The freedom of choosing: Experiences from El Salvador

There are people who inspire. Almost four years ago I had the chance to get to know one of these people, but more important, I had the chance to get to know her legacy. Almost four years ago I lived an experience that changed my way of understanding the world, and this is how everything began.

Back in 2011, I made the decision of volunteering during summer vacation. I ended up taking a plane to El Salvador by chance and I have to admit that before that summer I would have never said that El Salvador was the smallest country in Latin America, that it was known as the “Tom Thumb” of the region or that The Little Prince was inspired in El Salvador, its volcanoes and a Salvadorian woman.

During my time in El Salvador I was lucky enough to meet not only other volunteers but especially Salvadorian people, who made me understand better than any volunteering experience that such reality was not that new nor that far from mine (despite the ocean in between).

One of CINDE's centers for underprivileged children in San Salvador

One of “CINDE”‘s centers for underprivileged children in El Salvador.

Today those people are good friends and I can only thank them for the long conversations and the patience when trying to help me understand what I was living, its backgrounds and its consequences.

Among all of them, there was a woman, named Marisa. Far from expected, she was born into a well-off family, though she became aware of the injustice and severe inequality of her country since she was a little girl. She was the youngest of 4siblings and always felt like the black sheep.

Her parents and siblings were founders of the right-wing Salvadorian party ARENA, while she started getting more and more involved in the tackle of poverty and the promotion of social justice.

Over time, her older brother, Roberto D’Abuisson, became the founder of the “Death squads”, extreme-right paramilitary groups who executed actions against the opponents for the government. These groups started acting in the early 70s, continued during the civil war and ended with the signing of the Peace Treaties in 1992.

During those twelve years, Marisa rejected her family name, her inheritance and learnt how to love her brother while hating the ideals he represented.

One of "Fundación CINDE"'s centers for the socioeconomic education of women at El Salvador.

One of “CINDE”‘s centers for socioeconomic education of women in El Salvador.

In 1989, Marisa founded an Association that was inspired by the situation in which thousands of young women lived with their children in the streets of El Salvador. In 1993 the United Nations accused Marisa’s older brother of being the intellectual author of the spark that ignited the civil war in El Salvador.

The beneficiaries of the Association were women who worked as informal sellers of every kind of merchandise, and their children, whom they kept with them while working on the streets.

The idea of the Association came up with a double intention: on one hand, to give those children a safe environment where they could grow up healthily and receive an education, and on the other hand, to release the mothers from the stress and the burden of taking care of the children while working on the streets.

Nowadays, the CINDE Association, led by Marisa Martinez (her husband’s surname) has 2 centers dedicated to childcare and human promotion, and rules more than 7 programs.

There is an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, who once related human development to the capabilities of people, being those capabilities understood as people’s real opportunities to choose the lives they have reason to value.

A lady sells fruit in a street of downtown San Salvador while a taxi driver waits for clients.

A lady sells fruit in a street of downtown San Salvador while a taxi driver waits for clients.

Marisa was courageous enough to clearly state her values and choose the life she wanted to live. Since then she has devoted her life to extent those opportunities to children by providing them with an education and a safe growing environment.

During my first experience in El Salvador I taught English classes, took care of children, cooked hundreds of meals and cleaned floors and kitchens.

But especially, I was a small part of a big puzzle that nowadays allows young adults to have the freedom of choosing the life they want to live in a world which lacks opportunities.

There are people who inspire and I was lucky enough to personally meet one of them and her growing legacy.

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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