Friday marked our final day in Arada Vieja and our first crack at facilitating a community meeting. Turnout was good -there were about 20 adults there (mostly women…) and a pile of kids. And I think that, especially considering it was our first of these, the meeting went very well.
To begin with, we split into groups to talk about the history of Arada Vieja. We asked people to share important events that had taken place, wrote them each down on separate little cards and then asked them to put them in order on a big timeline. The idea here was a) to get people feeling comfortable speaking and sharing ideas together b) to develop our understanding of the history of the place in order to get a better handle on the present.
Needs Identification and Prioritization
Next, we asked each group to discuss the most pressing needs in the community and to work together to decide on the six needs that are most important. After having combined the needs lists from each group, community members were each given three stickers and invited to place them beside the needs on that list that they thought were most important.
The result was a prioritized list of community needs:
In this case, electric lighting came out on top as the number one priority. Currently, most households use gas and candles for lighting of relatively poor quality and spend a good portion of their household budgets paying for it. To finish off the workshop, we spent time discussing some of the specific causes behind the lack of electric light and brainstorming potential solutions.
There was some really good feedback on the workshop and I walked away feeling pretty decent about the work we’d done throughout the week. One of the difficult bits with this research is related to the history of NGO work here and community members having in some cases become accustomed to direct donations with little investment of time, energy, or money themselves. As a result, when someone like me arrives and inquires about needs, many people automatically become hopeful and expectant that I’m going to turn around and deliver something material immediately. So I have to work hard to explain that what I am doing is a general assessment as part of a long-term plan and that I’m not searching for specific projects to undertake right now or promising anything of that nature. I think that this has been made relatively clear but still I’m certain that because of this dynamic I am getting only a certain version of reality through the interviews and meetings. Hopefully an awareness of this paired with observation and discussions with NGO representatives and others will, in the end, paint a fairly accurate picture of needs in San Jose Villanueva.
I’m very lucky to have some lovely friends in El Salvador and to be able to sprinkle little adventures with them into my time here. Yesterday, I went with a few friends to the annual airshow at the Ilopango Airport, just outside of San Salvador. We have a friend whose dad is a pilot and does all sorts of acrobatics so we went to the show to oooh and aahhh as he loop dee looped.
One of my friends has a beautiful little three-year old daughter who came along with us and so her wide eyed enthusiasm for the show made it all EXTRA fun! We spent the whole afternoon there and had a great chance to catch up.
Also, there was lots of GREAT food at the show, including delicious bags of “mango twist” – twirly strips of mango with salt and lemon juice and chili sauce and alguashte (a typical Salvadoran seasoning made with ground pumpkin seeds). DELICIOUS! I’m already strategizing about luggage space on the return trip and how much of it I can fill with food.
Today, Susie (of Epilogos) and I went down to the beach for breakfast and to pick up two new volunteers from Boston who arrived today. They’re here on a co-op placement with their university and will stay for three or four months. So I’ve been showing them around and they’ll spend the next while shadowing me to get to know the community a little bit. It’s nice to have company in the house again and they seem like fine folks.
This afternoon, Keily and I are off to one of the communities to talk vegetable gardens and solar cookers. And then we’re getting haircuts. I am telling you – the fun does not end!