4.1.2 El Salvador
El Salvador, on the Pacific Coast of Central America, is the most densely populated country in the Western hemisphere. Unequal distribution of land and wealth led to a brutal civil war in the 1980s in which over 75, 000 people died and millions were either forced into refuge or displaced internally. In 1992, Peace Accords were signed between the government and the guerrillas which included a commitment to land reform and democratic elections. However, progress with the land reform has been slow and there were many accusations of irregularity in the elections won in March 1994 by the extreme right wing ruling party, ARENA.
The economy is now gradually recovering from the war, helped temporarily by much international aid for reconstruction. However, the biggest single form of income is now remittances from relatives who fled El Salvador during the war and are now working in the United States.
The education system in El Salvador reflects the polarisation of society with most resources benefiting the elite who manage to reach higher education. During the 1980s the war disrupted the little education that was available to the poor. Hundreds of rural schools were permanently closed and the high levels of internal displacement meant schools in marginal urban areas were often seriously overcrowded. The rural schools which remained open suffered extremely high drop out rates.
Despite some courageous initiatives in the 1980s, adult literacy programmes were rarely stable enough to be successful, primarily because literacy teachers were regarded as subversives by the army. Indeed teachers in general were often a target (within just one year, 136 were assassinated). Some alternative models of popular education were developed by the FMLN guerrillas in areas of the country under their control - led by "popular teachers". However, many of these experiences also suffered from a lack of continuity.
By the end of the 1980s less than a third of the school-aged population of El Salvador was covered by State schools. Private schools have flourished but these have tended to serve only the middle and upper classes (about 20% of the population). Since the peace accords there has been some increase in expenditure on education but serious problems of under-resourcing remain, particularly in rural areas.
The pilot programme was conducted in the Department of Usulutan which was one of the most conflictive zones during the civil war, with control of the area fluctuating between the army and the guerrillas. The coffee plantations which dominated the landscape were abandoned for many years as it became impossible to harvest the coffee. Most people in the area sympathised with the guerrillas and indeed many of the young men and women (including boys and girls as young as 14) joined the guerrilla forces. They had little choice as their traditional form of employment as labourers on the coffee plantations had disappeared. In many areas, abandoned coffee was cut down and the poor grew maize and beans to feed themselves. In the late 1980s the communities in Central Usulutan, around the Taburete Hill, decided to organise themselves as civilians to try to improve their conditions. This would have led to army repression had it been open, so initially this organisation was clandestine. In the following years, with the wider movement for peace it was possible to come into the open and the "United Communities of Usulutan" (COMUS) was formed -as a grassroots organisation committed to improving the conditions of the poor in the area.
Gradually COMUS received external funding (initially from the Catholic Church) in order to run a credit programme for farmers. In 1992, with the support of ACTIONAID this diversified into an integrated development programme covering a range of activities. After the Peace Accords many demobilised guerrillas joined COMUS and the present director of COMUS was himself a guerrilla throughout the war.
One of the most important elements of the COMUS programme is now support to the land reform process - giving advice on legal rights and helping people to negotiate with central government to receive titles to land. Support is also given to people wishing to form cooperatives. The credit programme has gradually extended, backed up with technical advice from agronomists as many people who are now farmers have only ever worked as day labourers before and have little or no experience of growing food for themselves. Alongside this there is a primary health care programme with health promoters in each village - and a natural medicine programme developed to systematise the traditional knowledge of local committees.
Within COMUS's education programme the priority has been placed on adult literacy. For over a decade the primary schools scarcely functioned (and when they did they were not effective) and although the guerrillas ran some literacy classes most people missed any opportunity to receive any education. Adult literacy is thus a vital first step.
To run the literacy programme COMUS called on the expert support of a national NGO CIAZO (Inter-agency Committee for Literacy). CIAZO is a national NGO which specialises in popular education, particularly on adult literacy, providing training and technical support to some 30 grassroots organisations (covering a total of about 5,000 adults each year). The organisations which CIAZO supports sit on a management board of CIAZO itself, ensuring that CIAZO remains accountable to those who it serves. CIAZO plays the leading role in an umbrella group of education NGOs, has a joint programme with UNICEF and is widely regarded as the most established and professional NGO working in the area of adult literacy in El Salvador.
CIAZO has been running its literacy programme under the title "Teaching Literacy for Peace" for over three years. It has developed excellent primers and follow-up adult basic education materials. REFLECT was just one of three pilot programmes run by CIAZO in this period and CIAZO had no vested interest in making it work -particularly when the evaluation was to compare the REFLECT approach with ClAZO's own work developed carefully over several years.
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]