by Dr. Denise R. Ames
I would like to turn in this third blog in the series to a more uplifting topic than organized crime: the work of a non-profit school in El Salvador, Amun Shea.
Amún Shéa is located in the town of Perquin, in northern Morazan department, El Salvador, Central America. It is an innovative school located in a rural, mountainous region.
In 2014, I met the founder, Ron Brenneman, and a volunteer, Jeff Colledge. Ron, a former aid worker and business owner, founded the Amún Shéa Center for Integrated Development in 2007. I deeply admire their dedication to the school, and in helping people in this poor area of El Salvador.
Jeff has agreed to share some of his insights about the school and what is going on in El Salvador, especially in light of the recent increase in migration to the United States.
El Salvador is a small country with a total population of 6.3 million, making it the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. About 83% of the population is Mestizos, of European and Indigenous American descent. Bordering the Pacific Ocean, the mountainous country was formerly dependent on coffee as their main export (90%), today their economy is more diversified. 50% of the population lives in rural areas and 50% are urbanites; those living in small, rural villages are mostly subsistence farmers who also raise cash crops such as coffee. El Salvador’s capital and largest city is San Salvador.
Jeff is currently living in the town of Perquin for the past two months and has about five more weeks to go in his volunteer stint. He may decide to stay a little longer, which he says is always a temptation. After summer vacation, schools just started again on January 21, 2019.
Jeff taught a 2 ½ week summer course for students and he is now teaching the same students in the home of one of them for another 2 weeks. For fun, Jeff, visits friends and does some exploring. Jeff also monitors a roof repair project for elderly people that a youth group has committed itself to completing. He, along with some friends, held a benefit to raise money for the project.
The gangs and violence are real in El Salvador, according to Jeff, but they do not permeate the whole country. They mainly thrive in pockets of the country where they can ply their violent trade.
Jeff writes about the problem…
“As far as the situation in the country concerning violence and immigration, yes, it’s a very serious problem. The gangs and their actions are really horrible. Murder, extortion of businesses, forced recruitment, and threats, all are reasons people flee the country. Then there is the response of the police, which sometimes results in human rights violations against innocent people.
One of the best sources of information is Insight Crime, an online publication. But I really don’t have much personal, first-hand experience of the gangs and immigration. Most of the gang problem is in the cities and many rural areas. I don’t spend a lot of time in the capital, San Salvador, but I feel pretty safe when I’m there. Where I stay is in a fairly safe area and if one sticks to the main public areas, there’s no problem. It’s in a lot of the poor communities where the gangs are and that they control. One doesn’t hear of foreigners being targeted. It’s more about controlling communities and extorting businesses.
Where I live, in northern Morazan, which is the part of the department north of the Torola River, there is very little gang activity. I feel totally safe there. I can walk alone at night and not worry.
Before the Peace Corps pulled all of their volunteers out of the country about 2-3 years ago, there were a good many volunteers here, in part because it was so safe. So it was a shame that they had to leave. Also, because northern Morazan is one of the poorest areas, if not the poorest area in the country, there’s just not that much wealth and businesses to extort, although there is some extortion. The owner of a bus company here has to pay “rent” to the gangs. I’m told there are other businesses that are extorted.”
When discussing the immigration debate, I often hear people lament their feeling of powerlessness in the face of suffering by the migrants attempting to come to the United States. I feel that if there were more opportunities at home, migration would decrease.
Contributing to organizations that work towards improving the lives of the local population is a worthy effort. Amún Shéa is such an organization. It is categorized as a non-profit educational entity and accredited by the Salvadoran Ministry of Education (MINED.) I hope you will join with me in making a donation to this worthy cause!
Contact: Jeff Colledge for more information or to arrange a gift: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.