KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), attorney, Shanti Martin with Angela. Photo, Kids in Need of Defense. KIND’s network of attorneys represents unaccompanied children in their fight for reunification and safety.
The Women’s Refugee Commission and several other organizations filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) on behalf of family members who were forcibly separated at the Southern border of the United States. The complaint listed examples of toddlers, as young as two years old, who had been forcibly separated from their parents and labeled, “unaccompanied.”
The Women’s Refugee Commission Identified the Following Serious Risks:
Family separation through the deportation process is dangerous and impedes safe repatriation and reintegration.
Family unity matters. It is a fundamental human right enshrined in international and U.S. child welfare law.
The destruction of a family unit has serious consequences for all members:
Jeopardizes liberty, access to justice, and protection.
Negatively impacts the emotional, psychological development and well-being.
Creates security and economic difficulties.
Strips the dignity of an individual and their family as a whole.
The Women’s Refugee Commission argues that the federal government should prioritize liberty and family unity in its immigration policy and make fast improvements to the following:
Tracking Mechanisms and Processes are Needed; So is Accountability and Transparency.
Government agencies should have mechanisms to identify family members and track family separation in all cases.
Improved Professional Training:
DHS agents should receive training and guidance on identification, documentation, processing, and placement decisions for families.
Develop a Series of Alternatives to Detention:
A series of alternatives to detention should be prioritized to avoid separating families and causing trauma.
Hire Child Welfare Bilingual Professionals, Trauma Training:
Trauma Training is Needed. Multi-lingual, Multi-Cultural Staff, Social Workers are Needed. DHS should require the hiring of child welfare professionals at the border to supervise the protection of children and families and oversee instances of family separation.
Document, Trace and Justify:
DHS and its agencies should document and trace all family relationships. Family separation should be recorded and justified in writing.
Report to Congress:
Such information should also be collected, analyzed, and reported regularly to Congress.
Provide Accessible Updates to Families and Attorneys for Reunification:
Information should be accessible to family members and their attorneys. This should also permit families to trace other family members, file complaints about family separation, and seek family reunification.
Best Interest of the Child-First Consideration:
DHS should consider the best interests of the child in all processing, custody, and removal and repatriation decisions.
Protect Children during Removal and Repatriation:
During removal and repatriation, children should be protected from family separation to assist in a safe return without added undue trauma.
Improve Inter-Agency Communication:
Inter-agency processes to improve communication and collaboration to help separated family members be released and/or reunited. This should include mechanisms to help detained family members locate and connect with separated loved ones.
Report to the Public
DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) provide oversight and accountability and report findings to Congress and the public.
Improve documentation, reporting, and policies on family separation.
Accurate reporting and checking in with the shelters and sponsors taking care of these children is critical to reunification with family, to welfare and protection, and to the speedy connection of the children with attorneys who can represent them in court. Given the current weak tracking system, it is not surprising that over a thousand children were found to be missing after separation and detention.
What measures are currently being taken so that this never happens again?
In the case of undocumented minors that are deported, urgent questions arise. First, why? Is it because they miss court dates? Are children really expected to keep track of court dates and figure out where to go and when? Is it because they don’t accurately represent themselves? How can a child be expected to do so? Is it because of language barriers? What are the determinations that send minors back to dangerous places?
Congressional Hearings, and Legal Advocacy
Congressional hearings have illuminated many advocates for justice in this matter. Last week, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) questioned Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen regarding the policy of separating children from their parents when they cross the border through unofficial entry points. In the video below, Nielsen is unable to provide details regarding the treatment of children. Senator Harris pressed for answers that she asked Nielsen to provide within one week time.
Legal advocates are also rising to defend these children’s battles in court. KIND, (Kids in Need of Defense), provides lawyers to represent children who arrive in the U.S. alone. The nonprofit was started by a collaboration between Microsoft and Angelina Jolie.
KIND believes that “No Child Should Appear in Immigration Court Alone.” According to their findings:
50% Of Children Arriving in the U.S. have No One To Represent Them in Immigration Court.
Children without Representation are 5 times more likely to be Deported back to Danger.
Unaccompanied children are eligible for protection under the U.S. immigration system but need an attorney to represent them.
At least 60 percent of children who have attorneys are granted U.S. protection
With the help of KIND and her pro bono attorneys at Microsoft, Nayeli was able to obtain legal relief in the US:
What Forms of Legal Protection Are Available?
KIND describes various legal avenues:
Asylum (for those persecuted)
Special immigrant juvenile status (if abused, abandoned, or neglected)
Trafficking T visa for those who have been coerced into forced labor
U Visa for crime victims
Access to legal representation is critical for these children. Without an attorney, most children will not gain the protection for which they are eligible.
Organizations Representing Minors-Their view on Family Separation
The organization, Raices, Refugee, and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, in San Antonio, represents minors who have been separated from their parents.
Attorney Justin Tullius, who works for Raices, told Univision that he believes family separation by U.S. immigration officials,
“is a threat to immigrant families at the border meant to intimidate them.” Tullis fears that if children are sent to military installations, “they could be exposed to risks and violations of their rights.”
Tullius added that the risks go beyond treatment at the military shelters, but also after,
“Sometimes when a child is separated from his father, the father is lost.”
Univision reports that the refugee program under the Department of Health and Human Services works with 100 shelters in 14 states.
The growing number of children arrivals at the border, have impacted the capacity at these shelters and has led the Department of Health and Human Services to consider the opening of temporary shelters for the undocumented minors in four military bases in the country.
Photo. Defense Studies. Little Rock AFB is located in Jacksonville, Arkansas
(about 10 miles northeast of Little Rock).
While we wait for Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen to provide answers regarding the welfare of unaccompanied children through the separation, detention and court process, more questions emerge:
What happens to the children waiting in military shelters in the following cases?
A parent is deported while the child sits in a shelter.
No relative or guardian can be found.
A child arrived at the border without identification or records.
A child is unable to communicate due to trauma or language barriers.
How long will they sit in the military shelters? What types of activities-recreational, educational, health, and psychological care will be available to them? What will they eat? Who will comfort them?
As Congress asks tough questions of DHS’s plans to provide for the children, there are valid reasons for the tough questions and many concerns.
The photos below were released by Rep. Henry Cuellar’s (D-Texas) office and depict the cramped living conditions that undocumented immigrants, and unaccompanied children, experienced in a detention center near the U.S.-Mexico border. Photos were published in the Huffington Post. The photos were first published by the Houston Chronicle.
Why? How is this okay?
As a citizen, as an immigrant, and as a mother, I can’t ignore this issue. These are children, alone, as young as two years old. If we don’t care; if we leave the questions for someone else to raise; if we look the other way, or switch the channel, who will be there for them? Who will demand accountability and human rights? They are vulnerable and don’t have a voice or direct channel to justice. That’s why they need us.
“You are the worst foster parents in the world,” accused North Dakota Senator (D) Heidi Keitkamp during a testimony hearing before the Senate, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) admitted having lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minors after placing them with sponsors late last year.
Between October and December 2017, 7,635 children who crossed the border alone into the United States, were placed with sponsors throughout the country, reported Noticiero Telemundo, on April 27th, 2018.
From last October until the end of the year, officials from the HHS refugee office attempted to contact 7,635 children and their sponsors. A report from Steven Wagner, interim assistant secretary of the HHS Administration for Children and Families, reveals that the agency learned of the disappearance of hundreds of immigrant children after making calls to the people who took responsibility for them when they were released from custody.
1,475 children could not be located.
Most of the children came from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, seeking refuge from drug cartels, gang violence, and domestic abuse.
From these calls, officials learned that:
6,075 children stayed with their sponsors
5 were deported
52 moved to live with someone else
1,475 children were missing
Agency officials could not determine their whereabouts.
The report on the “Oversight of HHS Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Children from Human Trafficking,” revealed that the government does not have a method to follow up on the whereabouts of immigrant children who enter the country alone.
Pro-immigrant groups are extremely concerned.
Maria Sosa, an immigrant’s rights activist from the organization, Fiel, told Noticiero Univision that the government should take more responsibility to ensure that these children are in the right hands:
“We are waiting for an explanation from the government. We want to know, what happened to the children, and why did the government not follow up on their welfare? Many times the government does not visit the homes of the sponsors where they place the children. This hurts the children in many ways. Regarding the immigration process, the children would like to fix their immigration status but this depends on showing up for important immigration court dates. Many of the youths miss court dates because they live in the dark. They have no idea where they are or what they are supposed to do. How can they be responsible for knowing to go to court and when to show up? They entered as minors and so they cannot be made responsible for their own self-care.”
The William Wilberforce Act of 2008 states that immigrant children traveling alone cannot be deported immediately. Instead, children must be placed under the care of HHS while they are processed in immigration courts.
The report, part of Wagner’s testimony for the Senate, admitted that once the children are handed over to a sponsor, the custody of the Refugee Office with the minor ends, with a file remaining open for only 30 days.
A subcommittee on National Security of the Senate has been investigating the situation of minors after the discovery of a network of labor trafficking, in which eight Guatemalan adolescents were forced to work in egg farms in Marion County.
The office of refugees has been urged to correct the serious deficiencies with the system and design a step by step plan to monitor what happens to the children and to present a report on solutions as early as next week.
Sister Norma Pimentel from Catholic Charities is advocating on the children’s behalf. “We must protect these children who are so vulnerable and who can be taken and exploited.”
Activists in the pro-immigrant communities believe Trump’s government is responsible for losing the children after handing them over to sponsors and failing to follow-up. The risk is that they may have ended up in sex traffic rings, exploited, and forced into labor.
This lack of care, regard and humanitarian efforts to help these children goes against every value that the United States is supposed to stand for. As caravans of migrants head to the border in a desperate request for asylum what is to happen to the children? The families that have escaped persecution, pain, death, come to us for help, for refuge and compassion. What awaits them? A militarized border and possible traumatic separation of already suffering families, from their children. If this happens, where will these children go? To “sponsors?” How would they ever reunite with their parents? What would become of them? Placing them with sponsors and forgetting them after 30 days is irresponsible and shameful. Already missing, 1500 minors.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions just announced that victims of domestic violence generally won’t qualify for asylum requests in the United States. He has argued that such claims are private matters, not political ones and that the issues are arbitrary. What he should know is that by the time a woman has made the arduous journey to request asylum for domestic and gender violence, she is running for her life.
Who Qualified for Asylum until Now?
In order to be granted asylum, the applicant must show that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and that he or she is unable or unwilling to return.
To be granted asylum based on one’s membership in a particular social group, the applicant must show that the group is (1) composed of members who share a common immutable characteristic, (2) defined with particularity, and (3) socially distinct within the society in question. The applicant must also show that her persecution was on account of her membership in the social group, and that the government in her country of origin is unable or unwilling to afford her protection from such persecution.
Domestic Violence, Gender Violence and Femicide-Not private Crimes, but Social, Political, Economic Crimes.
Domestic violence, gender violence, and femicide are crimes of global proportions driving countless women to flee their homes in search of protection. In this report, I am focusing on the dangerous climate for women in Central American countries from where many seek protection in the form of asylum petitions in the United States. In the last week, news coverage from programs such as Univision, have addressed Session’s consideration to remove domestic violence as a valid category for asylum. At the center of the discussion is whether a “private” crime qualifies for asylum protections.
As you will read below, “private” crimes of domestic violence, gender violence, and femicide are upheld by government and legal structures that protect aggressors through impunity and intimidate women into silence or flight. For the women who attempt to leave and to report the crimes, the price is often death.
The statistics below provide evidence that based on the asylum definition above, Central American victims of domestic and gender violence in Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala have an urgent case for asylum. The conditions in these countries show that women are persecuted as a class; they are a part of a cognizable, particular social group, and that their immutable characteristic and reason for persecution is gender.
Domestic Violence, Femicide-Sex based hate crimes, the Case for Asylum
Violence in Honduras is a social problem that crosses all strata and conditions of sex and gender with women classified among the most vulnerable.The National Observatory of Violence (ONV), reported 22 femicides in January 2018 and 50 cases in February.
Femicides in Honduras are the consequences of extreme outbursts of domestic violence triggered by anger and jealousy, and are characterized by being carried out in cold blood with sharp weapons, fire and asphyxiation.
According to a study published by the University Institute for Democracy, Peace and Security (IUDPAS), of 500 homicides taking place in 2017 from January to August in Honduras, women led the majority of deaths with 207 deaths.
Women in Honduras live in danger of losing their lives violently every day, reports the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (ONV-UNAH). They are victims of many different types of aggression on a daily basis, and very few dare to testify before the authorities.
One of the most recent statistical reports of the Public Ministry (MP), indicates that, in barely 2 months, a total of 1,689 complaints about different crimes against women were recorded at the national level.
Those who dared to speak denounced harassment, kidnappings, and physical harassment. In most cases, the accusations ended in impunity.
Thousands of women seek help in Ciudad Mujer, a domestic violence and family abuse refuge for women in Honduras. In almost a year, care centers registered 95,263 domestic violence services in Tegucigalpa and Choloma, with 25–27 women arriving each day.
Since March 29, 2017, through February 2018, 48, 118 people have sought support.
On average, every 14 to 15 hours a woman in Honduras dies violently, according to figures from the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH).
“When the injuries are analyzed, the aggression, whether physical, psychological or sexual show extreme manifestations of contempt, hatred and viciousness with which a woman is killed,” said coordinator, Migdonia Ayestas. “Generally,” added Ayestas, “men are killed with a firearm, and women, for the most part, are executed with a knife, and by men.”
Wives, girlfriends, daughters, and mothers are considered a personal possession, an object, and not as a person with rights.
“This comes to such a degree that when the woman tries to separate, the man can take her life. Unfortunately, this is something rooted in machismo, which makes it look normal, “ lamented the coordinator of OV-UNAH, Migdonia Ayestas.
Domestic Violence, Femicide-Sex based hate crimes, the Case for Asylum
In El Salvador, the first 4-month period of 2018 reflects a serious upturn in femicides. Official data show that 135 women were killed between January 1 and April 16 of this year.
Last year, between January 1 and April 30, 123 femicides were committed, according to data from the Observatory of Violence of the Salvadoran Women’s Organization for Peace (ORMUSA).
Young women under 30 are being murdered at high rates. The Institute of Legal Medicine registered 468 femicides in 2017. The 45.08 % of murdered women corresponds to young women under 29, including 16 cases of children under 15 years.
Among the dead: peasant women, small traders, doctors, journalists, students, employees, the unemployed, and female police officers. The women were murdered mostly by men with whom they share their daily lives. In most cases, they have been killed in front of their sons and daughters, and have been shot or stabbed.
According to ORMUSA, the disturbing trend of “punitive populism” is emerging in El Salvador, where men “counter-sue” women who sue them in domestic violence cases. This recourse is considered a form of punishment, or “legal revenge” for their boldness to confront the status quo.
Once in the courtrooms, women are condemned along with their violent husbands under the claim of “cross violence.”
Impunity strengthens the aggressors, and above all, it paralyzes the victims and sends the message to the other women that there is no point in fighting.
Intrafamily Violence-an Epidemic, also School, Work and the Community
Women aged 20 to 24 in Mexico suffer the most from intrafamily violence in Mexico, with Queretaro ranking highest in cases of intrafamily violence committed against women in this age group.
The incidence of intrafamily violence against women is of 124.83 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants; while in the case of women from 20 to 24 years old, this indicator goes up to 230.35 percent.
According to statistics from the Morbidity Yearbook of the General Directorate of Epidemiology that measures the cases of family violence committed against women who are treated in medical institutions, Querétaro ranks first in cases of intrafamily violence that require hospitalization, with a rate of 1898.73 cases.
Guerrero and Michoacán rank second and third in the incidence of violence against twenty-year-olds with 813.19 and 556.66, respectively.
There are 12 regions that are above the national average incidence in intrafamily violence committed against women from 20 to 24 years old. These states are: Querétaro, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nayarit, Campeche, Hidalgo, Quintana Roo, State of Mexico, Tamaulipas, Baja California Sur, Colima and Chihuahua.
66.1% of Mexican women have suffered aggression of sexual, physical, work or emotional form at some point in their lives, reported the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).
Of the total number of women who have experienced physical and / or sexual violence by an aggressor other than their partner, only 9.4% filed a complaint or denounced it to any authority. 2.2% only requested support from an institution; while 88.4% did not request support or submit a complaint. Gender aggression goes largely unpunished.
The National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relations (ENDIREH) measured the experiences of violence faced by women aged 15 and over residing in Mexico’s national territory in 2016:
49% of women suffered emotional violence; 41.3% had been victims of sexual assault: 29% suffered economic violence, patrimonial violence and/or discrimination; while 34% said they had experienced physical aggression throughout their lives.
In fact, the extent of violence in the country ranged from 52.4% in Chiapas to 79.8% in Mexico City in 2016.
In Mexico, assaults against women are carried out in different areas of life: in school, in the family, in the workplace, and in the community. The regions that present the highest levels of gender violence include Mexico City, State of Mexico, Jalisco, Aguascalientes and Querétaro. On the contrary, those with the lowest prevalence are San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Baja California Sur, Campeche, and Chiapas.
According to the INEGI, the national prevalence of school violence is 25.3% and the regions with the highest prevalences are Querétaro, Jalisco, Mexico City, Aguascalientes and Oaxaca.
Of the total aggressions that occurred in the school in the last 12 months, 38.3% were of a sexual nature; 34.1% psycho-emotional and 27.7% physical.
The main aggressors in the school environment were the same classmates, and teachers. In addition, 12 of every 100 prep school women suffered abuse, harassment, harassment or sexual intimidation in the last year.
Of the women who have worked, 27 out of 100 have experienced some violent act, mainly of a sexual nature and of discrimination based on gender or pregnancy.
The most frequent type of violence at work is discrimination, sexual assaults and emotional types such as humiliation, degradation, and intimidation.
The national prevalence of violence in the workplace is 26.6% and the entities with the highest figures are Chihuahua, Coahuila, Queretaro, Baja California and Quintana Roo.
Violence against women in public or community spaces is above all of a sexual nature, ranging from offensive phrases of a sexual nature, stalking (followed in the street) and sexual abuse (groping, obscene exhibitionism).
The aggressions occurred mainly in the street and parks (65.3%), followed by the bus and minibus (13.2%), the subway (6.5%). The main aggressors are unknown people, acquaintances, a friend or neighbor, as well as the driver of public transport.
Finally, in the last 12 months, 10.3% were victims of some violent act (emotional, physical, sexual or economic-patrimonial) on the part of some member of their family. The most indicated aggressors are the brothers, the father, and the mother. The main sexual aggressors are the uncles and the cousins.
Intrafamily Violence, Sex Crimes, Child and Teen Pregnancy Epidemic
In the first quarter of this year, 16 women lost their lives in Nicaragua and almost half of them did so at the hands of their partners. This represented three more crimes for gender violence than in the same period of 2017, according to Catholics for the Right to Decide.
Another 23 women survived the femicides by thwarting these attempts in some way.
An analysis carried out by that organization through the Voces Observatory indicates that in ten of the cases the victims were aged between 35 and over 51 years.
One of the issues that most concerns the Commission (Inter-American Human Rights), is the link between poverty and gender-based violence, the IACHR reports.
“There is a high proportion of poor, indigenous and/or Afro-descendant women, most of whom reside in rural areas, who most often do not fully enjoy their human rights with respect to maternal health,” the report says. Criminalization of abortion on women in the region also affects women’s precarious situations. Nicaragua is one of the five countries in America where abortion is still penalized
Gender violence a legacy of war
Gender-based violence is at epidemic levels in Guatemala. The country is ranked third in terms of murders of women around the world, reports, Small Arms, an agency that conducted a survey into gender violence in Guatemala. Two women are murdered there every day.
Gender violence in Guatemala is part of the legacy of violence that followed 36 years of civil war in the country, says Julie Guinan of CNN. During the conflict, atrocities were committed against women, who were used as a weapons of war. In 1996, a ceasefire agreement was reached between the insurgents and the government. But what followed was a lingering climate of terror, due to a culture of impunity and discrimination.
Some 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared during the conflict that lasted several decades, most of them came from indigenous Mayan populations, states Guinan.
The UN estimates that 98% of cases never reach the courts. In many cases, femicide — the murder of a woman simply because of her gender — is carried out with shocking brutality with some of the same strategies used during the war, including rape, torture and mutilation.
The country’s weak judicial system, a culture of machismo and a deeply rooted patriarchal society have greatly challenged the women of Guatemala. María Machicado Terán, a representative of UN Women in Guatemala published the following finding:
“80% of men believe that women need permission to leave the house, and 70% of women surveyed agreed.”
This predominant culture of machismo and an acceptance of brutality against women leads to high rates of violence.
The lack of education is also a great contributor to poverty and vulnerability. Many girls, especially in indigenous communities, do not go to school because the distance from their homes to the classroom is too far.
The most vulnerable groups in Guatemala are the Mayan girls.
Millions of women find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence. Gender based persecution drives women to flee for their lives. Protection at home and through police structures is often denied. Victims of domestic violence fight violence on two levels, at home and in their societies. In a system that does not protect them, what are they to do? As attorney General Sessions considers the case of domestic violence to grant women asylum, I hope he can see the connection between the private and the public, for they are intertwined. The case for domestic violence and asylum is not a private problem; it is a national and international humanitarian crisis.
“To my first graders whose parents are gone, I tell them that we are their family. Their classmates are more than friends. They are also brothers and sisters. When they hurt I tell them, “You can call me, Mama.” Professor Cordelia Fajardo teaches first graders in Comayagua Honduras. Some of her students’ parents have left to the U.S.
An Interview by Soledad Quartucci
I didn’t choose a career in teaching. It somehow chose me. From a very young age I knew I was meant to guide children. I am 67 years old and I have been teaching for 42 years.
Mi name is Profesora Cordelia Victoria Fajardo. I work in the department of Comayagua in Honduras and I teach in the Escuela Manuel Andara.
I got my start at 23 years old. At the time, I didn’t have a fixed school. So I would travel to villages on teaching assignments getting around in carts, riding donkeys, on horseback and on foot. I started teaching in a small village known as El Sitio. From there, I moved around to various places where I was needed, like Flores, La Via de San Antonio and El Coquito.
First Teaching Experiences
At first, I had many difficulties in the classroom. I didn’t have any experience.
With practice and time, I was able to deepen my knowledge. To get through the hard times, I focused on the children who needed me.
My first students were children living in poor villages; they didn’t have enough to eat, and had almost no clothes.
It was in these villages that I grew a heart for solidarity.
The need was so great, that I quickly forgot about my difficulties and got the courage to do everything I could to help, including asking strangers, coworkers and friends for books, notebooks, and shoes.
Getting others involved in helping, energized me. Working on behalf of my students and their families felt good.
How I Learned To Teach
At my first stable job, I taught all grades from first to sixth grade. When I moved to the city I started working with upper division students.
I learned how to teach by asking questions. In my family all my sisters are teachers. I would ask them. How do I teach this? Since I was expected to teach all grades, this was a big task. My sisters helped me through sketching. They helped me with ideas and my heavenly father illuminated me along the way. I knew I was working with a higher force, because instead of being afraid or tired, I would make it through long challenging days with endless energy.
Each day, I would wake up and fight to learn more and to do better.
A Matriarchy of Teachers & Learning by Doing
Four of my sisters have worked in education. They have all retired. At 67 I’m still going. At our school, children go to school from 7 am to noon. We have two shifts. The second one starts in the afternoon. Our curriculum is varied and includes Spanish, math, social and natural sciences, English, physical education and computing.
For physical education, we have soccer and basketball fields. Girls play both sports.
I studied in Comayagua in the Instituto Inmaculada Concepcion where I learned lots of theories.
After we graduated, I knew that I didn’t know anything. I knew I was a teacher but I had no idea how to apply theories into every day teaching.
Life experience in the classroom inspired me with many methods. But the truth is, I invented my own style of teaching along the way.
Every day and with each different class it was like making a salad. I borrowed, adapted, added and mixed all my methods hoping that they would work.
Working with the older students in the upper divisions I felt so comfortable. I prepared my lessons, I explained things to them and they asked so many great questions. But once I moved to La Sabana, I was told I would be teaching solely first grade.
I said, “What? How am I supposed to teach first graders?”
At first it felt like a down grade. I was very sad. I remember staring at the little faces and feeling lost. How would I teach such young children?
Through asking questions and praying I made it through a tough first year. The wonderful thing is that by the end of that first year, all of my first graders had learned how to read. The school considered this a great success and decided I was perfect for this age group.
This was the start of 20 years of teaching first grade.
Nowadays I teach first, as well as second and third. But in my whole teaching career, my favorite grade has been first grade. I love this grade because children arrive in my class without knowing anything. I get to play a significant role in their lives. I guide them out of the dark into the light.
It is always so rewarding when I run into them later in life and see some of them have made it into doctors, engineers, mechanics, builders. I thank God and I say, Gracias!, because you pushed me to help others.
I was born here. It is a very beautiful and tranquil place. We didn’t use to have as much corruption as our country faces today. Our parents raised us with lots of values. Most of us are children of humble agricultural workers. My father worked in the fields and my mother was a homemaker.
I am so proud and grateful for the parents that god gave me. They were special. The taught us to give back, to teach. They gave us a strong foundation and it led us to find meaningful work.
Comayagua is a very devout place. We celebrate many religious festivals. During Holy Week, lots of tourists come visit us.
Today, very few people work in agriculture. Most work in businesses, factories like soap, juice and tomato paste factories. We export vegetables, cheeses and butter to the United States.
Comayagua is a flat valley. It is surrounded by mountains. About 150,000 people live here. It’s grown quite a bit. Many people have crossed over to our home. People seek work, and get around in bicycle, motor taxis and some cars.
Unfortunately, we suffer from unemployment and that’s why so many locals emigrate.
We Raise Our Children to be Street Smart
The authorities look after the children, as do the parents. Mothers and fathers drop off children and pick them up. We also advise them not to go with strangers and to keep their eyes open and to be careful. We want each one of them safe. If one is hurting, we all hurt. This past year, a stepfather killed his stepson and our school community suffered horribly. We love our students as if they were our own children.
My Homemade Pedagogy
I have been lucky to have been able to be a working woman my whole life. I now have the honor of teaching in Comayagua’s biggest school. We are fortunate to have internet, water and light. We also have plumbing. We do have some crimes and gang problems, but not a lot.
I have taught them to count by playing hopscotch, skipping rocks on the river, and jumping over running water. To teach them a love of reading, I have invented stories, and to build vocabulary I have emphasized the stories behind the words that hold a lot of meaning to us; important words like love, the sky, Maria and Dios.
It’s all About Reading, Writing, Storytelling and Vocabulary
Regarding our student body, some of our children are local and others come from marginal areas and arrive by bus. Many of my students love math and others love Spanish and reading.
Our biggest effort with first graders is to teach them to read and develop a love of reading. We want them to write without errors and to write neatly. We also emphasize reading with intonation and reading comprehension. First graders love reading time and writing on the board.
One of their favorite activities is questions and answers. They love that. They are naturally curious. They get so happy when we go outside. We usually take them outside for story time because we find that nature is a great source of inspiration for storytelling.
The Meaning Behind Teaching Vocabulary
Part of the reason we focus strongly on developing vocabulary is because many of our children are extremely shy and dislike talking. Some of these children come from single parent homes or live with grandparents because both parents have left to the United States.
These children suffer. Their parents send them money from the U.S. but what they need is love and guidance. They need that desperately.
We know our students’ particular situations very well. We know who these children are, and we do everything we can to give them the love and support that they need. Because these children can often act out, I pray for patience. Every morning I wake up and I pray: Lord, give me patience and give me endless love to reach the children who need me. Give me more love so I can pour it onto them.
I make time to talk to the children who are hurting because their parents are gone. I tell them that I love them dearly. I hug them. I remind them that their parents love them, too. I speak with love and I listen to them.
It may take them a little while, but once they open up, trust begins to grow and we are better able to help them. Children in the first grade are innocent and look up to their teachers as if they were angels. They tell us everything.
“My mama and papa they got in a fight today;” “We didn’t eat today;” “I only brought water for my snack, prof, my mom doesn’t have money.”
They feel safe at school and so they share all the little details of daily life that help us understand them better.
I Make Home Visits
In my years of experience I have found that to really serve my students well, I must understand their world. On the weekends, I visit my students in their homes and try to get to know their parents. I take taxis to get around. I don’t have a car.
The visits help me to understand my students’ living conditions and also the families’ needs. Life in the Marginal Areas of Comayagua can be a very difficult life. If you stop by and visit these families at lunch time, and ask them why they are not cooking, they’ll tell you, “I don’t have anything to cook or to eat.”
If I don’t catch them at home, I also get to know the parents when they come to school to enroll their children. Like their sons and daughters, many of the parents are eager to find compassion and resources. Most, tell us about their difficulties.
I have found that integrated families tend to have healthier children and more food. Their children behave better. In the classroom, when the little ones start fighting, throwing things and saying unkind words, we can tell that they are suffering and that there are problems at home.
To my first graders whose parents are gone, I tell them that we are their family. Their classmates are more than friends. They are also brothers and sisters. When they hurt I tell them, “You can call me, mamá.”
I visit not only my new students but also my professional, older students. To me, they are family. When they are home, they invite me to eat; they visit me. I have a group of students who attend the university, and some who live and work in the U.S. When they return to Honduras for visits, they get together with all of their school friends and they invite me to dinner. We have such a great time.
Horizontes Al Futuro—Horizons, Looking to the Future
On Wednesdays, after teaching first graders, I work with an organization called, Horizontes al Futuro that rehabilitates street youth. We have children as young as 6 years old, all the way up to eighteen-year olds. The director is Gregorio Alonzo Garcia, originally from Spain. Below, Garcia with his students in Horizontes.
At Horizontes I am a member of the directive committee and I also teach catechism. We always try to incorporate fun activities. To help support the program, we cook, sell food and sell raffle tickets.
The children, and teens who stay here are not orphans. They have families, but they are children who have gotten involved in drugs. They’ve stolen, and gotten in trouble. The police picks them up from the streets and then they call Gregorio, and he picks them up.
The children live in Horizontes during the week. Under don Gregorio’s leadership, they get an education, receive clothes, food, and job training. It costs the families nothing. If they get sick, they get medicine, too. On Friday afternoon, we take them to their homes, and on Sundays at 5pm we pick them up and take them back to Horizontes. We meet with the parents and we try to connect the families with resources.
Gregorio is greatly loved by Comayaguans, and especially by the young men who stay in Horizontes. He sets such a big example. Here he is, from Spain doing things for Hondurans that Hondurans don’t even do. Why aren’t we doing more for our own youth?
The children that stay in Horizontes love Gregorio. They call him, papá.
Horizontes receives help from churches in Spain and also from the Base de Palmerola, a Honduran base that houses U.S. troops in Comayagua. We have gringo godparents in the base that help Gregorio help the children.
In addition to our great director, the center also has teachers, homework assistants and workshop leaders. While in Horizontes, they learn computers, sewing and other trades. The focus is on rehabilitation, reintegration and learning marketable skills. We currently have 45 young men between 7 years old and 18 years old.
The gringos from the base, Base Aerea de Parmerola are retired and they are charitable and a big help. But most of our support comes from Spain. On the Dia de los Ninios, the day of the children, a national holiday, the Americans invite the children from Horizontes to the base. They throw a party for them, buy presents and food, and they also celebrate Mother’s Day. The children’s mothers get presents, too.
Sometimes, with all the help we get from Spain, and from the base, we still don’t have enough. That’s when we head to the streets to ask people to help us. We ask our families, our coworkers and our friends. People donate what they can, everything from money to work contributions. Some people send us monthly donations.
I even ask my fellow teachers,
“Do you want to godparent one of my kids?”
Our School is Beautiful
All of us teachers contribute to its upkeep. The parents and students help us, too. We are currently trying to expand our bathrooms. The school is big but we don’t have enough of them. We also lack in school books and desks. The government does not help us.
Fortunately, we have an amazing mayor, Carlos Miranda, who is dedicated to helping us.
Everything you see in our school we have bought ourselves. Even the boards. They parents have done their part to help us, when possible. We buy all the desks, we paint the classrooms, and we even installed the floors. They used to be made of mud, now they are made of ceramics. It gets really hot in the summer, and dirt gets into our classrooms. To help with this we’ve installed new windows.
Our mayor, Mr. Miranda, is really dedicated to helping us. He helped us finish the gym. We had done as much as we could and he stepped in. Since our school is close to a busy street, our mayor helped us build a different entry way so that the parents and students could come in and leave the school safely.
He also helped us fix five rotting roofs and walls that needed repairs.
I have a student who is disabled and used to sleep in a cardboard bed. I asked the mayor for a little bed and he gave it to me. This is the kind of mayor that we have.
Adolescence, Love and Advice
We cannot openly teach a class about sexuality. But we have our own ways of guiding our young. It is important that we counsel them in sexuality, because they fall in love so young and parents won’t talk to them about their bodies or about pregnancy.
When our children go outside to the playground, we always watch them. Out sixth graders fall in love so easily. So we talk to them, especially when they come to us with questions. We believe in teaching them that their bodies are sacred, but we also believe in providing them with real information.
Last year, one of our sixth graders got pregnant. Now, her mother raises both her and her daughter. It is important that we talk to our young about sexuality, how the body works and about pregnancy. The consequences for not doing so have so many ramifications for everyone in the family.
At our school, when it comes to advice, we have to tread carefully. Not all parents want us to discuss sex, or feel comfortable with talks of pills and condoms. But if the children come to me, and ask, I advise them to the best of my ability.
They call me, Mamá, Grandma and Auntie
Many of our students come to school hungry. They tell me, “I just didn’t bring my snack, prof, can I borrow yours?” We try to bring humor to difficult situations. Laughter helps us all to cope. I tell them, “and when are you paying me back? When I’m a little old lady, you’ll help support me,” we joke.
It makes me so happy to know that they feel comfortable asking me for food or anything they need.
I Feel So Loved
My students love me deeply, and I love them right back.
They say the cutest things. They hug me.
I know no greater joy than when I open the big school door and I see those little faces waiting for me.
“Good Morning, Prof;” they give me the biggest hugs. “You look so beautiful today.” “What a lovely dress!” “I like your necklace.”
When we have parent-teacher conferences, the mothers tell me that their children ask them to change their style to look like me, “dress more like my prof,” “mama, you should wear your hair like my prof.” “Mama, why don’t you put on make-up?”
I love them as if they were my own. I don’t allow anyone to harm them, or hit them. Last year, there was a first grader who wanted to stay in our school, but we were full. Two students were not able to enroll. I cried for those children. They had to go to another school, but I stayed in touch with them and their families. If they don’t understand the homework, I help them. Sometimes, teachers are harsh and lose their patience. I pray for patience. They need me to be loving and immensely patient.
I Tell them, Fight for Your Life, Fight for Your Children.
I have a young student who has serious anger problems. I have talked with his mother but she doesn’t want to accept help. I have told her about psychologists we have in Horizontes. I have offered to pick him up, take him to counseling and bring him home. She doesn’t want me to. The father smokes drugs at home. He is also a wife beater.
Defend yourself, I tell her. Fight for your life and for your son. Leave.
Sometimes, I even go to the grandmothers to enlist their help in helping my little students. After I have tried it all, I also pray.
I Was a Single Mother, and I Made It
I am a mother. I raised my son as a single parent with the most loving support of my parents.
I have been blessed with a wonderful son. My parents helped me every step of the way. I have also been very fortunate to have beautiful life-long friends. My close friends and my family were fundamental in my life.
I was raised to survive, to work and to serve. My father always told me,
”You will work. It is a sad sight to have single mothers beg for the daily bread.” I listened to my father and set out to work. I got pregnant at 21 years old. When my son turned five, my parents helped babysit him while I went to work.
If I made mistakes in my youth, they were due to ignorance. My parents tried to protect me. By not talking to me about the body, about pregnancy and sexual relations, they felt they were sheltering me from harm. These issues were taboo then, and for some families, they continue to be so, today.
My parents did the best they could for us. I grew up with a very tight knit family, always there to help me along the way. Today we all live close by. My granddaughter graduated in industrial psychology. My four sisters live on the same block.
Words for My Students
Keep charging forward! Use school to prepare yourself for life.
I have visited my students in jail. Some, I have lost to bullets. I have had to bury some of my students. I don’t want this fate for my little ones. I want them off the streets. I want them to see themselves as the future leaders of Honduras.
They deserve to be in universities, in great jobs, working in trades of their choice. Perhaps one of them could become our next president of Honduras. We hope he will be honest, a person of high integrity with a deep love for our country and its people.
We will be long gone, but my little students, they will inherit Honduras and its welfare.
I am a Mother of Many-One biological son, and the rest, hundreds of them, well, they could almost be!
I have thousands of children. So many have passed through my life. And they call me, Mama. I am now teaching the children of my first groups of students. When we get together we laugh, I tell them, “here comes my whole generation of students.” I get rewarded every day with so much love.
When they nominated me for teacher of the year, I told the supervisor—who happened to have been one of my students—”Ruben, I am not licensed. We have lots of licensed professors. I’m not one of them.” He told me, “Yes, you are competing with many but what I look for in teaching excellence is experience and a dedicated teacher who has accomplished impossible things throughout her career. I cannot think of a better candidate than you.”
I still cannot believe I was awarded such an amazing prize. Last year, on September 17th 2015, on our celebrated, “Day of the Teacher,” I was named Teacher of the year in Comayagua. I also received 2 medals, and a computer.
I submitted my paperwork to start my retirement in 2014. I have not receive the okay yet. In the meantime there is just so much work to be done. When the time comes to leave, I will walk home with my head held high and my heart filled with love and unforgettable experiences. I have been a teacher a mother, to thousands of children!
“My parents never made it to school. They grew up in the school of life and taught themselves how to read. Even though they didn’t make it to school, they made sure that we did.” Gloria Esperanza Sosa, rural teacher in Honduras.
Gloria Esperanza Sosa leans against local politician, Walter Chavez, after receiving a national award for teaching excellence by the Honduran Congress. Photo, courtesy of Walter Chavez’ Facebook page.
Every morning, Gloria Esperanza Sosa gets up at 6 o’clock and heads to work. Gloria is a teacher and the school director of Jose Cecilio del Valle, a rural school in Las Crucitas, a small village of 100 homes in El Paraiso, Honduras.
Life in Las Crucitas:
Las Crucitas is a village of 100 homes in Danil, a municipality of El Paraiso in Honduras. Gloria’s father was one of the original founders of the village. He and other rural families joined forces to build Las Crucitas’ first school. In fact, it was this school that gave birth to this community as rural families moved to the area so they could work and educate their children in the remote area. Today, Gloria describes her neighbors as members of a community that is “muy bonita,” very beautiful. She praises the families as healthy, and Las Crucitas as a place filled with good, hard-working people. Gloria is more than a teacher. She is a leader in a small farming community. Her students are the children of farmers.
The village is connected through dirt roads. Residents have access to potable water and electricity, innovations of the recent years. There is no plumbing or hot water. Melissa Lopez, daughter of Gloria Sosa, shared that their community is united, collaborative and extremely helpful. When she heard that I was interviewing her mother, Melissa contacted farmers across Las Crucitas asking for photos of every day life. “All I had to do was ask,” stated Melissa, “and using their little old cell phones, photos from across town, started pouring in. Famers were happy to help and to share picutres of their lives for Gloria’s story.
Residents use latrines, and wood burning stoves to prepare their daily meals. Gloria considers herself blessed. She has one of the few gas stoves in the community.
To buy food residents travel by bus to Danli, the nearest city. The bus is considered a long distance traveling treat. Locally, people get around on bikes, and homemade motor-taxis. Some residents build attachable baskets onto their bikes, and add a third wheel for easier transportation of goods and people. No alcohol is sold in Las Crucitas. It is an extremely religious town, mostly Catholic and evangelical. Catholics attend the church, Sagrada Familia, Sacred Family, and evangelicals attend Pentecostal International Mission. Melissa shared that since everyone in town knows each other, crime is extremely low and almost unheard of. People are so helpful that if I were to arrive in town and was lost, I could ask anyone how to get to Gloria or her daughter, Melissa’s house, and after interrogating me to make sure I’m a good person, they would guide me to their homes, and wait outside just in case I need anything else, like having to find another neighbor or needing to find my way back to a different town.
There are 4 teachers in Las Crucitas, including Gloria. Women work hard. They are homemakers, and also work in the fields and help milk the cows. After milking the cows, women take the milk to milk factories and this helps them to make a little extra money for their families. Women also attend church regularly and men like to play soccer.
A Community Leader, Teacher and School Director
Gloria is 65 years old. She has been teaching for 36 years, and presently, she teaches the children of her first cohort of students.
I found Gloria when I stumbled upon a Honduran article on teaching excellence. In a photo celebrating her dedication to her community and to education, petite Gloria leaned against local political candidate, Walter Chavez, as she hanged on to an award recognizing her as an outstanding educator.
After contacting Mr. Chavez, I was able to connect with Gloria and interview her. Amidst roosters’ yells, laughter, my Spanglish, and Gloria’s happy spirit, Gloria told me she had been waiting for my call. The teacher shared her views on education, the meaning of her award, and they way she hopes to be remembered by her students.
Mi name is Gloria Esperanza Sosa. I have been working as a teacher since the age of 22. I was “bien jovencita,” very young when I got started. I knew that I was meant to teach since a very young age. I knew this because I love children and I love to teach.
I work in a rural area and through my lifetime as a teacher I have witnessed much poverty and many difficulties affecting my students’ families. I have always done what I could to support the children. Whatever they have needed, I have tried to provide it. Sometimes it’s been school supplies; other times, it’s been food, and help.
I have raised so many youth! I am so grateful for my teaching award, and for the computer I received from the national congress.
Last year, I was invited to apply for this award. I sent my curriculum, and to my surprise, a commission representing the municipality of Danil visited me to tell me I was going to be honored. Later, I received a call from Congress inviting me to attend the celebration.
The Life of a Rural Teacher
I trained to be a teacher in the Escuela Normal Espania in Danli, which continues to train teachers today. When I went to school, the teaching credential lasted 3 years.
I have faced many challenges as a teacher. But one learns to adapt. Rural villages are not places of luxury. We don’t have much, but we do a lot with a little, and we know what matters. At the beginning of my career I didn’t have electricity, or potable water. Things are better now, but there is still work ahead.
I had great parents who taught me to give of myself selflessly, to love my neighbor, to love children and to cherish the elderly. These teachings propelled me forward then, and continue to move me to action today.
My job is to raise the next generation and to help shape their character. Academics are very important, but equally important is to teach children values.
We Are Resourceful People
Some of the greatest challenges we face is that we cannot rely on economic support from our government to provide the type of quality education we would like to offer .
I’m working on getting help to get a new roof for our school. The building is 36 years old and our roof is in immediate need of repair. When it rains, we have leaks. One of our classrooms, in particular, gets a lot of water. Our fence needs to be patched up, too. It has deteriorated over time. We need to repair it because it helps us to keep our students safe and our property protected. Our tables and school benches are very old, too.
We have a united community and parents always step in to try to help. We hope to find furniture and service providers that can help our school.
Blue Skies and Open Spaces
Our playground is an open ground. Children don’t need much. Just fresh air, and a big space. Our students use their imaginations to entertain themselves. They like chasing each other during break, jumping rope and playing hopscotch.
Jose Cecilio Del Valle, a resilient school in Las Crucitas
We have 96 students in our school and we teach all 6 grades from 1st to 6th grade. I am the school director and also its oldest teacher. I teach 3rd and 4th grade. Our students range in ages from six to twelve years old. Our day begins at 7 am. We stop for lunch at twelve and some days continue on until 3pm. We start our day with daily prayer, spiritual and moral teachings and then move on to natural sciences, Spanish, math and other courses.
A Day in the Life of Gloria
I wake up at 6 am. I head to school, go home for lunch, and return to school at 1pm. Due to scarcity of food, the families have asked that the children be allowed to walk home, eat with their families and return to school. I have allowed it.
Our school does not have technology, computers or internet signal. But we do have electricity and water.
The children are good children. They need more education after completing their schooling here, but while here, they apply themselves and they like to learn. We expose them to everything we can. Some love history, math, drawing and the arts. We don’t have a lot of discipline problems in our school. We find the time spent inculcating values, morality and love of your neighbor helps keep discipline problems at bay.
My job as a School Director
I write reports on our performance. I pray for the wellbeing of my school and oversee it’s welfare. Here, we have a good time. Work is enjoyable.
The Competitive Field of Teaching
The government hires our teachers. You take an exam, and then we fight for our jobs. To earn a job as a teacher entails education and stiff competition. We barely have any openings. Even when teachers want to work and are willing to go up the mountains, to remote villages, anywhere to work, there is still no work.
We have many unemployed teachers. They become homemakers while they search and patiently wait for an opportunity to serve.
The job doesn’t pay well. But it makes us so happy. When people find jobs in Honduras they are happy for many reasons. One, is that they are able to be of service, and two, they are one of the few who can say, “I am working. I have a job!”
We like to work hard and to have something to offer, even when we don’t make enough to survive and barely get by.
Our Teaching Pedagogy
We believe that students learn by doing, by solving problems, by research and group learning. My pedagogical style is to teach a lesson, followed by conversation with the students, and then we move to practice. There is value in learning by doing. I encourage them to investigate solutions. When they get stuck they work in groups to find answers, and I guide them, too. My goal is to inspire them to learn and pursue answers. I provide them with opportunities to practice what they learn, problem-solve and learn to search. I hope they never stop asking questions.
Life in Las Crucitas
The children don’t have much, but they are good children. They take pride in grooming themselves to come to school with their little uniforms and their one pair of dress shoes.
The families live very close to one another. Only 3 or 4 children live about 2 kilometers away from school.
The community is tranquil. We don’t have delinquency problems. Families work hard and receive sustenance depending on the seasons, the weather and the crops.
Parents Have Big Dreams for Their Children:
The parents hope that their children will graduate and find work; that their lives will be easier and more prosperous than theirs. They want them to have a better economic, social and cultural life.
There’s 3 of Us
We each teach approximately 30 students.
After They Graduate
After completing 6th grade those who can afford it transfer to a city school. They go to a school, Instituto de Union Oriente in Danli, Honduras. Not everyone can afford to go. The majority stays home, here locally. The boys will follow in their fathers’ footsteps and work in the fields. The girls will become homemakers.
The city school is a public school, so families don’t have to pay monthly fees. The problem is the charge for transportation. The school is 6 kilometers from us. Few can afford to pay.
The Big Challenge of Unemployment in Honduras
It is very disheartening to teach our children, to witness them grow up with dreams, to hand them their diploma only to watch them have nowhere to go. It breaks my heart when they ask,
“Prof, please find me a job?” I don’t have the means to help them with that. They graduate almost for nothing. There’s no work here.
Honduras is Facing a Crisis of Unemployment, Especially in Our Rural Areas.
There is so much poverty and scarce opportunity. Ours is an agricultural village. We used to raise cattle but not anymore. Those who work in the fields work hard for very little. The children who attend our school can only wish for the basics. Their fathers grow crops and their mothers are home makers. We raise corn and beans. The wealthiest families, only about 3 or 4, have a few livestock.
Gender Roles in little rural towns in Honduras:
People in our villages are humble, shy and respectful. But this doesn’t mean we don’t dream. Our families have goals, aspirations for their lives and the lives of their children. Before, no one could study beyond sixth grade. Now, we have most students completing primary school. Some are able to go to college and become professionals. Others, are still fighting to improve their lives.
Life in the village is different than in the city. The main difference is opportunity. All of us Hondurans share the same love of culture for our country. But depending on where one lives, the rhythm of life changes.
I am a daughter of farm workers. I grew up in a rural village close to Danli. When I was 7 my parents bought a little house here and sent me to school. I loved school, and went on to study to become a teacher. The students loved me so I decided to root myself in the community. I got married here and stayed. My father has passed away, but my mother is 93 years old. They were hard-working, dedicated people. They worked in agriculture and stockbreeding. We had great parents. I’m very grateful for them. Now my mother is very old, like a little girl, very dependent on us and we take care of her. I have three children, two of them are teachers.
Lessons I learned from My Parents
My parents never made it to school. They grew up in the school of life and taught themselves how to read. They didn’t make it to school but made sure that we did.
It was important to them to raise us to have a spirit of solidarity. My parents expected me to help others, to be of service. We grew up with lots of love and above all, we were taught to love God.
From them, I learned the value of perseverance and hard work. They taught us the importance to stay humble and to respect those who are different from us.
I love my Honduras
Honduras is a beautiful country. It has many beautiful natural resources that sadly, have been exploited. In my opinion this is the most beautiful place on earth. We have to protect it. We used to have precious animals and flowers that man has exhausted. In chopping down so many of our trees, whole floral and animal families have grown extinct. Their homes are gone.
It is a stunning place. We have two oceans on each of our coasts and a beautiful lake, lago de Yojoa.
One of our favorite past times is to cook and eat with family and friends. We eat paletas, corn cakes with beans, rice and seasonal vegetables. When we can afford it, we add a little beef, chicken or pork.
Our local families cannot afford to spend on entertainment. After a hard week of work, we like to stay home, go to church, rest. We take walks, clean our homes and do our chores. Sometimes, we watch tv, Christian television, soap operas, sports or cultural programs.
Modernity is changing us. Machismo lingers on but it’s not our defining cultural trait. Parents continue to have the biggest impact in orienting the character of their children.
Unfortunately, even with the best teachings, one cannot invent jobs. This is why we have such big immigration waves.
Those who leave Honduras don’t leave because they want to. They have to. They want to protect their families. They want to work. Some go to Spain, some to other Latin American countries, some to the U.S. Many fail along the way, and many families are fractured and suffer long separations and hardship while relatives leave in search of work.
The rise in single mothers and single fathers have to do with immigration flows, lack of work, and changes in the family.
The single parent here is extra resourceful. Each day they have to recreate strategies to survive. How to bring the “pan de cada dia,” how to find the daily bread. Life pushes them to become entrepreneurial. They make and sell things. They do gigs for others. They clean homes, sell items, make items and exchange favors. They sell tamales. They do what they can.
On Health Care
When our children get sick, we have a health center 20 kilometers from here, but it doesn’t do us much good. Mothers do what they can to come up with their own medicines. We do have one doctor working at the center but we don’t have medicine. Hospitals do not have medicine for us.
The doctor writes a prescription, the mother puts it in her bag and figures her own way to heal her child.
Do you want to know how we heal when we get sick? Well, through God’s providence (laughter), of course.
Diosito is very busy in Honduras. Our God is very busy in Honduras. He gets called around the clock. The good news is that He is powerful and can do all things.
We can retire at 50, but why stop? At sixty-five I still work and there’s so much work to do. I have started the process of retirement, but I’m not in a hurry to get there.
Some of my ex-students are working as teachers, engineers and lawyers. I feel such deep joy that I had some impact in their upbringing.
How Do you Want to be Remembered?
Over the years some of my students have returned for a visit and have told me, “Prof, I remember when you used to tell us to be kind and to be generous.” These visits make me smile. What I hope they remember is my little voice encouraging them along: Charge forward! Choose the right path, and choose wisely. Love your creator. Cherish your families and fight for their welfare.
Efrain Cornejo (left) rural teacher in El Savador, teaches Robotics. Here, he poses with his students and their award-winning creation, a 360 degree robot that students use to record and spread their culture.
“I know of rural teachers who swim across rivers to get to class. They put their clothes in a plastic bag, swim across the river while holding it up, and get dressed once on dry land. This is what it’s like for us. This is what we do to spread education to every corner of El Salvador” Maestro Efrain Cornejo, El Salvador.
An Interview by Soledad Quartucci
Last week, Primer Impacto, a news show broadcast by Univision television network covered a story of Central American children who travel several kilometers on foot, horseback, on dirt roads and across rivers and mountains to get to school. The story followed a family of five siblings living in a remote area of El Salvador. Each day, they rise before sunrise to embark on the perilous journey to school. Journalist, Ernesto Rivas, of Primer Impacto, traveled to Ahuachapan, El Salvador, and accompanied the children on their journey from home to school. It took them 40 minutes on a small boat, followed by 40 minutes on foot to get to class. With a smile on her face, and wearing a school uniform, Eloisa Garcia, the eldest sister, navigated the small vessel carrying all of her younger siblings to school. She told Rivas that she was happy. Without school, she may have never learned to read or write.
The swamp hides snakes and crocodiles. Thankfully, Rivas reported,“we were lucky and didn’t see any today.” After arriving safely on dry land, the children joined others on the long walk to school.
I was fascinated by the story of these young children’s dedication to their education, and their courage and determination to travel hours through the wilderness to get to school. The piece focused on the dedicated, brave rural children, and left me thinking, What about the rural teachers?What is it like for them? Who are they? What are some of the challenges they face, and What are the most rewarding aspects of teaching rural children in El Salvador?
Below is the story of Efrain Cornejo Rivera. He is a rural teacher in San Vicente, a departamento of El Salvador. After researching rural teachers in El Salvador, I came across an article praising him as an innovative teacher, the recipient of national and international awards. With some research, I was able to locate him, and asked him for an interview. Thankfully, he shared generously of his busy schedule and spoke with me at length.
We talked about his students, the difficulties he faces in the classroom, his views on Salvadoran gangs and his belief that STEM education is the road to transcend poverty, destroy stereotypes, and build a brighter El Salvador. What follows is his story in his own words. Photography, courtesy of Efrain Cornejo Rivera.
El Salvador-A Teacher’s view of His craft and his Culture.
Efrain lives in El Salvador in the department of San Vicente. El Salvador is divided into 14 departments. San Vicente is about an hour from the capital.
My country is a small country, so small in fact, that one can travel across it in just 4 hours. All schools located outside the capital, are considered to be rural schools. I live about a 25 minute drive from my school. I work in the Centro Escolar de Achichilco.
The school is located in Llanos de Achichilco. The name is an indigenous one, and means lugar de aguas cristalinas, the place of the crystalline water. Our school is surrounded by many rivers. Gracias a Dios, thank God, they are not contaminated by the factories, like others in other parts of El Salvador.
The canton is about 20 minutes from the San Vicente zone. Here, the population is small, about 400 families.
Two Worlds Apart-Urban vs. Rural Life in El Salvador
El Salvador is split into two worlds. The rural zone, where people lack basic needs, like potable water, and basic services like electricity. To access water, they dig a hole in the dirt and collect underground water using buckets. They care about the environment and live in a way that seems difficult to urban folk, but to them, their struggles are part of everyday living. When thinking about urban life, I’ve learned that we are not necessarily better off. It seems to me that the comforts of urban life have not appeased us. We are constantly looking for the next best thing, wanting more. People in rural areas of El Salvador have a peaceful charm that we lack. They are kind, hospitable, happy, and welcome others with open arms.
My Students: Family Role in Student Participation
Our student population comes from these rural families, yet our numbers fluctuate a lot depending on US policies and politics. Many families send their children to the United States to reunite with relatives. This affects our student population.
To Help Fathers in the Fields or Go to School-Para Que? For What?
Many of our children’s parents care more about their children’s participation in agricultural labor than in studying. This means that when a young boy reaches age 10 or 12, he may drop out of school at the insistence of his family. Fathers need their labor and want to take them to the fields to work. These families survive on harvesting corn, sugar cane, beans, so there are cycles throughout the school year when we struggle trying to keep our students in the classrooms and coming up with ways to help them so they don’t fall behind.
The Students Who Make it to Our Classrooms Really Want to be There.
One way in which rural teachers help is by participating in a program that makes home visits. We keep track of our students. When they stop coming to class, we visit them at home to find out why.
To make it to the classroom means students negotiated with their parents their desire to learn. These students want to do better than their parents could. They want to know about a world outside the fields. We open up that world for them. We show them opportunities, creativity and hope. If they apply themselves, we teach them that their lives can thrive.
Gender Equity and the Rural Classroom:
Our approach to gender equity is to work every day to destroy the stereotypes that have teachers focusing on boys and labeling courses and activities as classes solo para varoncitos (for young boys, only). Sometimes, we have to convince girls to take chances. Our young girls sometimes buy into the gender stereotypes that knowledge and educational opportunity depends on gender. At times, when we treat them equally, the girls respond with “como soy ninia no lo hago,” since I’m a little girl, I don’t have to do that. We are working on it.
To change stereotypes we teach our students the value of team work. A strong teams need everyone, boys and girls alike.
Girls Vs. Boys: How Do They Do in the Classroom?
Interestingly, we have two phenomenons: rural girls surpass the boys in the classroom. They apply themselves more. Why? The girls rarely miss class. And if they do,“se ponen las pilas,” they charge up and get to work. They don’t settle for missing information, falling behind or not having all the materials. They want to catch up and excel.
Our young boys arrive tired, not only from the long trek to school, but also because they are exhausted after working the fields once they get home from school. Boys don’t ask for what they missed. They don’t ask for copies of materials handed out. So if we measure girls vs. boy performance in the classroom, the girls have better grades.
But sadly, in our rural culture, young girls, regardless of how smart or applied they are, they only tend to study up to the 9th grade. The parents don’t want to invest in an advanced education because the thinking is “para que? Si se me va a juntar o casar, no vale la pena pagar para estudios.” For what? My girl will cohabit or marry someone soon, so what is the point of investing in her education?
Regarding our rural young men, from 1st to 9th grade they tend to demonstrate a bit of lazy tendencies, but, for the dedicated ones who finish, these young men have higher chances to go on to the university and build careers, technical ones or academic ones.
Computer Science, Technology and Rural Girls-Fathers Worry
Sometimes fathers don’t want their daughters to learn computer science. The wide availability of cell phones in El Salvador have brought Facebook and WhatsApp to the rural world. Parents worry about the negative aspects of technology in their daughter’s lives. In keeping technology at bay, some parents feel they are preserving their daughters’ innocence and protecting them from an uncertain world. We are working hard on ways to convince parents that technology can also transform their daughters lives for the better.
A Rural Teacher’s Pedagogical Approach is Different than the Urban one.
El Maestro Rural Se Sacrifica: The Rural Teacher Make Sacrifices Every Day
Our pedagogical approach is different than the approach of an urban teacher. A city teacher demands of his students. In an almost militaristic style, the urban teacher demands learning. The students in these classrooms are receptors of knowledge and don’t question it. We think of the urban teacher as a privileged teacher. All he/she has to do is expect students to learn based on repetition and redundancy of concepts. At home, the urban teacher receives support by urban parents who also pressure their children to memorize information and do well in school. Part of why parents are so involved and tough with urban youth is that there is no future for students who don’t finish school. Kids who don’t do well in urban schools live in the streets. This doesn’t benefit the student nor his family. The urban student receives a strong message from both the teacher and the family that they must study and must do well.
Rural Expectations are very different. Parents tell the kids, “Para que?” For what are you going to study? You want to help me? Let’s go to the fields. Because we are faced with this challenge, we must be very creative in how we bring them to the classroom and keep them coming back.
We have to motivate them. We have to convince them and show them that the sacrifice is worthwhile. We are constantly thinking of creative ways to stimulate them. We want them to have a happy life and to have choices.
If happiness is working along their families in the fields, then we support that. But if they want something else based on studies, then we want them to have those options, too.
We also have the rural families that realize the value of an education. They have suffered from illiteracy, and have experienced discrimination and rejection. These families understand the value of education and want a better life for their children.
Rural Life vs. Urban Life. Which is best?
Most of us live in San Vicente. It is incredible how a simple 20 minute car ride will take you to a drastically different El Salvador. It’s not just economic difference, but also, a way of life.
For those of us who live in an urban world and commute, life in the city is highly unsafe. We cannot, for one-second, leave our doors open. We are always aware of danger. We can get robbed.
This is not the same in rural places. Rural family homes are separated by weak wire fencing, if at all. You could easily cross over into someone else’s home. But, you’d be surprised. Even though they can, they respect someone’s land and they don’t. They even look out for each other.
What It is like for Our Students:
Rural teachers meet with community leaders to come up with projects for our youth. We are encouraged and know we are succeeding when our students continue to make the daily journey to school. I have the comfort of my car driving me to the classroom. My students do not. These students come from way deep inland. They somehow manage without water, electricity and of course, no internet. Even at my school, our internet connection is weak, at best. We have lost coverage. The government does give us funding for internet in the classroom but internet companies don’t service us because we are too remotely located.
Our students carry buckets of water to their homes. Ironically, they have cell phones.
These families don’t have refrigerators or television sets, but they do have cell phones. The children walk on average 3 hours per day. They leave home at about 9 or 10 and arrive around noon. They arrive hungry and with the hope to be able to eat perhaps the one meal that day. Our schools provide food for our students.
Our students receive free lunch and a glass of milk.
Our Day: Sometimes We Don’t Eat. When Students Show up Hungry to Class after a 3 hour Walk, We Give Them What We Have
We start class at 7:30am until noon. From Noon to 1pm we take an hour break. But, for us teacher, there is no break. The parents usually come by while we try to eat and rest. We have to meet with them and talk about how the children are doing or learn why our students will be missing class.
We sacrifice our lunch break and our lunches. Sometimes, we teachers go hungry. We bring our lunches from home but there is nowhere to heat them up. The microwaves are broken and sometimes the electricity does not work. More commonly, we share our lunches with hungry students. This is typically the case for the students who stay for the extended period.
The really motivated students stay to develop their creativity. We lead workshops in music, art, cinema and robotics. We received an award for one of our projects, Quiero Hacer Cine. I Want to Make Film.
Below: Robot Fotografo: (photo robot), designed by the students to capture the beauty of their environments and their history.
Gangs and Youth in El Salvador
Rural youth live immersed in a culture of machismo. They want to show society that they are capable of any challenge, inclusive of attacking their own brothers. To be a man means to hurt others without remorse or feeling; it means disregarding the pain that violence may cause a family.
The way I see it, the rise in gang numbers in El Salvador is directly connected to the US deportation system. The US deportation system has sent waves of young men who had adjusted to American culture back to rural El Salvador. When these youth are deported to El Salvador, they find a country that has little way to enforce rules. Here, they can run wild. They can explode fireworks every day if they want to. Once back in El Salvador, the deported find other deported youth and they start forming groups. These groups look different than the local youth. To the locals, the deported group looks clean cut, well dressed, Americanized, and tattooed.
El Salvadoran views on tattoos is not as open minded as it is in the US. We are more traditional coming from a dictatorial history and strict parenting. The tattoos culture conflicts with our culture. These differences are aggravated by violence at home. Some fathers believe in teaching through beatings or through sacrifices demanded of their children. When the youth is deported from the US back to El Salvador, they are in crisis and find that they don’t fit at home or that at home they are mistreated and so they join or form gangs.
At home they don’t love me. The streets do.
But then, they face the problem of subsistence. So they steal. They take coins from public phones. They teach local youth bad ways. They use marihuana and all sorts of drugs. We have few policemen and weak enforcement of the law.
Rural teachers worry about this, as does the government. Many schools are installing cameras everywhere to prevent drugs from infiltrating our classrooms.
The Government is Doing What it Can to Provide Alternative Spaces for Creative Projects
This is a big problem. The government is trying to prevent gang activity by building recreational homes where youth can engage in healthy activities. In these recreational homes, we teach them values, computer skills, photography, and paint. We have exercise rooms and technology courses. We hope that by providing them with a healthy space they will stop living in the streets.
How Rural Teachers Use Art to Rehabilitate Youth
We try to come up with creative projects. We have introduced them to the making of film shorts. Our students make movies that address local myths, transmit culture and preserve history and national pride. We encourage science and technology, creativity so they can develop not only healthy attitudes but also competency for 21st century skills. Our projects have earned us national and international acclaim. We count our blessings and we are so proud.
Efrain Cornejo’s innovative teaching earned him, and El Salvador, international teaching recognition and awards by Microsoft.
This year my goal is to work in reducing the gender gap in education and especially in training our rural girls in science and technology. We still have a long way to go. We take it day by day.
At the end of the day, politicians, free computers, and empty promises don’t fill classrooms. The true force of change is the teacher, who has to understand his students, be dedicated, creative, passionate and very patient.
Our dream is to rescue our youth, to motivate them so there is no allure in getting off track. Ultimately, we want our youth to stay here in El Salvador, not leave us for the U.S. We want them to invest in their country, to innovate, to continue our fight to be more than a consuming country and instead become creators of opportunity.
“Despite the strong tradition of independent and critical media in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, journalists in some countries are becoming increasingly vulnerable to violence and government harassment. Censorship due to violence in Latin America has reached one of its highest points since most of the region was dominated by military rule more than three decades ago.” H.R. 536: Supporting Freedom…
On November 19, 2015, Representative for New Jersey’s 8th congressional district, Albio Sires sponsored House Resolution 536: Supporting Freedom of the Press in Latin America and the Caribbean and Condemning Violations of Press Freedom.
This resolution has been assigned to a congressional committee which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.
Below, are highlights of the resolution.
Whereas in 2014, Cuban authorities detained 1,817 members of civil society, 31 of whom were independent journalists;
Whereas in Cuba, independent journalists face sustained harassment, including detention and physical abuse from the Castro regime;
Whereas in Ecuador, in September 2015, the government took steps to close the sole press freedom monitoring organization, Fundamedios, for exceeding its corporate charter, but the government relented in the face of international criticism and potential economic reprisals, demonstrating the value of resolutions such as this;
Whereas in the country, forced corrections by the government have become a means of institutional censorship;
Whereas according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press;
Whereas in Mexico, over 50 journalists have been killed or have disappeared since 2007, at least 11 reporters have been killed since 2011, 4 of them in direct reprisal for their work;
Whereas according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 4 journalists have been killed in Brazil in 2015, many times after being tortured and having their bodies mutilated;
Whereas Evany José Metzker, a political blogger in the state of Minas Gerais who had been investigating a child prostitution ring, was found decapitated outside the town of Padre Paraíso;
Whereas according to the Organization of American States (OAS) 2014 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights, journalists covering protests in Venezuela were subject to assaults, obstruction, detention, raids, threats, censorship orders, and confiscation or destruction of equipment;
Whereas, on April 21, 2015, a lawsuit within the 29th District Tribunal of the Metropolitan area of Caracas charged the journal El Nacional and its Chief Editor Miguel Henrique Otero for reproducing false information and was forced to flee Venezuela;
Whereas the Honduran national human rights commissioner reported that 8 journalists and social communicators were killed as of September, compared with 3 in 2013, and dozens of cases in which journalists reported being victims of threats and persecution;
Whereas according to the OAS 2014 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Members of the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated the press self-censored due to fear of reprisal from organized crime or corrupt government officials;
Whereas in Colombia, there were 98 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, 30 were physically attacked, and 45 were victims of harassment or intimidation due to their reporting;
Whereas members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists;
Whereas national and international NGOs reported that local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups;
Whereas according to the OAS 2014 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights, throughout 2014, Guatemala presented accounts of cases of harassment and the filing of several criminal complaints against a newspaper that criticized the Administration;
Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 in Nicaragua, the government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent radio stations, allegedly for political reasons;
Whereas according to the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 in Argentina, a survey released of 830 journalists throughout the country indicated 53 percent of respondents worked for a media outlet that self-censored content; and
JOURNALISM AND SELF-CENSORING
Whereas almost half the journalists surveyed said they self-censored in their reporting on the national government: Now, therefore, be it
That the House of Representatives—
Supports a free press in Latin America and the Caribbean and condemns violations of press freedom and violence against journalists;
Urges countries in the region to implement recommendations from the Organization of American States’ Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to its Member States;
Urges countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to be vocal in condemning violations of press freedom, violence against journalists, and the culture of impunity that leads to self-censorship;
Urges countries in Latin American and the Caribbean to uphold the principles outlined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and urges their neighbors in the region to stand by the charter they are a party to; and
Urges the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State to assist, when appropriate, the media in closed societies to promote an open and free press.
To track the bill, contact Congress, or download the full pdf, click here.
This is a House simple resolution in the United States Congress (indicated by the “H.Res.” in “H.Res. 536”). A simple resolution is used for matters that affect just one chamber of Congress, often to change the rules of the chamber to set the manner of debate for a related bill. It must be agreed to in the chamber in which it was introduced. It is not voted on in the other chamber and does not have the force of law.