The sights, the smells, the traffic… everything was different in El Salvador. The heat, at first, was almost suffocating. And in the middle of the city, which consisted of a series of roundabouts clogged with traffic, we’d see people hanging out of their door-less vehicles, yelling at each other, honking and swearing; "squeegee kids" approaching our bus when it was stopped in traffic or at a red light, cleaning our windows and reaching out for change; young men and women trying to sell us anything from coconut water to sunglasses; and everyone was speaking Spanish. It didn’t matter that I had a basic understanding of the language. Everyone spoke so quickly that I could only pick up a word here and there.
Although our schedule was jam-packed, going to talks and meetings in five different regions within the country, our headquarters was Hotelito Casa de la Amistad in San Salvador. We traveled with Miguel, our guide/drill sergeant, and Oswaldo, our driver. Miguel was a father of three boys, and a loving partner. We became good friends during this trip, and he eventually invited me to sit in the front of the bus with him and Oswaldo. Every morning I would share a stick of gum between the three of us. Miguel and I would laugh at Oswaldo, who would slowly break off the tiniest piece of gum, chew it, and swallow before breaking off another tiny piece. He could make that piece of gum last a 2-hour journey.
It was during these long drives that I would learn about Miguel’s personnal experience during the twelve-year war. Like many, Miguel joined the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (or FMLN), the insurgent group to the oppressive regime, in the resistance against the country’s government. After the war, Miguel began working for CORDES, a grassroots NGO that continues to achieve transitional justice for the people of El Salvador. CRIPDES, the regional version of the umbrella organization, distributes funding from CORDES within communities through a micro-loan program, while also running CORDES programs for youth, keeping them out of gangs, as well as education programs about various issues, such as the environment, and violence towards women.
Although these organizations were working to rebuild peace and heal a population – so many civilians were killed by the military that everyone had at least one relative that had gone missing or been murdered – a new threat grew in the years after the peace accords were signed. Various mining corporations, including Canada's Pacific Rim (now OceanaGold), moved in and were granted exploration rights to the land.
Luckily for El Salvador, their neighbours in Guatemala and Honduras had already experienced the devastating effects of foreign mining. El Salvadorians were able to educate themselves based on the experience of the countries around them, and have been resisting mining in their country ever since.
Monique Veselovsky has always loved the art of the story. As an advocate for social justice, she understands the power of storytelling in overcoming difference. Her greatest desire is to create dialogue and share knowledge, for there is no greater story than someone’s lived experience.
She hopes to tell her story here.
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