Nueva Esperanza is a rural community in the Bajo Lempa area of Usulután, on the Pacific coast of El Salvador. Built by refugees who returned to the area from which they had been driven out during El Salvador’s bitter decade of civil war, dictatorship and rule by death squads, the community has made slow but impressive progress. It receives some support from solidarity groups around the world, including UK-based ESNET. Maureen (Mogs) Russell writes the first post in what is planned to be an occasional diary of the community.
Main image: a mural covers the front of a church in Nueva Esperanza. Photo: Rachel Heidenry/Pulitzer Center
Imagine building a village from scratch, in a mosquito infested jungle with nothing but the clothes you stand up in, a bit of tarpaulin as a makeshift tent and a machete. Imagine doing that in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by enemy soldiers who are determined to stop you. And that your group is largely made up of unarmed women, young children and old men.
We had so many questions – what did you do when the soldiers invaded the village, defecated in your precious water supply and detained your young people? How did you build roads, houses, a clinic and a school with so few resources? How did you keep going faced with such a daunting task and so many obstacles? The answer was simple: unity. Organising and working together, supporting, motivating and trusting one another.
Of course, achieving that degree of unity isn’t simple at all. Our friends in Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador, are quite open about the difficulties, the arguments and frustrations, but key to their success – their community celebrated its 23rd anniversary this year – is their commitment to participatory democracy, their vision of a better way of living, a way of life not driven by greed, exploitation and profit but one based on respect, equality, sharing and mutual support. Nueva Esperanza is convinced that this is the only way poor people can survive and thrive in a ruthless, unequal world.
As supporters with close links to the community over 22 years, we find Nueva Esperanza amazing: their courage, determination and organisation are a constant source of inspiration. And we have in the course of two decades made many friends who are very dear to us. We hope to give you a glimpse into the Community – a snapshot of a few individuals we know well, plus an insight into how the community works, their successes, failures and challenges.
Where to start? Meet a few friends! First of all, here’s Lilian, 6 years old when she and her family arrived to create their new home. She remembers well the soldiers, the mosquitos, and the horrible conditions they lived in. In fact we first met her when she and her mum were washing in the river, the only way to wash and keep cool at the time.
And here’s Lilian now: a self-assured young woman of 29, a qualified doctor and proud to be serving her community. The idea of a campesino ( poor peasant farmer) becoming a doctor would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Even now it’s hard, but Lilian studied medicine in Cuba, through ELAM ( The Latin American School of Medicine) which gives opportunities to talented, hard-working and politically committed young people from poor backgrounds.
Otilia and Pablo, Lilian’s mum and dad are justifiably proud of their daughter. Otilia said “We campesinos were never allowed any education. This is the first generation that’s learned to read and write. The children are working hard, carrying on the struggle with their studies. So when we need teachers in our communities we’ll have our own teachers, when we need a lawyer there’ll be those who have studied the law. And when we need medical treatment we’ll have our own doctors. This is a dream come true. In fact, what we’ve achieved over 20 years has surpassed all our dreams!”