Co-partners of Campesinas
Supporting Rural Women and Youth in Central America

El Salvador: Rural Communities of Ilobasco, Apastepeque and Cojutepeque

For twenty-three years a valiant group of women in Ilobasco has been running an educational and training organization for rural women and youth using small grants they receive from the US.  They call their organization La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) to reflect their hope for a better life after El Salvador's civil war. 

Salvadoran members of our most long-standing partner organization, La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope), come from communities surrounding the market town of Ilobasco, El Salvador. Approximately 70 members range in age from sixteen to seventy. Older members usually have 2-3 years of school, while younger ones have often reached middle school. Members typically come from families whose annual earnings are between $1,000 and $2,000 a year.
A meeting of La Nueva Esperanza

Co-partners provides funding in El Salvador to support its motto, "Learn, Earn, and Lead" through activities such as:

 

Learn:


Annual transportation scholarships for 10 rural youths to continue schooling.


Vocational classes: Every semester between 70 and 80 women and youth enroll in half-year Saturday classes. Saturday classes work for rural women who usually come into town to shop on Saturday.  Once they finish shopping they have time to attend classes.  Saturday classes also allow youth to learn a new skill without missing school.  In the beginning, the program offered a class in dressmaking/tailoring.  A computer skills class was added next, followed by classes in cosmetology, electricity, bread/pastry making and English.  Classes last for four hours in the morning because the last truck of the day to some communities leaves at 1:00 pm.  


Enrichment Program for Children:  Scholarship recipients provide child care during class hours so that mothers can attend classes.  Children have the opportunity to borrow books from the library, to draw and color, and to play outside.  Every summer US volunteers teach a week-long enrichment program to preschool and elementary-age children.

 

Earn:

The vocational classes described above have been chosen by the partner organizations because they offer opportunities for earning in the local milieu. Co-partners provides equpment and local trainer salaries for classes in income-generating skills.  For 23 years, Co-partners has sponsored dressmaking and tailoring classes in Ilobasco. Over 800 girls and women have enrolled in classes and many have been able to set up small businesses, sewing and making alterations. This program is now provided in two additional communities: Apastepeque and Cojutepeque.


Vocational training: In 2008, in response to a request from members to help stem youth emigration, Co-partners sponsored a program entitled Youth Excelling (Jovenes en Superación, a multistep vocational program (see below) that included vocational counseling, vocational exploration and five-month apprenticeships at local businesses.


 

Lead:

Leadership training: During their annual visits Co-partners volunteers provide training on topics requested by members - one workshop for youth and one for adults. In workshops, participants identify community problems and propose solutions that they themselves can implement.


Examples of workshop topics led by Co-partners volunteers are:

 

    • In 2015 youth, led by Co-partners volunteers, explored conflict resolution and peacebuilding as central workshop themes.
    • In 2014 youth workshops focused on the idea of "sparks" (chispas) - assets, skills or special talents that youth have and woiuld like to pursue and develop.
    • In 2013 youth explored the skills needed to be peer educators, with an emphasis on learning active listening.
    • In 2012 in Ilobasco workshops for adults on non-aggressive communication and on how to conduct focus groups; for a group of 40 adolescents, socio-drama based techniques for peer education about critical issues affecting Salvadoran youth -- gangs, alcohol and drug abuse, early pregnancy, family disintegration, relationship violence, poverty.
    • In 2011 workshops focused on gender-based violence for women and youth.
    • In 2010 workshops taught women and youth about assertive communication.
    • Co-partners also provides annual consultation in organizational planning and development for women on the board of La Nueva Esperanza in Ilobasco.

Youth Excelling, a Multistep Vocational Program

 

In 2008, at the request of partner organization La Nueva Esperanza, Co-partners sponsored a program to help rural youth ages 15-25 identify options for  meaningful lives in El Salvador, rather than seeing emigration to the US as the only alternative for success.

 

Local leaders recruited interested youth. These leaders and Co-partners volunteers worked together to recruit businesses to accept apprentices for 5-month internships.  Co-partners volunteers who were trained counselors assessed youth interest and helped them select introductory classes such as carpentry, ceramics, metalwork, cosmetology and English to further explore their interests.  After a week of vocational exploration, youth chose internships and participated in an orientation program with their new 'bosses'.

Co-partners funded transportation and lunch for participants.  Local businesses donated time and expertise to train the student apprentices.






(left) Girls learn about word processing on
Co-partners-donated computers.
Students learn to design clothes by making their own patterns.


 

 


(left)  Students learn to design clothes by making their own patterns.





(left) Roleplaying exercise in a leadership workshop.
A Permanent Center for Ilobasco

Our program emphasizes the use of borrowed spaces, but in Ilobasco our partner organization outgrew its space and could not find a new location so we offered to help build a permanent location. Shortly after we made this decision, a fire that spread from a neighboring house devastated the borrowed location, destroying equipment, materials and records. La Nueva Esperanza had to clean up a mess and begin again. This disaster reassured us that the decision to build was a good one. The new center, pictured below, has enabled La Nueva Esperanza to triple the number of students who can attend classes.