Monday, April 30, 2012

Walk the Line: Wednesday Night at the English School

Every other Wednesday evening at CIS there’s an optional English activity wherein Emily plans something awesome such as “Article Club” or “Game Night”, and most of the volunteer English teachers attend and some of the English students show up, and we have a fun time mixing students and teachers and levels and languages.

This past Wednesday we had a “Cultural Exchange”. What began last teaching cycle as a lecture/slideshow-type activity transformed this cycle into something more interactive and, we hope, even more stimulating of learning language and sharing cultural values. Each of the teachers had set up a little booth with some visual information of their hometown/state/country which varied from as near together as Minnesota and Wisconsin to as far away as Maine and Australia with a couple in between (Arkansas and Oregon – okay, it was a pretty U.S.-centric exhibition, but I digress).

We set out a variety of U.S.-inspired food fare including buttermilk pancakes, Wisconsin-style cheese, and apples from the Northwestern U.S. and began the evening as a kind of cocktail-hour-milling-about-time during which the English students were free to (and did!) nosh and schmooze about the room, learning about our different home realities as we learned more about theirs’ as well (“that’s what it’s like in Maine, so what’s it like in your hometown?).

After cocktail-hour-milling-about-time, a couple of us taught some dance forms that we do at home, namely country line and Irish set dancing. As we danced to Johnny Cash and traditional Irish music and experienced culture from a more visceral place in ourselves, I marveled at the universality of having fun and looking silly.

All in all, it was a lovely night to walk the line.

By Rachel Winograd

Some students even took a video!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hugs from Distrito Italia

Today the CIS’s Delegations coordinator, two volunteers, and I went to the third year anniversary of The Roque Daltón Library and Alternative Community Formation Center.  When we arrived to Distrito Italia in Tonacatepeque the children from the library came running down the lane and showered us with hugs. I was very excited to go to the anniversary because while I have worked for CIS for a year now and have heard about many of the projects in the library as well as work closely with the Jaragua collective artisans, it was my first time being able to go visit them.  I have not just heard about the work that the library does with teaching English as well as art classes in the news papers and on the news I hear about the infamous “Distrito Italia” as very violent and dangerous area in the outskirts of San Salvador.

In 2009 Distrito Italia was categorized as an area with one of the highest levels of violence in the country. What this means is that there is strong pressure for youth to join gangs or be victims of the gangs.  Extortion or threats to get money out of poor families is carried out by gang members.  Since the majority is poor, local authorities do little to combat crime or offer alternatives for youth. 

In this context the community library and formation center has worked with many different projects that opens a space for children and youth to express themselves and work together as a community.  When we arrived to the library, I was pushed to the front with the delegation’s coordinator to sit at the table of honor, next to the doctor from the Ministry of Health as well as the Directory of the School in Distrito Italia. 

Two young women were the MC’s for the morning.  We starting by singing the anthem of the library- Casa Abierta (Home that is Open to all).  It brought us all together and also reminded us of one of the people who has poured her love into this community- Antonia.  While she was not able to come and sing with us we felt her love.  During the activity each of the programs gave a small presentation where we got to see some of the amazing talent that comes from this marginalized neighborhood and is all too often disregarded.

Art Classes:  The Mental Health section of the Ministry of Health gives art classes every Thursday at the library.  The team of the art teacher, psychiatrist, psychologist and the health promoter were there to represent mental health team.  The art teacher and the health promoter come to the library every Thursday to give art classes. The art courses are an open and safe space for artistic expression and a place to dream that many of the children do not have in the routine struggle of their day to day lives.  It is a space to listen to each other, to share together, and to grow together, providing them with a communal strength and unity that sow the seeds of hope for the future of the community. 

English Classes:  Every Friday volunteer English teachers go out to Distrito Italia to spend the day with the children and share with them.  Two of the volunteer that have been coming for a few months introduced some of the students.  Two students shared in English about what they thought about their classes and what it meant to them to participate. When teachers come, listen to them, allow them to express themselves, and share with them for a few hours of the day, it is not just about learning English; it shows them that people outside the district have not forgotten them. It shows them that people care about them, believe in them, invest their time in them, and demonstrates an affectionate solidarity that they themselves are trying to cultivate within their community.  After the two students shared their pieces, the volunteer had to translate to Spanish for everyone.

Young women and single moms:  This group of women has recently started in the community; they meet one Saturday every two weeks.  While unfortunately many of them were not able to attend because of other commitments, the women who were present gave us an idea of their group.  Each meeting one of the women prepares a topic to talk about, for example two of the topics they have done are sexual reproductive rights and depression. 

Artisan Collective Jaragua:  Two women from the group gave a brief explanation of this group that is really the roots and the body behind the library.  With the proceeds of the products they sell they are able to contribute with snacks for art classes and some other small costs of the programs.  The collective has been together for ten years now and was born out of unemployment.   They as artisans have tried to work over the years not just to benefit their families, but all invest and give back to their communities.  One of the biggest demonstrations of this is The Roque Daltón Library and Alternative Community Formation Center.

Revy Fair Trade Scholarships:  Two of the students who receive scholarships through the Revy Fair Trade Store coordinated by CIS talked to the group about what this means for them and their family to receive this support.  They talked about how without this support they would need to make sacrifices, like not eating, in order to pay for their studies.  These scholarships are not just helping the students, but also are a huge contribution for to their families as well as their community. 

Girl’s Soccer:  The group of girls ran up to the stage with their giant trophy.  While they were egger to show everyone that they had not lost a single game, and were the champions of a tournament recently, many of them were reluctant to take the microphone.  One of the mom’s chimed in to share that this is a group for the girls to play and to show that soccer is not just for boys, but girls also should play and have fun.  While they are limited in the games and tournaments they can enter because they have to pay for the referee, transportation, and snacks, they have shown that as a team they can work together and play hard.

Between each of these presentations there were artistic presentations of musical groups as well as dance groups.  The talent and potential that these children and youth have is incredible. To wrap up the activity the group presented diplomas to those institutions as well as individuals who have supported them in the past three years of the library.  I struggled for words of how to accept the diploma as I am so inspired and continually impressed with everything they do in their community -especially in the mists of violence and marginalization.  When the English volunteers as well as the health professionals listen to these children at the library, they hear so many stores of oppression, violence, and abuse; however these spaces that the library creates illuminate the hope in their stories.   It was a great honor for me today to receive hugs from the children and youth of Distrito Italia. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Delegation from the University of Maryland School of Social Work

by Agatha So  

 Delegation: University of Maryland School of Social Work


  In January 2012, I joined 10 of my classmates to travel to El Salvador as part of a course on international social work, offered by the University of MarylandSchool of Social Work and coordinated by the CIS.  To tell you the truth, I knew very little about El Salvador or Central America prior to going, but I learned quite a bit leading up to and during the trip. And being in El Salvador was a powerful experience because I learned about the stories of people who have been through so much together, and love so much together still.      
What does a trip to El Salvador mean for a social work student? For one, seeing how Salvadorans were doing things -  everything from community organizing, health, communication, caring for children, and fundraising, gave me a new perspective on what I was brought up and taught to believe was “the ways things ought to be”.

  The trip gave me a new perspective and ideas for approaching social work practice once I get my master’s degree. On another note, because my university is located in a part of the U.S. where the Salvadoran immigrant population is continuously growing, seeing where people come from, and learning about the reasons for migration helped me to understand what it would mean to work with these communities in the U.S. 

These women work in the Indigo Cooperative, this is just some of the beautiful work that they do.  Visit our webpage to see more indigo products and order yours!