Step 1: Community Engagement – Education

During the period of October 25 – 31 in Tasajera Island,

I set out to investigate the current academic situation in the community. I met with the teacher and the director of local public school and toured the facility. The first-hand experience, besides learning of the teacher’s perspective, reassured me of the urgency in which EMANA has to act. The conditions are so bad that they may be reaching a tipping point.

The plan is to develop strong connections with all actors of the community; also called community engagement phase. November is a very important month in which a multi-sectoral committee, which will oversee the Summer School project, will be formed and meet regularly to determine which way is best to intervene with the school.

The Relation Youth-Education:

“Being a teenager is a sin here in El Salvador” stated Francisco, a member of ADESCO (Community Development Association), as he explained the risk teenagers find themselves in when gangs control certain territories. In several areas of El Salvador, gang members demand students to join their gangs, and if they deny they get shot.

This is a warzone, and young people are the most vulnerable in communities where their parents are afraid of sending them to school, because they are concerned they won’t come back. This is the reason why our project focuses on education, to reach out and empower those young kids who are afraid of learning.

What’s the current condition in Tasajera?

There are 2 schools in Tasajera. One is public (k-9), and is funded by state funds, and the other is private (k-12), and is funded by Christian organizations. It’s worth mentioning that all high school students in Tasajera go to the private Christian school to earn a high school degree.

About the Public School:

  • Infrastructure

Even though the infrastructure of the public school has been recently restored with support of Spanish NGO Ayuda en Accion, it still faces great challenges before it can be considered a safe learning place.

Among the main issues are the lack of general hygiene and cleaning, non-functioning bathrooms, unfiltered groundwater, rundown outer walls, insufficient and broken desks. In addition, I observed a lack of learning supplies (books, notepads, pencils, etc.) and supplies for extracurricular activities.

  • Educational Capacity

In terms of the educational quality of the public school, there are a few issues that were synthesized after several interviews with teachers and community members. A main issue is the fact that there are only 2 teachers in the school (including the Director) who take care of about 120 students. This problem is attributed to the lack of funds of the student families to cover the education cost entirely. In addition, public funds are very limited and according to the Director, Carlos Velasquez, it is only enough to cover a few books and materials, but not enough for every student.

  • Educational Needs

The teacher and Director of the public school expressed the need to strengthen reading and writing in young students, because there are many 6th graders that cannot read properly or write. This is a big concern when it concerns the learning abilities of students and the side-effects poor reading/writing skills have on learning as a whole.

In addition, the Director expressed the concerns about the self-esteem of students and the need for psychological interventions to assess and improve character development counteract the psychological effects of broken families, poverty, and deteriorating social fabric.

About the Private Christian School:

There is less to mention about the Christian School “El Sembrador”, because in a way, they are better suited than the public school. This school is part of a church and is being funded by the central “El Sembrador” church in San Salvador. Thus, it is perceived to have higher quality teachers and education.

However, after interviewing Ernesto Peralta, Director, I found out that in fact the challenges are similar in terms of the students; all students belong to the same community and have the same poverty and social problems. Finally, we agreed that both Directors (Public and Private) will join the Committee to work together on an educational intervention that is community-centered.

 

Supporting Progress: WOMEN

Climate change, government corruption, and economic turmoil are complex issues that require complex solutions. Such is the greater context in which we found the community of the Island of Tasajera, El Salvador back in 2009. The community of 1,846 inhabitants living under the poverty line have been on a steady decline becoming poorer over time.

In November 2013, we set out to understand the root of the situation and formed a Community Diagnose task force. This group, led by Salvadoran and psychology student Carlos Escalante and funded by EMANA, studied and surveyed the Tasajera community to understand 7 key aspects: History, Habitability, Economy, Education, Recreation, Governance & Participation, and Perception of their future. An initial goal of this study was also to locate areas of potential development, of which the lack of women’s involvement in all socio-economic spheres of Tasajera was a clear conclusion throughout the study.

Women,” as Carlos describes, “are hard working stay-at-home wives and mothers, they wake up early to get the ingredients and make food for their family, then stay busy with the cleaning of the house; a difficult task in their coastal & sandy environment.” “They complained that men are usually sleeping when they are not fishing,” Carlos continued, adding that “women have a lot of potential to assist in the development of their community“. This was not a problem 10 years ago, when fish stocks were abundant. Every time a husband would return from the ocean brought with him plenty of fish to sell and provided for the house and family. To this day, more often than not, fishermen return home empty handed and continue piling up dept.IMG_1517

Although environmental pollution is a major problem, fish decline is mostly attributed to the booming fish industry continually abuses their permits throughout the coast line since 2000. As the community has witnessed a steady decline of their economy and increasing poverty, Carlos advocates it is crucially important to empower women with an encouraging environment, “making sure they know they can contribute to the progress of their community.”

As described in our About page,

“…When we determine an imminent need, we design a development project that will satisfy such need.”

On July 7th, EMANA, under the direction of Carlos E., have partnered with the community of Tasajera to create a woman’s group called “EMANA Youth: women entrepreneurs” in which we will engage with 22 young women in a regular basis to develop business ideas and unlock their potential. At this point the project is about teaching them how to make hand-made jewelry and crafts that can be sold to tourist of neighboring regions and in the United States and the world.

I asked Carlos Escalante to share a little bit about his experience in Tasajera and the goals of the newly created Emana Youth initiative. This is what he wrote:

“Anyone visiting the island realizes the great needs of its people in terms of poverty and social exclusion. Through the information gathered in the Community Diagnosis, we were able to visualize and comprehend the nature of various issues affecting the community today. In this effort, not only we managed to describe the community present situation but the historical factors that have contributed to its occurrence. Also, we identified distinct psychological and social factors that are part of the effects of historical institutional neglect, natural disasters, and a vast of socio-economic issues that have affected the community. This factors include mistrust in interpersonal relationships, broken community sense, and gender issues. Aside from the serious effort of trying to understand and describe the community, we also managed to establish invaluable relations with lots the inhabitants; this being the best part of this experience.

EMANA Youth participants on a jewlery workshop
EMANA Youth participants on a jewlery workshop

 The Community Diagnosis of Tasajera Island has been a process that has allowed me and the ones involved to get closer to the people and their daily routines. Throughout this process we paid attention to a series of comments made by the local participants on their perception and expectation of their future. These comments revolve around the idea of eagerly expecting a ‘maquila‘ or a big industry to come in and provide jobs for everyone. These statements sum up the feelings of abandonment, scares opportunities, and lack of personal confidence from which we considered that youth should be our working priority.


EMANA Youth initiative was conceived in response to this situation. The initial concept was to organize a mixed group of men and women to gather and make a sustainable project for them to achieve alternative solutions to the issues affecting the community. This idea brought in practice some constraints, which made us narrow the focus of the group. We decide to focus on the most vulnerable ones in the community: women.  Most of the strongest community issues in Tasajera affect women the most, yet remain invisible to the outsider; such as domestic violence, early pregnancy, lack of recreational spaces and activities, limited life plan, etc.


This project has begun with an initial goal of granting a group of 22 women alternatives on recreation, economic growth, organization, and strengthening relationships.  We have taken the first steps by supporting them with materials and teaching how to make handmade jewelry as they think about business strategies in the region.  During the first part of each session we make use of games and interactive dynamics to strengthen ties within the group and work on issues such as teamwork, coexistence, and relationships. The income gathered from sold jewelry will be a motivational aspect to achieve maintenance and self-sustainability in the group. With this project we aim to give women new perspectives on their possibilities and organizational capacity to help them find better solutions for their daily reality.” – CARLOS ESCALANTE