This week we begin our project work in the colourful streets of downtown San Salvador. We are staying at the Centro Bartolome de las Casas (CBC). This is an organisation which focuses its attention on the youth in the capital, raising awareness of issues such as sexual and reproductive health, women’s rights and the prevention of violence and works with both men and women.
CBC is located next to Parque Libertad in the centre of downtown. A prime hotspot for the sex workers in the area. [As part of our orientation] we visited a partner organisation called Flor de Piedra, which uses a holistic approach to help female sex workers in San Salvador. They focus on educating and offering key life skills to many women in order for them to try and find alternative work. We were told how these women are shunned from society, often beaten by the police and due to a lack of sexual health awareness – contract HIV via unprotected sex. When asked whether the organisation provides women with condoms, we were told yes, however, the ‘bosses’ of many female sex workers will take them and charge the women. This is just one of the constant struggles both sex workers and the organisation face.
Within the first few days we were to explore the main blocks of downtown, observing and recording the movements of men, women and children in the area [under the supervision of CBC staff]. A technique CBC have coined as Gender Positioning System (GPS). We observed the same blocks in the morning and again in the afternoon. To physically display our findings we created two miniature models replicating the area, using a colour key to distinguish between the numbers of men, women and youngsters in each location. The models are being used to highlight the demographics of the area. Eventually, CBC will use the information to develop their gender programmes and to help them be able to target certain areas.
Downtown San Salvador is a maze of clustered streets, buzzing with character and charm. The streets are lined with individual stalls selling a vast array of products. Literally everything and anything!
We visited a nearby guardería (nursery) and in between several hours of playing with the children, we managed to create a colourful mural for them to enjoy. Considering the lack of artists in the group we were pretty proud of our creation and the kids loved it. Children go to the guardería in the afternoon after a morning at the local school. There are 3,000 pupils enrolled at the school, hence the reason for them having lessons in shifts, morning and afternoon. We were also given the job of painting the nursery walls due to a change in law from the Salvadoran ministry of health, which now states all nurseries must cover bare brick walls for health and safety reasons.
Another school we visited not far from CBC required our assistance in painting their classroom walls blue. Blue is a significant colour to Salvadorans due to it being the national colour and this was noticeable in every school we saw. We also got involved in some games with the older kids in this school, playing a salvadoran game of cops and robbers and introduced them to British bulldog which was a big hit!
Towards the end of the week we were able to interact with the youth who hang out at CBC. These young people showed great character and enthusiasm even though many had been affected and targeted by gangs and the violent culture that comes from them. They showed us a video of the work they have done in the past. This included street drama and performances to promote violence prevention in the downtown district of San Salvador.
On our free day, we organised a trip to the beach. It was a stunning secluded beach called Mizata. It was a perfect change from the noisy bustling capital and a gorgeous day for relaxing in the sun and having an invigorating swim in the ocean.
I finish off this blog in our new home for the next month, in a beautiful town in the Chalatenango district named Arcatao. We are all very excited to be exploring another part of this amazing country and for the next stage of our journey!
ICS volunteer Molly Girvan writes from El Salvador. Photos: (top and bottom) ICS volunteers with young people from San Salvador; (middle) the GPS model that the volunteers built.