What I Witnessed in El Salvador
“La Coordinadora es historica.” “La Coordinadora is historic.” — Chungo from Ciudad Romero, one of many founding members of La Coordinadora
Two weeks ago, I traveled to the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador to meet our community partners, La Coordinadora and the Mangrove Association, and see their projects in action. My expectations were high but I was still blown away.
I knew the history of La Coordinadora before landing in El Salvador — the grassroots community organizing group that was formed when refugees settled in the Bajo Lempa after the Salvadoran Civil War. Yet, hearing local voices explain the meaning of La Coordinadora made all the difference.
The majority of people in the Bajo Lempa feel a deep affection towards La Coordinadora. They are La Coordinadora. In their efforts to promote peace, justice and environmental sustainability, a lot gets done in the Bajo Lempa. I quickly understood that their shared experience of war, exile and transplantation is highly responsible for La Coordinadora’s success through the years.
Almost twenty years after coming together, they are stronger than ever. What began with a couple of hundred members has grown to over 3,500. The offices of the Mangrove Association, the organization that exists solely to support La Coordinadora’s needs and vision, is booming with activity. On a given day, our community partners might be evaluating mangrove restoration projects, practicing disaster response with simulations, supporting educational opportunities for youth, educating the community about actions they can take to address climate change, or providing supplemental trainings for local farmers.
One of the many highlights of my trip was participating in a jornada (workshop) between local groups of Wetland Rangers who patrol the Bay of Jiquilisco in the Bajo Lempa against illegal blast fishing and wood extraction from the mangroves. We all met in Puerto Parada, a town south east of Ciudad Romero where La Coordinadora is located. The groups discussed the challenges in their respective districts and ways they could encourage local people to stop misusing resources in the areas.
Lupe participated in the jornada and had a great impact on me. He believes that all outside efforts to address local social and environmental issues must be made in collaboration with local people.
“We should not let strangers fix our problems without involving us because this always ends up being a disaster. These are our problems and we know how to solve them. What we need are collaborators. I welcome collaborators.”
Lupe is right. In the short week that I spent in El Salvador meeting the community partners that I had grown to admire from Oakland, Ca., I was quickly moved by their ability and drive. They are on fire.
Our partners are incredibly organized, thoughtful in their processes, careful about honoring the system they have built, and resolved to make the Bajo Lempa a model for community-led efforts throughout the world. They are absolutely capable of addressing the needs of their communities, and they are successful because they are the community.
I left El Salvador feeling grateful to Lupe, other members of La Coordinadora and the Mangrove Association because they helped me understand EcoViva’s role in the social movement happening in the Bajo Lempa. And as I see it, my role is to promote and support their work, vision and values — what an incredible honor.