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A Personal Letter About the Santa Fe Women’s Delegation to El Salvador

May 24, 2011

Our latest blog post is a letter sent by Diane Karp to a friend about her participation in an EcoViva Community Empowerment Tour to El Salvador in April with a women’s delegation from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Diane Karp is the Executive Director at the Santa Fe Art Institute.  She has a Ph.D. in Art History and is an arts activist, arts educator, arts connector and devoted supporter of the creative process in all realms of society.

Good Morning, Irene.

Got your voicemail birthday wishes upon return to US. This year I spent my birthday (which went by completely unnoticed-even by me!) in the southern part of El Salvador in Central America.

I was there to work with a remarkable organization, Eco Viva, which is focused on building self sufficiency WITH communities (not for communities) in Central America.

It was an extraordinary trip and the time literally flew by.  They have taken devastated land (left deadened by DDT, Paraquat, tons of fertilizer) that had been used for decades by huge commercial agro businesses (the “Ricos”) to grow indigo, then cotton, then sugar cane and Eco Viva in coordination with local organizers after the war and the land reforms, are applying environmentally sound methods to restore the soil and are now growing food organically.

Certainly can’t compete with the agro business that surrounds them, but they are doing remarkable work on a small scale. The goal is self sufficiency and they are doing it on their own terms without Monsanto. They are true stewards of the land – building seed banks for indigenous and other successful plant species, producing organic fertilizers and mulch, and sharing their knowledge and successes freely.

Most of the farming is for family consumption, but if the techniques are successful they produce enough to trade/sell with other community members and if it really takes off they can produce for market. Organic produce is still rather new and has not been fully embraced and so they cannot justify the added cost of the product (it took the US nearly 30 years to be a real presence….and now even Walmart is on the bandwagon)-making them non-competitive in the market place, but that sector should grow as people realize the benefits to health.

Other programs for building + running markets, establishing schools, building houses, latrines, clinics and providing potable water to parts of the country that have long been wrestling with water borne diseases from water sources that were often polluted and far from the villages. The kidney failure rates are higher than anywhere in the world as is the occurrence of spinabifida and hydrocephalus as a result of the exposure to the enormous levels of chemical contaminants. So clinics are essential to provide medical care and the elimination of the causes remains a long term goal. Another
crisis is the flooding that is both natural and man-made since some of the communities are built along the Rio Lempa and upstream is the hydro-electric damn (owned by the government, but run by a private for-profit company).

With heavy rains they often release water (to defend the damn) and flood out communities downstream. The resulting destruction is horrible.  In other areas, they are creating radio presence to provide information, warnings and
general programming. The network of strong community organizations create the environment to support women and young people as leaders as well as valuable members. Refreshing and reassuring. Obviously, I was there to discuss and explore ways to use art to empower voices and support creative expression, still a work in progress.

I came back to Santa Fe with a renewed interest in helping to make my own community a safer, kinder, more inclusive place to live for all our residents.  work work work!

Much love,


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