During this year’s fundraising event, Rostros: Faces of Central America, the EcoViva community celebrated the leaders creating sustainable change in Central America. María Lucía Sarmiento, Carmen Argueta, and Rosa Aguilar received the Spirit of the Mangrove Award for their hard work and invaluable contributions. We are excited to share with you the stories of the incredible women who are building stronger, safer communities through conservation and community organization.
President and Founder, The Women’s Association of Barra de Santiago (AMBAS)
Rosa Aguilar founded the Women’s Association of Barra de Santiago (AMBAS), a sea turtle conservation and women’s empowerment program in the western region of El Salvador. AMBAS operates the only women-run sea turtle conservation program in the region and manages mangrove restoration projects, conducts livelihood trainings for low-income women, and engages the community in a variety of conservation activities.
Rosa started the organization over twenty years ago when gender roles were even more unequal than they are now and women were not leaders in their communities, much less did they start their own NGOs. AMBAS is a women-led conservation organization in a male-dominated society. Many of the members’ husbands were very unhappy with them for participating in the work – they were expected to stay in the home cooking and caring for children. Rosa’s own husband threatened to leave her because of it. Nevertheless, she persisted and has built AMBAS into a nationally recognized and internationally admired organization that creates a positive impact in her community and the environment around her.
President, The Mangrove Association
A longtime community leader, Carmen Argueta became involved with the Mangrove Association in 1998 when they declared the Lower Lempa region a Local Zone of Peace. She initially worked as a member of a women’s group, managing an elevated housing project to decrease flood vulnerability. In 2004, she joined the Mangrove Association’s Board of Directors. She has been an active board member ever since, and in 2019 assumed her second term as President of the organization.
When asked about her achievements, Carmen is quick to point to her role in advocating for women’s leadership. “It is an achievement that as a woman, I am President. In the beginning, only the men knew how to manage projects…It was a difficult struggle. There were men that didn’t want their wives to participate. It was our job to explain to the men that…they needed to recognize the basic human rights of women.”
María Lucia Sarmiento
President, Community Development Board, Red COMAL
María Lucia began working with Red COMAL twenty years ago, as part of a project called Women in Action that was coordinated by her mother. Lucia, along with her mother, has been a constant participant in the different marches coordinated by Red COMAL, both when NAFTA was signed and in 2009 during the coup and ensuing resistance movement. As President of the Community Development Board, she actively represents Red COMAL in various national and international spaces and is a vibrant and outspoken leader in her community.
María Lucia inherited her mother’s legacy and has become a champion for women’s rights. She passionately defends land rights, fights for the protection of the most vulnerable sectors of society, and works tirelessly every day to ensure prosperity in her community. She is passing this spirit on to her own children, who already participate in leadership roles in the community.
Thank you for joining us on December 6th in Downtown Oakland to celebrate the dedicated, courageous women who are leading grassroots movements in Central America.