Romero Mural in Ciudad Romero

Romero Mural in Ciudad Romero

Don Antonio Amaya welcomed us to his village on a sunny November Monday morning and shared the story of its residents and the tribulations they have endured over thirty years. Don Antonio, now 75 years old, is one of the founders of Ciudad Romero as he and others resettled there in 1991 after 12 years of exile in Honduras and Panama. Named after Archbishop Oscar Romero (who was assassinated while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980), the village has been built over 20 years from abandoned lands that were granted as part of the 1992 Peace Accords.

Don Antonio referred to the mural behind the church altar where we gathered as he told his personal story. It brought home the ravages of the brutal civil war in El Salvador that raged from 1979 to 1992. At least 75,000 people were killed, and over 700,000 people fled to exile. When I asked, he explained that the church was not yet named because the village was waiting for the Vatican to canonize Romero as a martyred saint.

Before Thanksgiving in 2012, my wife Lynne and I joined our friend Mary LaPorte and five others on a Community Empowerment Tour in El Salvador sponsored by EcoViva. The above paragraphs opened my blog on our trip — Community Resilience in El Salvador.

EcoViva’s primary focus is supporting locally-run, ecologically sustainable community development in approximately 100 rural communities on the eastern side of the Lower Lempa River and surrounding the Bay of Jiquilisco, on the southern central Pacific coast of El Salvador. I commend their perseverance and the progress they have made during these past two years.

A partial list from only some of the programs implemented by La Coordinadora – Mangrove Association, EcoViva’s local partners include:

• Bay of Jiquilisco designated as El Salvador’s largest national protected area (156,000 acres), UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and UN-recognized Ramsar Wetlands site legally co-managed by local communities;
• 14,000 residents now have access to clean drinking water;
• 120,000 organic vegetable seedlings and fruit tree saplings are distributed each year to small-scale farmers;
• 4,735 acres of mangrove forest are now protected by community patrols;
• 1,100,000 endangered sea turtles have been hatched and released into the ocean by local villagers;
• 494 composting toilets have been built by villagers and volunteers to decrease groundwater pollution and life-threatening illnesses;
• 84 communities are equipped with an Early Warning System for disaster response;
• 500 youth have participated in empowerment programs such as literacy promotion, art, theater and community organizing; and
• 12 years have passed with virtually no gang-related violence in partner communities.

Wetland Rangers protect mangroves

Wetland Rangers protect the mangroves

On September 30, 2014, the government of El Salvador and the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC], a U.S. foreign aid agency, signed a 5-year development and investment package worth a total of $365 million [$277M provided by the MCC; $88.2M by the Salvadoran government]. Made up primarily of U.S. taxpayer money, this investment is destined to improve coastal highways and key border crossings, increase opportunities for schooling, and help attract new private investment through regulatory reform and targeted public investment.

This process was lengthy, and not without controversy. EcoViva and local communities have been watching closely since this funding was first announced to understand both positive and negative impacts from proposed coastal investments and national policy reforms. They presented their model of rural development to government officials, highlighting the importance of viable coastal ecosystems as the greatest driver for sustainable growth.

Because of these advocacy efforts, the MCC committed to preserving important mangrove areas in the Bay of Jiquilisco throughout the compact. This will allow communities to propose effective alternatives to coastal management that are not only considered during upcoming public consultation, but also applied as real oversight and compliance over new public and private ventures along the coast.

EcoViva Mural

EcoViva Mural

March 24, 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Monseñor Oscar Romero’s assassination. EcoViva and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network are sponsoring a Community Empowerment Tour March 19-26, 2015 to explore how Monseñor Romero lives on today in the struggles of the Salvadoran people. If you’re looking for a rewarding trip, I encourage you to sign up to take part in the national celebrations of Romero’s life, learn from community leaders, and witness the resilience of the Salvadoran people.

This week’s blog lyrics are by Joan Baez. They were sung by Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples at Mavis’ 75th birthday concert. They convey community resilience in El Salvador.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…
Turn me around…
Turn me around…
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…
Keep on a-walkin’
Keep on a-talkin’
Gonna build a brand new world.




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