Education as a Path of Defense

Education as a Path of Defense:
Arming the world with knowledge
-by Suzy Marselis

Could there be a war that doesn’t know defeated man? A peaceful fight, in which we all would win? Should that not be the only war we fight?

Wars are fought today, all around the world. Wars with winners and losers, but in the end even the winners lose so many. How to fight a war, how to live a life, how to change the mindset of the fighters, to a mindset of a peaceful battle?

Awareness is the key; creating the consciousness in humanity, for what is happening all around us, that for which everyone closes their eyes. We all live on the same planet, and there is only one earth, only one place we can live. As humanity, we all want to feel good, we want to feel at peace, we want to feel loved and we want to live without fear. But all around us, people are sad, being scared of the future, of their neighbors, for a paycheck that did not come in. So naturally, we want to defend ourselves and in history we chose often do to so with weapons. Weapons are very effective in ruining the opponent. But what is left after a war fought with weapons? A degraded land, families
ripped apart, societies broken, and even the winners turn out to have suffered great losses.

It is time to shift the mind, for once and for always. History has already shown that there is one way of defense that is harmless and actually beneficial for all parties: Education. Education starts when a problem, that seems to be unsolvable, is faced by making the ignorant knowledgeable. In a time where globalization is as prevalent as today, it is increasingly important to work together to fight the inequalities in the world. Only when we join our forces, in all that we have learned from the
past, we will be able to prevent the same from happening in the future.

We have so many past experiences and there is so much data available about humankind as a whole, but still we fail to learn fully from these experiences. Remember; how the native Americans were killed by the Europeans? And remember that the same thing happened to the natives of Australia? And to the natives of Latin America? How can we have let lives and entire cultures be lost over and over again? Remember how humans cut down most natural forest in Western Europe? Remember how they did the same to North America? And yet the western world is blaming the
Africans and Asians for cutting down their forest? We have no right to blame them. The only right we have is to share our past experiences and teach those that are ignorant and uninformed, by helping each other instead of blaming each other, by sharing the planet instead of trying to take as much for ourselves as we can.

With the vast amount of information available and the current technological infrastructure, it is becoming increasingly easy to spread knowledge around the world. Access to information and education should be a global human right, so that awareness can be created through educating the people and mindsets can be shifted. With education, people can actually help people and humanity can fight the war to live in peace on a healthy planet in which everyone wins.

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Step 2: Establish local organization

The progress in Tasajera Island has been consistent, but a bit slow. This is not something negative, because community engagement should not be rushed; enough time should be allocated to engage with all people in the community. It is important to understand their issues, needs, and priorities.

I’ve been in El Salvador for one month now, and I believe I’ve learned a lot about the cultural and social issues affecting Tasajera. It is important to know the way they operate and how they’re organized. I concluded there is a lack of organizational capacity and poor self-governance within the community. Therefore, a multisectoral committee, under the authority of the Association for Community Development (ADESCO), has been called for. There are a few organizational traits the new committee must overcome, including dependency, information deficiency, and incentives.

– Dependency –

Given the location of Tasajera Island at the lower Lempa River mangroves, there has been great interest in the protection and exploitation of the region. The lower Lempa River is a national protected area and a RAMSAR site. The protection of the biodiversity-rich mangroves has led many external actors to intervene with the small communities that inhabit the region. The relationship between the communities and outside funding sources has caused a side-effect of dependency. A culture of dependency has consequences on the organizational behavior of local actors; people expect to receive help with minimum effort on their side.

Some of the main external actors in the area are:

  1. FUNZEL (NGO – turtle conservation)
  2. CORDES (NGO – agricultural and fishing assistance)
  3. XUNTA de Galicia (Aid from Spain to fishing communities)
  4. Universidad de Alcala (student volunteers – Spain)
  5. American Churches & missionaries (humanitarian donations and constructions)
  6. Klosa & associates (external landowners of Tasajera Island)

– Information deficiency – 

Unfortunately, Salvadorans are not known for their excellent management skills. People often get things done “no matter what”, but fail to keep good records of what was done. Tasajera works very similarly, and people don’t have a mid- or long-term perspective. As a result, they lack the capacity to measure their performance over time. It’s understandable too, because they have lived off the ocean for generations and fish seemed never to run out… until today.

Since one of the principles employed here is to build on local and already existing information structures, I’ve noticed there is some information among local actors. However, the available information is mostly written down on paper and is not being analyzed over time. This information includes:

  • fish catch data (source: Fishing Cooperatives)
  • School attendance data (source: schools)
  • Children census of the community (source: ADESCO)
  • Groundwater sampling (source: CORDES)

In addition, there are some assessments of the community performed by universities and NGOs, but are focus-specific and not periodical. There is also Local Knowledge that may be recorded, like traditions and culture, and intriguing stories about young men and women who are migrating to the United States illegally.

– Incentives –

Community leaders seem frustrated with community members because they say it’s hard to get the people organized to accomplish something. People are not very interested in making an effort or commit to investing time in organizing something. This may be as a result of the previous points on dependency and lack of capacity. Therefore, incentivizing adequate organization and goal-oriented projects is essential to any intervention that is meant to be sustainable.

Communication may be a very important aspect of this, as the benefits of “owning their development” may be explained in a more comprehensive way. Other ways to encourage participation need to be explored as the process goes on.

 

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.