Wednesday, May 5, 2010

think globally, act globally

This January I spent two weeks in El Salvador with a group of Lesley students. The whole experience was inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. This semester I decided I would focus my capstone paper on this small country that I've grown so attached too. Let me warn you, if you are attached to a developing nation, the worst thing you can do for yourself emotionally is set a google alert. The media is driven by what sells, violence, sex, action, etc. A thread of violence and oppression has been woven throughout El Salvador's rich history. From the time of independence there was a strong established ruling class and frequent rebellion from the oppressed. A 12-year civil war tore the country apart and today gang violence is rampid and the nation has the highest murder rate in the world. You can gain a sense of all these issues through those news stories that pop up. The thing is, this isn't the El Salvador I know. Yes, we had a little background on the history, the war, and we knew that there were places we should and shouldn't go. None of those news stories capture the lives of the amazing, kindhearted, giving, accepting people we met. Google news didn't tell the story of what it's like to step into another world, where family and faith is everything and you work hard to serve others and contribute what you can. I want to avoid idealizing the developing world or romanticizing poverty but I wish you could all spend a day with our group in El Salvador. I wish you could see the dedicated teachers in the rural school we visited, the masons at the Habitat worksite who wrote a song about how volunteers inspire them, sat with the kids who came to visit us every day and talked about riding bikes and eating ice cream, or had a young mom hand you her 6 week old baby like you were an old friend. In reality, the contributions we made there during those 2 weeks don't add up to much. I probably learned more about how to live a meaningful life and put your family first than I could ever reciprocate. So the frustration floods in as a read about how the US is financially and morally responsible for so much of the institutionalized oppression and poverty in El Salvador. We continue to exploit this country, though today it's not about funding violent militarize government death squads, it's about restructuring their economy, forcing them into debt and exploiting young female workers through the maquiladora industry. Solidarity is an interesting concept. A rare loyalty in today's fast-paced globalized world. Amid the frustrating news articles and the academic research I delved into regarding El Salvador, I came across a unique organization, a small beacon of hope. Today I encourage you to visit their website:

The Latin American Solidarity Committee, a small organization with one full time staffer based in Eugene Oregon has fought for the oppressed workers in El Salvador and other Latin American countries. They recognize that we have shared common interests and that we must take action to reverse the negative impact the US has had in this region. Sometimes we feel limited by geographic boundaries when it comes to advocacy and activism. This organization proves that boarders are a fluid thing and when it comes down to it, our commonalities often outweigh our differences.

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