Annual Trips: Co-partners makes annual trips to work with
its three partner organizations, La Asociación La Nueva
Esperanza and la Asociación de Mujeres y Jóvenes
Emprendedoras Santiago Apostal de Apastepeque in El
Salvador and the Red de Mujeres in Guatemala. This year
two volunteers accompanied Jim and Archer Heinzen, Teddi
Ahrens who has made made too many trips to count and a
new volunteer, Sophie Gajadhar-Smith who was a first
timer. Following are stories of their trips.
A Haunting Experience of El Salvador
by Sophie Gajadhar-Smith
In El Salvador, I observed board meetings,
interviewed teachers and students and gave presentations on
writing stories for this newsletter, as well as interviewing
and writing about the women that direct and participate in
the three organizations. In Guatemala, I worked for two
days in a children’s craft program.
The most enlightening part of the trip was attending the commemoration of a 1984 massacre in San Francisco Echevarria, the hometown of Aracely, the president of la Asociación la Nueva Esperanza (LNE). San Francisco Echevarria is a rural town high in the mountains. that During the civil war, the village was located in FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) territory, thus a target of government attacks. Aracely told us the story from 38 years ago: the Salvadoran army fired on innocent civilians in San Francisco, burning the bodies beyond recognition, and then dumping them in the latrine of the village school. This display of blatant disrespect and grotesque violence during the civil war highlighted for me what life was like for many of the communities’ current residents. The commemoration was held outside of one of the town’s four churches. Shelves of flowers lined the mural listing the names of those killed in the massacre and quotes by influential writers emphasizing the importance of remembering the past. Various community groups spoke in commemoration of the fallen, of the injustices that remain unsolved since the war, and sang old anti-military songs. The most haunting part of the memorial was a mural of the massacre painted on the bullet-riddled wall of the latrine where the bodies were dumped. The bullet holes were purposely preserved to remind viewers of the atrocity. Inside the latrine, were quotes from Pablo Neruda and Che Guevara, and elementary school children’s depictions of the massacre. The main message was forgive, but don’t forget because those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.
As an American, I couldn’t help feeling guilty witnessing an emotional commemoration for those fallen at the hands of an American-backed military, which I had never learned about in school. I believe that it’s important for Americans to know about the impact we’ve had in other parts of the world, rather than ignore it in our history books. I deeply admired the passion with which the people of San Francisco Echevarria continue to honor their dead after 38 years. Clearly, the wounds of the war have not been forgotten, and rural Salvadorans have maintained their fighting spirit. Another impressive memorial I witnessed was a monument commemorating 17 local women who had suffered miscarriages, but were tried and convicted for abortion. This monument reminded me of the strife American women face in states where abortion is now being criminalized and the necessity for solidarity amongst women, at home and abroad, who share similar oppression.
You can look forward to some of Sophie’s interviews in the November newsletter.
by Teddi Ahrens:
Every Co-Partners trip I make to Central America strengthens the awe and affection I felt after my first visit in 2012. Ten years have passed, some world events alarm us, and some give us hope. Nothing, however, can diminish the vivid crimson of the bougainvillea, nor the deep blue skies, nor suppress the warmth and resilience of the Salvadoran and Guatemalan people. Not the poverty, nor the rain, nor politics, nor even the Covid pandemic. On this recent visit, my 8th trip to El Salvador with Co-Partner friends, I did more than arts and crafts with children using my “un poquito Spanish.” This year, I also joined the Llort family to celebrate the launch of my book, Painting Joy, the biography of Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort. The book came about only because of my experiences in El Salvador in 2012 and seeing the work of the La Palma artisans. The imaginative figures, decorated so colorfully, and the unique images and designs delighted and inspired me. Looking for more, I discovered the origin of the La Palma art, Fernando Llort, a talented, spiritual young man looking for a way to have a simple, meaningful life.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn about this amazing artist and his life, and the history of his country. And the more I wanted to write his story. I had already researched and written several drafts of his biography before I got up the courage to contact the family and ask if I could interview Fernando himself. Happily, he agreed, and in 2018, we had an enjoyable conversation, partly in English and partly in Spanish, thanks to the assistance of his son Juan Pablo and my Co-Partner friend, Christin Reeder. Fernando died soon after our interview, but his family continued to support my efforts, and I am so grateful to have been able to collect stories from his family and friends and to feature examples of his art for the book. Finally, the book Painting Joy: the Art and Life of Fernando Llort was published. Many thanks to my “Co-Partners” and other dear friends in the States, who “led the way,” and to new friends in El Salvador who shared some of their own their joys and struggles while telling me about Fernando. Looking back, I will always remember. Especially Fernando, who will always paint joy in my heart. Board Members: Archer Heinzen, Kristin Langlykke; Co-chairs Jim Heinzen, Treasurer; Jeannette Rodriguez, Secretary; Teddi Ahrens, Carol Reeder, Jeremy Smith.