Through language learning experiences in Guatemala and professional interactions with the Latino population I developed an interest in Central America and the issues facing people from those countries. Co-partners of Campesinas gave me the opportunity to travel to Central America again and utilize the professional social work skills that I had gained over the years. Prior to the trip we organized information and program delivery with Jim and Archer. As a volunteer we had time to experience El Salvador through short cultural trips, before we started our work in Ilobasco. During the week we worked with the young people I helped conduct vocational assessments, chaperoned trips to visit potential employment locations, and assisted with organization of the program delivery. I was moved by the dedication of the people involved with the organization and feel that the program was a success.
How fortunate I was to watch the interaction and learning of both US teens and Salvadoran children in a village setting! Our women partners, La Nueva Esperanza, requested help with a camp for their children because rural kids often have little opportunity for new horizons because of distance and the constant need for them to help their family survive. The US teens wanted an opportunity for meaningful hands-on work. Both sides got much more than they bargained for. I watched young ones hone their strategic skills thru learning chess, girls advance school English thru activities and books, map/mural-making help kids discover relationships of distance and size of the layout of their neighborhood, and the most shy find voice in play acting. Not only did the US teens daily learn how to re-group in order to lead well, they also found the enthusiasm of the kids for the smallest things fueled motivation. In preparation for the trip, they collected Spanish readers to create a library at the association and got soccer uniforms donated for the children. Young girls became willing to be assertive and equals in soccer and the final game was a joyous success. Returning to the US, the teens have become advocates for the women and children of Ilobasco and La Nueva Esperanza women continue to support children staying in school.
At a meeting of ex-patriates, in the nineties, whenÂ we lived in El Salvador, Â someone asked me if I'd like to volunteer to help a women's development project. Because the work was on Saturdays and the Â trip to Ilobasco, was not very agreeable,Â I was doubtful. But it only took one visitÂ to the organization, La Nueva Esperanza, to convince me that it was a projectÂ I'dÂ like to be a part of. Although the members of La Nueva Esperanza, came from various rural cantones around Ilobasco, sometimes walking for more than an hour, the meetings were happy, festive occasions. At this time in rural areas, the majority of the women were illiterate or with very few years of schooling. Some helped their husbands in subsistence agriculture, while others were single mothers who had complete responsibility for taking care of their families. The organization members wanted to do everything possible to improve their lives and they knew that they could do this only if they were better informed and more capable of making decisions that affected their lives. Classes began with training sessions on different topics, such as health, credit, or leadership, followed by classes in dress making and tailoring or other skills that would allow the women to increase their income. The idea was to improve their skills andÂ make products salable in the local market. Another important part of the project was a program of scholarships to help youth finish their studies and provision of school supplies to low-income children. The scholarships were important because school desertion, especially for girls, was very high because they leave school to work as domestics.
Co-Partners of Campesinas supports local organizations of rural women in El Salvador and Guatemala. Its emphases are the empowerment of women and the education of children, especially girls. Both of these are critical to the social and economic development of rural communities and the reduction of inequities in Central America.
After gaining much pleasure and insight from teaching English to Spanish-speaking immigrants in the US for a number of years, I expected teaching in Guatemal to be more of the same. It was not--it was better. The young people were so intelligent, charming and eager to learn--we had 100% attendance for every class and felt we were really teaching them something that would be useful--they thought so too. One positive aspect was that the young teachers attended our classes with their students. Although they are charged with teaching English they know little and, given their dedication were able to improve significantly. They also were struck by our interactive teaching methods (in Guatemala, children just copy and repeat en masse)which they were eager to try in their own classroom. As the culmination of our program teaching tourist English we took them to Antigua Guatemala to see Guatemalans working with actual tourists. One unforeseen consequence of our program was that the students saw how attractive and interesting their culture was to foreigners, something they had never realized. We never would have done this without Co-partners to arrange it and we plan to return again and again and have recruited friends unacquainted with the organization to join us this year.
I have been involved with Co-Partnes for several years (with a short break after having a baby). I was hesitant at first to get involved in anything that would require meetings and travel! However, after visiting their project in Ilobasco, El Salvador, I was enamored with the people and the work co-partner has been doing since the organization was founded! Besides feeling embraced and welcomed, I was able to see for myself how much the women and their families have benefited from the various programs co-partnerts sponsors such as: the school supplies, the scholarships (to cover transportation for children to continue their schooling)and the skills they have learned in their weekly classes and the workships to learn leadership skills. The succes of their program in Ilobasco is best reflected in the leadership skills shown by their members. An example of this leadership is the newly formed group in a new location, Apastepeque, by members of La Nueva Esperanza (Ilobasco). I call myself fortunate to be able to be part of co-partners and the work it does!
Archer, the founder of Co-partners, is a classmate & friend of mine who has spend most of her adult life providing women in other countries and other cultures with the means to improve their lives. With volunteers from North America & organizers recruited in Guatemala & El Salvador, Co-partners has, over the last dozen years, helped women initiate small development projects that directly augment their livelihood and demonstrate the value of education--so the women encourage their daughters to stay in school.
Co-partners of Campesinas (Co-partners) is a Mighty Mouse of NGOs. It achieves the most with the least cost. Founded by people who lived and worked for years in El Salvador, it is staffed entirely by Spanish-speaking volunteers who pay their own way. Co-partners' projects are conceived and led by rural women themselves. Co-partners supports these women in achieving their own goals, such as starting an apprenticeship program to help young people remain and work in Central America. It enables children, especially girls, to stay in school by providing supplies, uniforms, and money for transportation. It provides and equips a facility for training in sewing and tailoring, enabling women to earn a decent living. It works to help women learn to earn money and further their children's future by educating them. Co-partners is the opposite of the charities that spend most of their money on fund raising and administration. Every cent it receives goes to help rural Central American women improve their lives and the lives of their children.
Co-Partners works in collaboration with local partner women's organizations in El Salvador and Guatemala providing technical assistance, training, and minimal material support. Co-partners' volunteers have worked with partner organizations providing leadership and community planning training, youth employment apprenticeships, product design technical assistance, English classes to meet school and employment requirements, and strategic planning facilitation with Boards of Directors. Co-Partners provides school supplies to facilitate school attendance, sewing machines, and scholarships for community nursing.
Co-partners of Campesinas works with rural women from isolated communities in El Salvador and Guatemala to improve girls', youth, and women's education/training, health, income, and influence. We bring rural women and girls together in a central location, we call then hubs, for weekly classes and then support them in forming and running a training center with the help of a small,annual donation. We also support existing women's networks or organizations whose focus is similiar to ours. With the exception of paid instructors, we are an all volunteer organization, both in the U.S. and Central America, supporting our groups via email, phone and 1-3 volunteer visits a year.