The walk was in conjunction with The Cultural Center of Santiago Texacuangos and a group of local painters "Los Texacuangos" who planned the route, which they hope to develop in the future as possible ecotourism. We invited every NGO we knew or had heard of that had supported the reconstruction of Santiago Texacuangos in the emergency and beyond. We invited communities, schools, political parties, and the police. However, as we gathered in the morning, we quickly realized the NGOs were not coming. The media was not coming. This will be a walk of the pueblo, of the people who live in the municipality in other communities who want to commemorate the anniversary of the disaster and support residents of Joya Grande who LIVE. However, two very interesting institutions chose to accompany us on the walk: 30 people from the FMLN party, along with the ARENA Mayor and his 10 henchmen. First Picture shows one of the FMLN youth, and the second shows the mayor's right hand man and another ARENA supporter.
I was terrified. Were we about to have a showdown? This day was meant to remember the victims, to be united...NOT for political propaganda!!!! The Director of the Casa de la Cultura, Gustavo, quickly calmed my nerves.
"Beth this is GOOD. This means the event is important. OUR event is important. The PEOPLE OF JOYA GRANDE are important. If both political parties feel pressured to have a prescence, it means they know they will lose face if they don't come. We have made Disaster Risk Reduction a relevant issue. We have made Joya Grande a relevant issue. That's what this means!"
Let me explain a bit for those who don't know this dark side of El Salvador's history- the FMLN and ARENA fought against each other in a civil war for 12 years. They killed and tortured one anothers families, and ARENA, with the financial help of the US government to the tune of one million dollars a day, massacred thousands of innocent peasants, in order to squash the FMLN led revolution. To say that the FMLN and ARENA strongly dislike each other is an understatement. The are STILL in a battle for power. The fact that they came together on this walk is UNPRECEDENTED for Santiago Texacuangos. A group of people called CEIBA and some artists with a vision actually brought people together! We created energy around issues relevant to the population and a space were all are welcome. This is not to say the FMLN youth and the Mayor hold hands; they didn't really even talk to each other (though I could tell by the disgruntled looks on their faces, they surely talked ABOUT each other ;)). But they both came, and they walked the same walk. and its a step in the right direction towards peace building in El Salvador, something that has yet to be achieved since the supposed "peace accords" back in 1992.
Once in Joya Grande, the children led the process of the ignuaration of the mural JOYA GRANDE VIVE. The children chose two delegates to explain what they painted and why, and then lined up to lay flowers in front of the mural, a tribute to the 4 children who died during Hurricane Ida exactly one year prior. The children are the most vulnerable population in Joya Grande during disaters, and that is why CEIBA is trying to raise $1,600 to begin a program of children's disater prevention (and thanks to The Counsell Family, Grace Nixon, and Janine Sheppard, we are now $400 closer than we were last week. Thank you!) Children represent the future of this community, and must be loved, nurtured, and protected. And they must be given a space to express themselves. To paint! The mural was funded 50% CEIBA and 50% local artists, who have been selling their works of art and donating 30% of every work sold to the "Joya Grande Fund". With this fund, and CEIBA donations, we bought the paint, and brought together students in the art therapy class to design the mural. and we chose this wall.
We LOVE Joya Grande. We are proud of it. WOW. after a year of 2 lost bean harvest, being told your community is "unlivable" and being told NO NO NO by every government institution and NGO....The youth are resilient. Joya Grande VIVE.
Have we reconstructed society? is the social fabric strong and renewed? Did we make a difference at all? One year after living on an insanely small budget, managing an NGO out of my bedroom, continuing to raise money month after month...Everyone at CEIBA has made enormous sacrifices. It has cost us family time, sometimes our health, and definately our social life. Our weekends are spent in the community. Many evenings spent in meetings- so that fisherman can fish during the day, and build his society at night. We could use a million metrics and measurement to analyze our progress and our impact.
But quite simply, I must ask myself- Has CEIBA Constructed Integrated Spaces for Environmental Well-Being?? If we have acheived the integration of two political parties who used to literally kill each other walking the same 4-hour route TOGETHER for the environmental well-being of a community called Joya Grande...Than the answer has to be yes. The work is far from over. We still need to build more "social bridges" between the divided, and build water tanks, and teach children how to save themselves....But we are so ready to dive in. We have a year of experience under our belts, and communities that are FAR more organized than they were when the landslides forced them belly-up last year. We have walked for a year. and we will keep walking until the poor are well-protected, well-fed, living in dignified houses, in a world free of violence and intimidation. We will walk until every home alongsides the river has been moved to safer land, until the youth can afford to go to college and have the energy to stay there, we will walk. Climate Change in here, there will be bigger badder storms. But if we have acheieved anything, it is bigger badder community organization....and we hope with all our might the communities will win. Until then...we walk...