m from (and this is a generalization) my country is moreso focused on presenting one in a best light, focusing on the positive, and not heavy speaking on non-positive actions for the best portrayal possible. This reminded me that both the positive and the negative historical acts and experiences are needed for growth, learning, and teaching.

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After saying goodbye to our host families, fully exploring Radio Victoria was our last stop before heading back to Hotel Oasis. This was an impactful talk because my pre-study abroad project was on the effects of mining in El Salvador. Radio Victoria started as tape recorded talks and advanced to a full radio station that is still currently played around the community. Listening to the struggles of the staff being threatened, stalked and even some murdered because of their reporting on negative mining effects was heartbreaking, and from 2009 to present, there has been no prosecution for these crimes. Though I was content when the two speakers made it clear they had the support of the community and the US though solidarity visits such as ours. We ended the talk with my classmates and I giving positive comments live on air on their radio station to the community. It was an unforgettable action and I was so thankful to be apart of their struggle and fight for protection, equality, and safety. Aren’t these protections all humans should have? When I return to my community, I will be motivated to be much more inclusive, giving, positive, willing, patient, and trusting: trusting that anything is possible with the support and commitment of others.

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“Día de Trabajo” – El Salvador Day 6/15

Today was an important day in El Salvador. Unlike my previous days where there was much to do in one day, only one activity was planned for today: attending the workers day march on May 1st, which is somewhat equivalent to our Labor Day. This was not a protest or parade; it was a march where El Salvadorians could come together and celebrate their right to work and express opinions, thoughts, and politics that affected it. I was also told our group would be looked at even more, including photos being taken and interviews conducted.

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The first aspect I noticed was how this was celebrated compared to my home country of the United States. Labor Day there is still celebrated, but more individually or between close family members and friends. El Salvador’s celebration seem much more collective and simply looking at the crowd of people (those in the march and those watching the march) can convey the unity between these citizens. My classmates and I all take different messages from what we see, and mine was there were young adults and university students there supporting the cause. This was great to see, and really reinforces their term of solidarity into an action instead of just a word.

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I felt I was drawing attention to our group, and many bystanders of the march would take my photo, and I poised of many of them either by myself, with them or with classmates. At this time I wondered what they would do with those photos. Would they say to friends they met a North American? Were they happy with our presence here? Was there more we could/should have been doing instead of just watching?

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Nevertheless, everyone was friendly so hopefully our presence was positive and supportive. There were moments, however, when many would gather to take photos quickly, similar to a paparazzi shoot. I didn’t care for this because I felt it took the focus off the marchers and put them on me. I was only watching, and it should be the hard-working marchers who get the attention.

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I was interviewed about three or four times, within minutes of our professors telling the class to brace for it. The first interview, a young adult about my age had a pad of paper and asked why I was here and why did I support this. I responded that it was great to see such collective effort and I indeed supported this gathering. The second interview was from another young adult who asked basically the same question, only this time he held his cell phone up to me so I can only assume it was recording. I responded the same way and tried my best to convey myself accurately and responsibly.

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This was a powerful event, and what made me most happy was that I saw MANY groups and individuals who my group met with since I’ve been here. One of the masculinity facilitators, the ACSYECA speaker, the community leaders who spoke on caring/changing behaviors for the gangs, and even our Hotel Oasis staff were there and greeted us. The unity I felt was so moving, and I could only image the native citizens sharing this feeling on an even more powerful level.

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