SSW Students Deliver Water System to Help Pupils in El Salvador
Traveling in El Salvador from Jan. 2-13, a group of students led
by two members of the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW)
gained insights from residents whose stories embody Salvadorans'
resilience in the face of adversity as a result of a long civil war.
The 12 students are enrolled in an elective course, International
Social Work (SOWK 705), started in 2010 and offered by the School twice
since then. In preparation for the intensive 11-day trip, students
attended four classes in fall 2013 taught by Ali-Sha Alleman, MSW, assistant director
of the SSW Social Work
Community Outreach Service, and by Amy
Cohen-Callow, PhD, MSSW, clinical assistant professor, who
together oversaw the itinerary in the Central American nation.
Coursework continues during the spring 2014 semester with
presentations from experts on topics such as empowerment and community
organizing, work with immigrants, undocumented residents, international
social work, and the links with the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.
Participating students, who completed journals and collectively took
more than 1,000 photographs, are Jamie Frost, Colleen
Gormanly, Marjorie Hatch, Shawnisha Hester, Michele Levy, Svetlana McLaughlin, Adriana Rodriguez, Jenny Rosen, Alicia Secada-Lovio, Meredith Slater, Cecily Staples, and Kim Woodard.
The course is designed to familiarize students with social work as it relates to human rights, social services, community
development, and activism in El Salvador and to give context to work with immigrant populations of Salvadorans in the United States.
Further, it is offered in keeping with the University's 2011-2016 Strategic Plan to
develop local and global initiatives that address critical issues.
After arriving in the capital, San Salvador, the SSW group met with
organizations and individuals who serve that country's most
disadvantaged residents and with people involved in a generation-long
rebuilding process following the Salvadoran civil war (1979--1992).
"Past students of this course felt strongly that we should give
something back to this country which is so graciously hosting us,"
explains Cohen-Callow, one of the two instructors. During a previous
class, Katie Januario, SSW '12,
raised funds and brought a community water system that filters five
gallons of water a minute helping an entire community access clean
water. "We decided to continue the tradition and incorporate it
into the  course," says Cohen-Callow.
In multiple fundraising efforts last fall, including one held at
Restaurante Santa Ana, a Salvadoran restaurant in Baltimore, the
students raised $1,520 toward the cost of two water purification
systems. The equipment was installed during the trip at an elementary
school in a poor, gang-afflicted area in San Salvador. The entire
country is challenged to acquire potable water, given that toxic waste
from mining and other factors have tainted all but 3 percent of the
nation's water, according to the instructors.
Maria Cecilia Romero, the principal of the elementary school in the
Parish of Maria Madre del Los Pobres, expressed her appreciation to the
students and to those in Baltimore who contributed. She is pictured,
above, with students McLaughlin, left, and Secada-Lovio, center.
The SSW group also met with community activists seeking to curtail
pollution from mining and hiked on forested hillsides where combatants
once fought and refugees were in hiding. Students and faculty spoke
with members of the Monsenor Romero Community in Tonacatepeque who have
been struggling over land rights since 2008 and continue to press for
the right to electricity and running water.
The group engaged with a host organization, Centro de Intercambio y
Solidaridad (CIS), a nonprofit that employs an artisan-based
strategy. "Women, ex-combatants, returned refugees, single mothers, and
marginalized communities -- these are the Salvadoran artists with whom
CIS works. These artisans have formed workshops and cooperatives
founded on the principles of fair wages, communal ownership, humane
working conditions, and democratic participation," CIS states.
In a visit to Comasagua, students and faculty members literally got
hands-on experience at a women's cooperative. Each person created a
fabric square using the deep blue dye of indigo, or anil, which is a
traditional crop in El Salvador. Students learned how CIS provided seed
money and administrative training to help the women make and sell
goods. The group also met with other residents of this poverty-stricken
community, which despite all odds, has a flourishing micro-business and
has sent several students to a university in Sal Salvador.
The group visited the government-owned Isla Tasajera, a small island
where a women-run micro-enterprise makes and sells purses.
The SSW itinerary was devised from a social service perspective to
provide examples of the diversity and richness of Salvadoran history,
culture, geography, social systems, and political and economic
"As social workers we are called to expand our worldview as often as we
can," says Gormanly, who is a foundation-year student at the School.
"The International Social Work class to El Salvador enabled us to
experience history and U.S. foreign policy effects from a different
perspective, a perspective we would rarely hear about in the United
States. We saw communities working together to create opportunities for
themselves and their children, despite their lack of resources. Most
importantly, we learned that by hearing others' experiences and sharing
our stories with each other, both sides feel reinvigorated and gain
strength to continue the struggle for justice and opportunity."
|Posting Date: 02/07/2014
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