Valley residents learning about solidarity abroad
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Solidarity isn’t a word that flows freely or frequently from the lips of many Americans. This week in El Salvador, however, five Grand Junction residents traveling with the Foundation for Cultural Exchange are becoming familiar with what it means to live in solidarity, or solidaridad.
Anna Stout, a Grand Junction native and foundation president, is joined on a weeklong trip in El Salvador by Jessica Geddes, Michael Santo, Chris Clark and the author, all of whom reside in the Grand Valley, as well as Toni Riggs of Denver and Nancy Saldana, a Salvadoran native now living in Los Angeles.
The travelers spent the first day of their journey in and around the capital city of San Salvador, where their first stop brought them to the green metal gates of El Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad, The Center for Exchange and Solidarity, with whom the foundation partners to carry out activities in Grand Junction’s sister city of El Espino.
Leslie Schuld, director of the Center for Exchange and Solidarity, described solidarity as “coming together for a common cause (and) a relationship of mutual respect.”
“Solidarity addresses the causes of suffering and provides long-term solutions,” Schuld said.
Much of the suffering — whether economic or emotional — felt by the Salvadoran people stems from the country’s 12-year civil war, which began in 1980 and lasted until 1992, claiming more than 75,000 lives in its wake. The concept of solidarity is rooted in this collective experience.
Salomón Cruz Marmól, 55, lost his father, Vicente Peréz, to the war in the early 1980s, but not before Peréz had established Cooperativa la Unión, a small coffee cooperative that offers training and education in sustainable cultivation as well as shared production facilities to its 150 members.
Peréz founded the cooperative in the 1950s in Santiago Texacuangos, a small rural community outside of San Salvador, where mango trees and banana plants cover the hillsides the foundation delegates spent Thursday afternoon exploring.
“During the war, many cooperative members were killed just for being associated (with the cooperative) and a lot of people abandoned the project,” Marmól said.
Since then, plagues have destroyed fields of coffee plants, and tracts of land have been repossessed. Yet Marmól is dedicated to instilling the importance of agriculture and mutual interdependence in the minds of local children in order to cultivate another generation of community members who have a stake in their own futures and their community.
“Solidarity is a concept that must be lived in the flesh,” Stout said. “The Salvadoran people are a constant example of what it means to live for the good of the community, not the individual.”
It is this sentiment that the seven American sojourners will seek over the next seven days, as they travel eastward to El Espino.