The Making of Summer School in Tasajera

One and a half years ago the Tasajera Summer School Project had its beginning; it started with an idea. Now that we find ourselves executing the project, I can only think of the phrase “making dreams come true.”

The reality of this dream is not only for us (the project directors), but it’s equally a dream come true to the 45 students who are currently learning Computers and English through this project. As you can see in the video update  below, the students are learning a lot already and have the desire to learn much more.

At the moment, only Suzy Marselis and I (Daniel) are teaching classes in Tasajera, but very soon the Spanish volunteers form the University of Alcala de Henares are arriving to lead Reading and Writing, Nursing, and Organic Gardening classes.

Cooperacion Diagrama

If asked how did we make this project happen, I would say there is no definite recipe for it. I can surely say, however, that everything depends on good networking and being open to collaborate with others.

Key actors in the organization of this event are: Pastor Aristides Arce, a community leader who facilitates our communication with the local school; Glenda Olmedo, one of the local school teachers who represents the school for our project; Suzanne Marselis, a Dutch PhD student that wrote the project proposal and raised funds; Edgar Hita, a Spanish director of cooperation in Central America from the UAH in Spain who facilitates Spanish volunteers to Tasajera Island.

In addition, there are countless people who helped this project start, from those who provided research to those who contributed financially, and even those who gave much needed moral support or wise advice. We are eternally grateful to all, but the people in Tasajera Island are truly grateful!

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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.

Step 3: Adopting “Local Language”

The Tasajera Summer School project remains in Phase 1 – Community Engagement phase, and will move to Phase 2 – Program Development – on January 14, 2016. In accordance with the project action plan, the selection of “Learning Areas” was carried out by the local Committee of Information and Development. This update is about the challenges faced during Phase 1.

One of the most important principles in community development is also one of the most difficult to implement: “adopting local language”.

I am not talking about learning the language of the community, or adopting local customs for oneself, or agreeing to its religious and daily life practices. Adopting local language is to translate your message into local terminology, and to develop an ear to interpret local needs without biased filters. We can say that adopting “local language” is really the leveling of the communication field between the expert (external) and the community. This is easier said than done.

The first, somewhat obvious, step to adopting the local language is to be willing to listen. We developed a process to interview and survey people from different sectors of Tasajera community (e.g. tourism coop, church leaders, school teachers, youth reps, student parents) to find out what are their educational priorities; in other words, what they want to learn.

Figure 1 displays the Summer School model including 5 priority “learning areas” that were chosen by community representatives, 1 additional local request, and 1 external consideration. The next phase will involve recruiting volunteers who wish to participate or contribute in any of these learning areas.

School model_community

figure 1. Tasajera Summer School model with 7 total learning areas.

Rationale for community selection

The second step of adopting local language is to process the information collected, and interpret the community’s selection. Why do the local community prioritize the need for such knowledge and education?

Computer Skills. Community members in Tasajera are aware of the rise of the internet age and they want to be part of the globalized world. The job market has also put pressure on people to have basic computer skills for jobs that previously didn’t required it. The challenge is that poor people in El Salvador lack even the most basic knowledge of computing and programs like Word processing tools. In addition, the rise of mobile internet users has opened up opportunities for mobile learning.
Language (English). Speaking English has become very desirable in El Salvador as it directly affects income; English-speaking call centers are one of the few growing industries, and are among the highest paid salaries. In addition, it has become government policy to encourage ecotourism development in Tasajera  Island and surrounding ecosystem. Tourism is a promising industry in El Salvador, its Pacific beaches host over 1 mil tourist every year from USA, Europe, and Latin America; most of which are English-speakers. Local community associate speaking English with better employment opportunities as tour guides, hotel managers, or development aid.
Reading and writing. As we have reported before, the local school system has been deficient in teaching kids how to properly read and write. We believe it is essential for a community to have higher levels of literacy as a foundation for educational development, which leads to overall community wellbeing.
Water (sanitation and filtration). Clean drinking water is certainly one of the biggest concerns of Tasajera community. During the course selection period, community representatives actively argued in favor of water education and filtration projects. Over the last 2 years, the tidal phenomenon has intensified in the Pacific coast, resulted in unprecedented salt water intrusion in groundwater wells in the region. More people now have to travel longer distances to collect drinking water for their families. This has cause great concern among the local population about their sustainability and survival.
Ecotourism. It is national policy since 2012 that the Jaltepeque Bay and its surrounding Mangrove forest will be developed as an ecotourism destination. The government seeks to harmonize the economic needs of the communities, including Tasajera, with the protection of the natural environment and the services it provides. Ecotourism can become a profitable industry for local communities. Therefore, the community wants to be more educated on the challenges and opportunities of ecotourism. This includes an entrepreneurial perspective.
Mechanics (engine repair) – ADDITIONAL. The community is very interested in learning mechanical skills related to engine repair. Being a fishing community, people in Tasajera mainly do business by boat (boats with a wide range of engine types). According to community members, there is only one person in the community who can repair engines. People are eager to learn this skill. This learning area, however, is considered an “additional” option by EMANA, because of the potential logistical challenges developing this course would bring. (open for discussion)

Analyzing the local development context

There is a clear relation between the development goals of Tasajera community and the protection of the natural resources. In fact, the safe and sustainable exploitation of the natural resources is assumed to be the only way local communities may achieve economic development and therefore improve their wellbeing.

Perhaps the most important example of this in Tasajera is the Turtle Conservation hatchery. Started in 2006 with the help of USAID and conservation NGOs the local community started buying sea turtle eggs from “egg collectors” to stop the illegal market of turtle eggs for consumption. Today, the Turtle Hatchery is seen as one of the most important income sources in Tasajera. More than 200 families get benefited from it every season. It is common  to see dozens of people walking at night on the beach searching for turtles laying their eggs.

Local leaders and NGOs are developing strategies to market the conservation and liberation of turtles as a tourism activity that builds awareness and facilitates capital into the community.