As we finished up the meeting with women in Puerto Parada, I was excited for the future prospects, if not slightly overwhelmed by all the work that was ahead. After all, this group of women was still in the process of forming and I was still in the process of learning how to manage grant proposals. On bad days, nothing seemed more impossible but right then, after the meeting, I was full of hope.
We took some of the women home and one of them who I had just met, Victoria, invited us in to her home for empanadas de platanos, a typical dessert made from plantains. As she passed over a bag full of steaming empanadas, she explained with pride “My family has always made empanadas. I paid for high school by selling empanadas.”
Those are the moments that I love here in the Bajo Lempa – the moments when people open up their lives and share their stories. Some are full of hope and joy, others full of suffering. Some are not easy to hear while some keep me captivated, longing to hear more.
Mostly through these stories, I see the perseverance and strength of these women, who have worked so hard to provide their family with shelter, with food, with an education. These are little things that came so easy for me, growing up in California, but that these women have to struggle for every single day.
Feeling thankful for the connection I had made with Victoria and overwhelmed by her generosity, I climbed back into the truck where Santos, one of the other mothers in the women’s group was waiting. As I climbed in, she whispered “¡Que galan que tienen luz!” with a wistful look in her eye. “How awesome that they have electricity!” As I talked to her a little more, I found out that in her community not 10 minutes away from Victoria’s house, the only power they had came from batteries. She told me that she longed for electricity one day and hoped that through community organization, the community could find a project that would help them.
Even after 7 months of living in rural El Salvador, her comment caught me off guard. At times I get a little too comfortable, stuck in my routine that I so easily find myself in. It is through connections with people like Victoria and Santos who remind me both to be thankful as they open up and share their stories with me, and to keep moving forward with the work EcoViva is doing.
Victoria and Santos both form part of the board of directors of Mujeres en Acción (Women in Action), a committee joining together 9 different communities and over 300 women. The women gather to share knowledge of different crafts, life experiences, and goals for themselves, their families, their communities, and Puerto Parada as a whole. They hope to manage projects to improve the lives in their communities but are not willing to wait, idle, until that day comes but rather are taking action now to organize and create a shared vision.
Watching these women helps me realize the truly amazing role that EcoViva and our partner organization, the Mangrove Association, play by accompanying communities on a daily basis. We help facilitate the experience, organization, and support to tie the many projects in the area together, allowing community members to find meaning and a sense of ownership in the initiatives. No matter what the project is or how long it lasts, it is always a part of a bigger goal, always a part of their own grassroots vision of community development, achieved through hard work, personal relationships, and perseverance.