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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CEIBA in July: take two.

July? I’ll take two! This month, CEIBA is getting a double dose of everything: two delegations, two summer interns, two newly funded projects, and two new dents in the CEIBA-mobile. Well, I didn’t say they were all good, but three out of four ain’t bad! Here’s a blog from a new intern, Federico, who is visiting from New York. He's a friend of Beth's from Santa Clara and currently a graduate student in NYU's International Education program, this month he's channeling his energy on the Children's Emergency Committee.

I arrived on July 6th, right on time for the second half of CEIBA’s first July delegation with the Sladek family from Dallas. On July 8th, the team launched the second Children’s Emergency Committee in a part of Joya Grande known as La Mamonera. The launch was a fun, engaging way to introduce parents, partners, and other community members to CEIBA volunteers and their method for promoting disaster risk reduction in the community. Members of the first Children’s Emergency Committee led activities for the whole group, so everyone had fun while learning a whole lot!

As I adjusted to the new environment, I realized El Salvador is nothing like what I had imagined. From the guitar-playing, hammock-napping and fried plantaine and beans with cream-eating culture to the s

mall town family politics, El Salvador is unique and beautiful, and definitely scary at times. I've really enjoyed getting to know some of the folks in Joya Grande, a rural community about an hour outside San Salvador. They don't have many things, most not even a shower or flushing toilet, but they are rich in spirit and community and innovation. Everyone in Joya Grande washes dishes outside in a fish-pond sort-of-thing for example; the fish help prevent mosquito infestations by eating their eggs. The family I stayed with for a couple days is awesome! They showed me how to roast cacao beans to make chocolate and how to make pupusas from scratch (practically a day's mission, because it requires a trip to the nearest maize grinder), and how to fish with a spear. Not easy. They live about a 15 minute hike from the lake where cows roam about in the day and gangs control the night.

It's sad that children and youth, or anyone for that matter, can't go out after dark. The chance of getting robbed, raped and killed at night is high enough that if any CEIBA volunteers are in the community past 5 pm, we need to stay the night. One can imagine what challenges and limitations that threat poses for a college student whose nearest college is in San Salvador, a two hour, triple transfer bus ride. It requires those who can actually afford the $5 monthly tuition and $.20 bus fare to get up at 4 am! And the road to Joya Grande is a single "lane" sandwiched between a deadly ravine and brush, so I thought the drive was a fun off-road experience where I got to cross rivers and dodge boulders until my friend Beth pointed out the rape tree, where gangs are known to ambush cars at night, and the popular spot to dispose of bodies.

On the bright side, CEIBA was ecstatic to announce to the youth in Joya Grande their success is winning two grants for violence prevention projects in their community! To be funded by the Organization of American States, one project will focus on redefining spray painting as a positive form of artistic expression, and the second will help develop entrepreneurial skills for youth who will make and sell pinatas of characters from Salvadoran mythology. The youth group in Joya Grande is still in its founding stages, and this is just the boost they needed. It was clear the organizers are passionate about their movement when one leader, Janette, described their first fund-raising effort, a soccer tournament on the beach. We are all thrilled to get these next projects up and running as soon as possible. For now, they are focused on preparing a festival and homestays for CEIBA’s next delegation. Based on my experience and their receptiveness to the idea of housing perfect strangers from abroad speaks to the welcoming nature of many Salvadorans. CEIBA’s second intern Cindy put it well when she described the group as “beyond impressive!”

I witnessed the true beauty of Salvadoran culture last week when I backed into a ditch. It was only about 8 pm, but I felt anxious because the car I was driving is Beth's, and I was with Grecia and her mom Iveth, on our way back from a "ciber" (actually a room in someone's house with two computers and printer set up with internet), where we set up their first email account. So when I felt the back tires spin out dirt, I knew I'd need help. Iveth called her husband, and I called Norma (also a CEIBA volunteer), and we had a crew lifting the car and digging out the tire within minutes. Most of the people had no idea who I was, but they were ready to help in a heartbeat. It was that moment between not knowing how I'd get out of the ditch and seeing the local men when I realized the potential of having and building a resilient community. The people of Joya Grande know this. They share stories from Hurricane Ida that are hard to swallow. I could go on about the lives lost and their farmland destroyed, but what's more important is what they learned and how they communicate when storms get serious.

It rains just about every night this time of year, but when it doesn't stop, the lake in Joya Grande floods, and people who live by the beach evacuate. On the flip side, when the ground gets saturated, landslides threaten homes. The previous blog post is a perfect example, where you can see a recently-formed cliff’s edges are covered with a plastic tarp to prevent further erosion, but it's clear that water beats plastic by the changed land formation from one day to the next. The day after our mini crisis, we surveyed the cliff which the community is planning to fill with 500 tires. CEIBA will be hosting a youth delegation as of this Friday, so the goal is to bring the visiting gringos together with youth from El Sauce, a nearby village, to support the people in Joya Grande and build ties that will strengthen their resiliency in a time of need.

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