Monday, June 10, 2013

COAR, MPI, and gardens

Buenos Dias from El Salvador!

My name is Jesse and as a rising junior at Amherst, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in the GROW trip to La Libertad, El Salvador and meet our partner organization, Pastoral de la Salud. The Pastoral staff has very warmly received us and arranged for us to stay in COAR (Community of Oscar A Romero), a Catholic community for displaced children that last year's GROW team visited. We've spent much of the first week making the rounds and meeting different members of Pastoral, from the health team who gave us an overview of the healthcare system and recent reforms to some of the community health volunteers who gave us an outline of the public health issues they've been working on - water sanitation, nutrition, and various other efforts. A common thread among all these meetings has been the importance of education as a preventative measure against many of the social determinants of health plaguing the community, such as poverty, violence, and other problems - many things that we have been learning about and discussing in ghu.

Our hosts have also been kind enough to accommodate our more touristy requests like visiting a famous national park with a volcano and a beachside restaurant. One of my favorite excursions, however, was a visit to the "Museo de la Palabra y Imagen," henceforth referred to as the MPI. This humble museum showcases the history of El Salvador's Civil War. According to the MPI, a slew of social injustices and human rights violations led to calls for democracy in the 1970's. A bloody civil war eventually broke out from the political and social turmoil and ravaged the country throughout the 1980's until a political solution was reached in the early 1990's. Especially poignant to me was an exhibit at the MPI with post-it notes written by children of their "Salvadoran dreams." The American dream often connotes material wealth, social mobility, and a sense of individualism, but the post-it notes I saw called for things like "a just society," "peace," and even a "fine arts university."

El Salvador obviously has a legacy from this civil war that has, at least in part, influenced an extreme street-gang culture that is usually one of the first things that comes to mind when one thinks of this country. The MPI also featured Oscar Romero, who was archdiocese of El Salvador during part of the civil war until he was brutally assassinated. He was known as "a voice for the voiceless" as he fought for social justice and human rights; he fought for a just El Salvador. In the same way, today the conversation shouldn't be just about how El Salvador is responsible for one of Latin America's highest homicide rates or how access to healthcare is still in a problem in the more rural communities. We can instead look to groups like Pastoral de la Salud, which works to promote health and human rights. GlobeMed at Amherst should be honored to work with such a professional organization that works at the grassroots level to improve health in various communities around El Salvador For example, we attended a workshop on how to create community gardens. A worker taught some community members how to prepare organic fertilizer, how to plot out community gardens, and the various benefits of doing so. We then prepared the fertilizer and saw the whole process firsthand. This system of educating and training community members so they can return to their respective communities and use what they've learned is central to GlobeMed's model. One of the tenets is solidarity and sincere partnership with grassroots groups like Pastoral that are working towards sustainable solutions to big problems like malnutrition and access to healthy foods.

All this is just to say that, as in many other places, problems are complicated and multifaceted, but at least to me, there seems to be a movement of rebuilding and growth that is working towards justice. This spirit is carried on by people who are working hard to turn things around in their country, people like the workers of Pastoral, and the spirit championed by people like Oscar A Romero.

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