Education beyond schools: Experiences from El Salvador

During 1981, an average of 700 people was killed monthly in El Salvador. Today, 34 years later, El Salvador is not that far from such figures. The month of May ended with 641 people killed, thus becoming the most violent month since the war ended.

Check out Part I of Clara’s Experiences from el Salvador!  

El Salvador has passed from suffering a civil conflict to suffering a social one. It is a country characterized by legitimated violence, well established in every sphere of the daily life.

On my first day volunteering in San Salvador, I met a 14 year old girl who asked me and my colleague if we had a boyfriend.

My colleague answered that she just broke up with hers, so the teenage girl asked “did he hit you?” – No, responded my colleague – “then why did you break up with him?” asked the little girl in return.

This short and apparently meaningless conversation made me think – how can these figures be reverted in a country characterized by a culture of violence?

Aerial view of San Salvador

Aerial view of San Salvador

According to Lindsey Wright (UNESCO), even though it is important to understand the ways in which to prevent violence, understanding why humans are (or become) violent is just as important.

Actually, there is little evidence that proves whether humans are innately violent, but rather, a harsh environment creates conditions in which violence is necessary to ensure both personal and cultural survival.

Research has shown that when exposed to violence, individuals must also be taught to value or at least not to engage in violence as part of the social learning process.

For instance, children who behave violently are usually the product of a home in which one or both parents’ model violence. Thus, violence is a learned behavior in any culture or environment and is not proven to be a natural trait in humans.

In El Salvador only 18 out of 100 people get to finish Secondary school and only 4 out of 100 get to finish University.

However, among that 4% of educated people, around 70% says that they would leave El Salvador to go to the United States and look for a better life.

This means that El Salvador has passed from being an agriculture exporter to a human exporter, thus losing its most prominent human capital.

Street vendor woman selling beanie on San Salvador's street market.

Vendor woman selling beanies on San Salvador’s street market.

Compulsory education starts at the age of 6 in El Salvador, however there is no public support to the early education; thus making the parents the only ones responsible for the children until they turn 6.

The CINDE Association was born back in 1989 with the firm intention of changing the Salvadorian society from its basis by educating the future generations.

Its founder, Marisa Martínez, opened a daily care center aimed to host the children of the street vendors – single mothers with several children and no financial support who worked on the streets carrying their children.

The idea was not only to provide these children with a healthy and safe environment, but also to release the mothers from the burden of taking care of their children while working.

Today, after 25 years of continued and hard work, the CINDE Association has 3 daily care centers attended by 300 children, 3 programs for school support, secondary and tertiary scholarships, a parents’ school, a micro-credit program and a program for social and community intervention.

Aerial view of San Salvador's historical downtown and street market.

Aerial view of San Salvador’s historical downtown and busy street market.

Carmen is one of the best examples of how education changes lives.

She was one of those children supposed to grow on the streets, with no chance for an education, with no chance for a better life.

I am not sure if she found CINDE or CINDE found her, but after benefitting from all its programs and initiatives she decided to pay it back. It is not that she was on debt with the Association, but she knew that she had been lucky enough to become that 4% of the population enabled to fight social injustice.

She decided to become a social worker and today she works as Coordinator for the CINDE Association.

Quoting Nelson Mandela: “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

About Clara Barrio

Communications expert working as Institutional Relations Coordinator for a communications agency. Passionate about languages and international cooperation, speaks more than 3 languages and volunteers since 2011 with different organizations. She loves travelling, cooking and writing.

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