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.

 

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Arriving to Tasajera

Rain had been pouring in El Salvador for 2 days already by the time me, Carlos Escalante, and volunteers from His Children Foundation, were on the road to Tasajera last Saturday Oct. 17. It had been one year and two months since I last saw Carlos, and he picked me up outside the house I was staying in San Salvador at 5:52am on that day.

With grey cloudy skies and raindrops in my face I made my initial approach to the island; I was walking into my new workplace.

Volunteers of His Children Foundation and the local women’s group Sea Artisans were scheduled to distribute to the community donations from Mansfield University; which included clothing, shoes, and toys. This activity was performed successfully and the donations were given to 200+ families.

Surrounding the donations event, I made my goal to contact my most trusted ally in the community: Pastor Aristides Arce. The report from him was not as favorable as I expected. We sat under the palm hut behind his church, and I noticed he was hesitant to open up directly to me, waiting for me to express my intentions upfront.

After a few minutes, we quickly regain the trust we were used to. He explained some community members were not satisfy with the way I have been helping the community, as they thought I was channeling help for certain groups and not to others. I explained to Pastor that I was aware of my lack of communication with the community, and that this time I intent to communicate well with the community leaders about EMANA and its vision with Tasajera regarding education. After a 1:45 hour long conversation and a hot chocolate and pastry, I was pleased with having his blessing.

Later than evening, I met with Luis Recio, a Spanish student who is living in Tasajera since July and is working in there with a regional NGO called CORDES. Luis is one of the many Alcala University students that volunteer every year in this region, and he is an Environmental Scientist. This was no surprise, as we knew we would meet up since early June when I was visiting Edgar Hita, director of Central America Cooperation program, while in Madrid.

Our conversation with Luis was great, we agreed on working together in developing a waste management plan for Tasajera and carry out organic farming workshops together. Luis also agreed to provide support from his side to EMANA’s project to develop a Summer School Program and improve education in Tasajera. All in all, we are going to make great things together.

Luis Rodriguez, a current EMANA member, was also in Tasajera and we agreed to work together in the development of the Steering Committee and ADESCO.

Right before leaving Tasajera on Sunday, I met with Walter Pena, president of the Local Association for Development (ADESCO) to discuss the development of a Steering Committee with community members, school teachers, and other stakeholders to lead and oversee the School Program and other sustainable development goals.

I left Tasajera Island with a clear vision of the challenges and opportunities ahead of me, and after arranging all the necessary things, I will return to Tasajera to start the implementation process at the end of this week. stay tuned.

Thanks for your attention.

 

EMANA August 2014

Summary

From July 31st to August 25th, I, Daniel Teodoro, was in El Salvador to work on a mission in the impoverished community in the Tasajera Island, off the coast of La Paz. My work involved gathering a group of 10 college students, national and international, to visit Tasajera to work on 3 main projects: Women empowerment, community clean up, and village mapping. This year’s progress has been marked by unparalleled bonding, both within the EMANA group and with the community underlying the spirit of love and compassion. Our primary goals were (1) expanding Salvadoran student membership, and (2) strengthening community partnerships through project collaborations. Establishing a functioning organization in el salvador whose operatives are trustworthy,  reliable,  and efficient at project management has been a very important accomplishment for EMANA.

 

EMANA volunteer week

In order to accomplish our primary goals,  we organized a week long volunteer camp in Tasajera. From Monday to Friday a group of people that didn’t know each other, but shared common Emana values,  signed up for a week of service and learning.

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Suzy Marselis (NED), Daniel Teodoro (ESV), Luis Rodriguez (ESV), Jason White (USA), Gerardo Luna (ESV), Fiona Wolzak (NED), Claudio Kriegel (BRZ), Francis Escalante (ESV), Arturo Escalante (ESV), Carlos Escalante (ESV)

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Six Salvadorans, one Brazilian, two Dutch, and one American bonded much better than expected. With a diverse range of academic backgrounds and schools of thought, diversity was a rich source of knowledge and perspectives that yielded great results.

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  1. Women Empowerment Group

Throughout the week we worked closely with a group of young women that have been gathering twice a month on Saturdays to do handmade jewelry from seashells and other natural materials. This group has been led by university student Carlos Escalante and funded by EMANA, with the initial goal of providing women the opportunity to develop their money making potential; most of the things they make are sold to tourists and locals. This project seeks to empower women through a space of sharing and encouragement of ideas; promoting interaction among women in a deeply machista community is a step forward in the protection of human rights.

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  1. Community Clean-Up Project

As the community of Tasajera aims to become an eco tourist destination, hoping that an increase in tourism can bring an increase in income to local families,  a group of 20 young Tasajerans have been working together to clean up the streets of the community every Saturday; making the community more beautiful and appealing for tourist and locals alike. Under the leadership of Noemi, a 26 year old woman who claims she received the calling from God to assemble the group, the group called “Youth on Watch” have been operating for 2 years. Each member gets paid $13 a month for their cleaning services, and despite the symbolic amount, many depend on it to provide basic needs to their families in a time of struggle.

Our team worked with them for a day, alongside their team we set out to clean up the streets of Tasajera community in order to state two things: (1) We were there to serve the village, and (2) we believe that trash management is essential for a healthy environment.

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  1. Mapping of Streets of Tasajera Community

The last major project of the volunteer week was the development of a map of the community. This was an important project because of the lack of geospatial information of the community. This project had the initial goal of developing a map of the community that would facilitate visitors, missionaries, and tourists with a guide through the village containing features such as churches, schools, stores, police post, main ports, restaurants, common areas, and streets. With the professional assistance of Suzanne Marselis (The Netherlands) and the guidance of local Francisco Funes, the project came to a successful conclusion when the final map was handed over to the tourism cooperative of the community, who accepted our contribution as a significant step forward for the community in providing missionaries and visitors the tools to immerse in the community and its culture.

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Spiritual Impact

The Tasajera experience is very special, because we don’t “advertize” our Christian faith on paper, instead we teach by example. Our team was instructed to follow the Christian values of EMANA and to filter every decision they make through the Jesus filter. Various people expressed a shift in perspective experienced throughout the trip, moments that changed something in them and opened them more to the love of God. At different times, God worked on people through different means, some attended local churches for prayer, others worshiped God with musical instruments, and others asked that we pray for them. Many in the group were intrigued about what they saw in us and started to ask questions about God and how to sustain an intimate relationship with God that allows one to stand firm in Christ and not stumbling all the time. Constant conversation and teachings of the importance of prayer, service, and selflessness were constant throughout the week.

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EMANA Structure and Development Projections

For years EMANA has been focusing on developing a network of educated social operatives that can be reliable, trustworthy, and faithful to the EMANA values. The need to improve the implementation of development projects in impoverished communities is not limited to our group, in fact, this is the major concern of multinational non-profit organizations that fail to provide proper maintenance to expensive projects. I can say with confidence that our team has evolved into a full-functioning organizational structure, capable of providing the following services: (1) Community assessment, (2) project development and implementation, (3) logistics for international groups, (4) project administration and (5) research planning.

The most important part is not the design of a plan, but the guarantee that such plan can be implemented successfully in a community with different culture, language, values, and social norms. Such is the specialty of EMANA, and this is why the structure we have achieved to this day is prepare to address the needs of the impoverished communities of developing countries. These communities are victims of environmental, social, and economic policies not limited to a single state or country, but rather to regional and global realities. We are just merely preparing ourselves to be experts at community development in anticipation of increase of poverty.