Saturday, August 14, 2010
This fabulous trip came to an end today. We each headed back home to our families in Montgomery County having made new friends and learned volumes about El Salvador and the Department of Morazan. At every leg of our trip we were greeted with friendship, warmth and great generosity. We hope to be as good hosts as the people of El Salvador were to us. The group is excited to begin to craft the next steps which include building a strong Morazan Sister Cities committee in Montgomery County. Many people are looking forward to going again next year to continue learning from each other community to community.
Time to shop before the flight at the Artisans Market in San Salvador.
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Friday, August 13, 2010
On Friday morning we visited the U.S. Embassy, one of the largest in Latin America. We met with Embassy public affairs officials and briefed them about our trip and goals, and learned of their initiatives and ways they could support some of our goals. After a very helpful meeting at the Embassy, some of us visited the General Assembly where a delegate gave us a tour of some of the major chambers. He explained about his work to locate children that were orphaned during the war and sold into the international adoption black market. We got to ask questions about the current political climate and the numerous parties in the General Assembly. A group then headed to the El Salvador Habitat for Humanity headquarters. They took us to see some of their newest initiatives in building entire communities as well community centers and schools. We traveled to Ahuachapan near the Guatemalan border and Santa Ana and saw firsthand the good work they are doing in partnerships with local leaders. We took the scenic route back to San Salvador stopping briefly in Ataco, considered one of the most picturesque towns in El Salvador. Others in our group went to the artisans market and picked up various samples of arts and crafts from all over El Salvador.
Member of the Assembly Damian Alegria gave us a tour of the National Assembly building.
A Habitat for Humanity community organizer gives us a tour of a project in Santa Ana.
Habitat staff at a community school built by Habitat with Neftali Granados, Gaithersburg businessman and owner of Morazan grocery stores.
Ataco at dusk, a popular tourist destination for both national and international travelers.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010
We had an intense first five days of travel and meetings, but day six was pure enjoyment and relaxation. A Morazan family hosted us in their beachfront property at Cuco where we enjoyed a walk on the beach and were treated to a delicious lunch of fresh fish, corn on the cob, tortillas, rice and chirimol (a side dish similar to pico de gallo). We swung on the hammocks drinking coconuts and processing all the wonderful things we had seen and the impressive group of leaders we had met. Some in our group created an “Amazing People” list which grew each day as we met more and more amazing leaders in Morazan doing amazing work. By the end of the day we had feasted and enjoyed a laid back day at the Cuco beach in southeastern El Salvador. We traveled back to the capital of El Salvador that afternoon, passing the volcanoes, markets, and everyday people going about their daily routines. As we approached San Salvador, a city of nearly 2.1 million, we saw the usual traits of most modern cities: urban density, shopping districts, residential areas (called colonias) and traffic congestion. That night the group was treated to dinner at the home of the general manager of ADEL Morazan, the coalition of non-profit groups that have worked together in Morazan for over 18 years. In his spacious and beautiful house we enjoyed more good food and conversation.
Schoolteachers Susan Gross and Emily Adams and our guide Fredis Pereira enjoying lunch at Cuco beach.
Not much left for the dog after John finished lunch at the beach.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
On day five we met with the governor and representatives from the national government to hear about each group’s strategic priorities. The national government’s Ministry of Salvadorans Abroad is very interested in Sister Cities programs as a way to address some of their major challenges and channel the Salvadoran community’s energy toward helping their home country develop economically. Their hope is that Salvadorans living all over the world will be part of the strategy to improve the living conditions and standard of living so that people need not emigrate to the United States and other countries. The governor has created a strategic plan for Morazan jointly with the non-profit community so that, for the first time in history, there is a comprehensive strategy for economic and social development for the entire department.
We went from this very formal meeting where goodwill was established between various entities to a great reception in the town of Guatajiagua. We had heard so much of this town from Neftali Granados and the hometown association called Associacion Pro-Guatajiagua. They, along with the mayor’s office, organized a welcome luncheon and a visit to a local school and indigenous community center of the Lenca people. The Lenca is one of the indigenous groups that remain in El Salvador. The number of people that identify themselves as Lenca are few but as the Lenca leader we met stated, most everyone in the region is Lenca.
This was our last day in Morazan, so our day ended with a series of meetings where thanks were given to the many people that had helped to make this event happen. Some of these key organizers include: Evelyn Gonzalez, Sister Cities board member and counselor at Montgomery College; the San Francisco Gotera Community Organization, many of whom served as host families with whom we stayed; the local officials; and the members of the delegation each of whom paid for their own trip.
Our next steps were laid out as follows. We agreed to generate a list of opportunities for exchanges that we consider of interest to Montgomery County residents, including areas where Morazan and Montgomery County would be beneficiaries. This list will be vetted by the Sister City committee that is forming back in Morazan to ensure that it fits their interests and priorities. We plan to begin with a few educational exchanges and talked about hosting a group from Morazan in Montgomery County later this year. The official signing of the Sister Cities partnership could take place next summer in Morazan, signed by the County Executive and members of the Montgomery County Sister Cities Board of Directors from both Montgomery County and Morazan.
Staff from the Ministry for Salvadorans Abroad got up at 4:30 AM to meet with us in Gotera on Wednesday morning.
Woman making black clay pottery in Guatajiagua.
Mayor of Guatajiagua presents a beautiful black clay pot to our delegation.
Just a kid at heart. Evelyn jumps rope at elementary school.
The elders in Guatajiagua.
Dance of the Mare performed at the Lenca community center.
Montgomery College Counselor and Montgomery County Sister Cities Board Member Evelyn Gonzalez and Don Mooers, immigration attorney, taking a stroll down the streets of Guatajiagua.
Governor Argueta presents a gift to our delegation at the farewell dinner.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Today's agenda consisted of visiting a local high school and the mayors of two northern municipalities (Perquin and San Fernando). At the high school our young women from Community Bridges continued a series of exchanges with other high school students and their student leadership. In these exchanges they learned about each other's hopes for their communities and brainstormed ideas for joint projects for the future.
In Perquin we visited a newly built community center that is currently pretty much empty. They are looking to stock it with recreational games and activities for people of all ages. At the community center, we learned of the northern region's strategic plan for development and of the border dispute with Honduras. Recently the department of Morazan lost territory to Honduras in a border dispute that was settled in an international court. However, the people that ended up on the other side of the border still see themselves as Salvadoran and come to Morazan for school and other social services. The mayors of Perquin and San Fernando treated us to local music considered "country" music as well as performances by students from the Casa de la Cultura/Cultural Community Center. Finally we visited a maternity center where expectant mothers are brought from all over the northern region of Morazan approximately 2 weeks before their due date. This center serves as a hotel so women who live in remote rural communities can be near medical care during the final days of their pregnancy and have transportation to the local hospital. The health department has drastically reduced deaths of women at delivery as a result of this effort. If that was not impressive enough, we learned that the surrounding community provides food and other supplies for the Center.
Kalkidan Mekonnen from Community Bridges leading an activity at a high school in San Francisco Gotera, the departmental capital of Morazan.
Edith from Community Bridges at INGO High School.
At the cultural house with the Mayor of Perquin.
Youth from Perquin’s Cutural Center/Casa de la Cultura performing.
Arriving at the maternity center at Perquin.
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Monday, August 09, 2010
Monday brought our overview of the socioeconomic status of Morazan by the Governor´s office. Unlike our governor, in El Salvador governors are appointed by the president. Morazan´s governor however is unique in several ways. First, community organizations in Morazan petitioned the president that he be appointed for his long history of community organizing in the department. Another characteristic that makes him unique is that he is a former priest that preached liberation theology and lived among the guerillas in Morazán during the war. We also met a charismatic Irish priest who is the current parish priest of the Catholic Church in Morazan and who has lived in Central America for the last 30 years.
For the rest of the day we met an impressive group of people. First up was the Association for Local Economic Development in Morazan, a coalition of nonprofits working throughout the department. Most of the nonprofits we will visit the rest of the week are members of the coalition. Next we visited a coffee cooperative, Cooperativa San Carlos -- another impressive and historic organization. It is historic in a sense because it is one of a handful cooperatives in the country that remain from the original land reform efforts in 1980. This one was greatly reduced but survived and now its membership continues to grow with approximately 91 small coffee producers in its membership rolls. They produce extremely high altitude coffee, considered some of the best in the country. I can´t wait to try the coffee I bought there. Finally, after the roar of a tropical thunderstorm, we met with a women´s organization called the Association for the Integral Development of Women. We learned of their history, challenges, and successes, and shopped at their clothing store of indigo dyed shirts and products.
Governor Argueta and Fray Alfredo with Evelyn Gonzalez at the Monday morning briefing.
The Governor of Morazan and the Parish priest in front of the old army barracks. They would like to see the barracks demolished and turned back into the town´s central park.
Members of ADEL Morazan, a coalition of nonprofits working together for 18 years for the economic development of the department.
Members of the San Carlos coffee co-op and Sister Cities delegation members Don Mooers and Karla Silvestre.
President of ADIM, a women’s nonprofit that empowers women with new skills that allow them to increase their family´s income (shown here with indigo used to make their products)
Ana Lopez of Community Bridges buying indigo from the Association for the Integral Development of Women.
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Sunday, August 08, 2010
We hurried to Morazan so we could see the last day of a week-long holiday. We spent the morning doing fun activities such as visiting the outdoor market, the Governor’s office, the Catholic Church, city neighborhoods, and a youth center. We then traveled north to a region that has been branded by the Ministry of Tourism as the Peace Route. Here we visited the Museum of the Revolution, a privately owned museum run by a group affiliated with the FMLN, the former guerrilla group and now a political party. There we saw many artifacts that gave us insights into what it was like for the guerillas and members of the community that resided in this guerilla stronghold. We learned about the causes of the war, some of the key players, saw posters from the international solidarity campaign, and weapons of war. We ran into the Vice President of the Salvadoran General Assembly who is good friends with our Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez.
During lunch we had a very happy family reunion. One of the teens traveling with the “Community Bridges” group was reunited with her parents and family whom she had not seen in over 3 years. They took her to her hometown where she spent the day celebrating with her family. In another “it’s a small world” moment it turns out she also happens to be related to our guide Fredis Pereira.
We had learned much about the war in our morning at the museum but we were in no way prepared for what lay ahead. In el Mozote, a nearby village, we learned details of how a U.S.-trained elite group of the Salvadoran armed forces massacred an entire village in a scorched earth campaign. One woman, Rufina Amaya, lived to tell the story of el Mozote and the horrendous details of that day in 1981 left many of us in tears. While what we learned in el Mozote was deeply disturbing, we came out of that experience feeling that all of humanity needs to come see this place for themselves so that the slogan Mozote, “Nunca Mas/ Never Again” can become a reality.
Members of the Sister Cities delegation in the town center of the departmental capital of Morazan, San Francisco Gotera.
Vice President of the Legislative Assembly Sigfrido Reyes (second from left) at the Museum of the Revolution in Perquin
Posters in Museum of the Revolution, Perquin, Morazan.
Edith Bonilla, Community Bridges youth travelling with the Sister Cities group, is reunited with her parents and family in Perquin, Morazan.
Evelyn Gonzalez and Community Bridges youth and staff lighting candles in front of the memorial that names the people murdered in el Mozote.
Mayor and Council of Gotera with representatives of Community Bridges.
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Saturday, August 07, 2010
Fifteen Montgomery County residents arrived tired but happy in San Francisco Gotera, Morazan in El Salvador on Saturday August 7th 2010. We drove through the City of San Miguel, the third largest city in El Salvador and stopped to get a snack at the large and modern Metrocentro mall. We felt like we were in Wheaton Mall. That night we were welcomed by the Association for the Development of the Municipality of San Francisco Gotera and spent some time getting to know each other. We spent the night with different host families in San Francisco Gotera – or simply Gotera as we called it from then on.
Our leader Evelyn Gonzalez greets us at the airport in San Salvador.
Members of the Association for the Development of San Francisco Gotera welcoming the Montgomery County delegation with a traditional dinner.
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Friday, July 30, 2010
Students from San Jose School, Morazan
Representatives from the Office of Community Partnerships will be joining with the Montgomery County Sister Cities program to explore potential partnerships between Montgomery County and the department of Morazán, El Salvador. Director Bruce Adams and Latino Liaison Karla Silvestre, along with a group of Montgomery County residents interested in this initiative, will be traveling to El Salvador August 7-14 (each paying their own way). The goal is to foster understanding and partnership between the two communities, focusing on economic development, culture, and youth exchange.
The group will be learning about the history and culture of El Salvador, meeting with students to learn about the educational system, and identifying potential exchange opportunities for youth. They will also meet with government representatives to discuss economic development and visit non profit organizations. The key aspect of the trip is to make connections and friendships that will expand cultural understanding.
Karla will be updating this blog during the trip. Please check back periodically for updates and news from El Salvador!
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