The U.S.-El Salvador sister city movement was organized by U.S. citizens who were concerned about U.S. intervention in the devastating Salvadoran civil war that lasted from 1980 - 1992.
A little history.....
During the war, 75,000 Salvadoran people were killed and over a fifth of the population had to flee their homes. After several years in refugee camps, some displaced peasants decided to organize into groups in order to return to their rural communities. Their goal was both to restore their lives and their livelihoods as subsistence farmers, and to assert their right to be treated as civilians and not military targets.
Meanwhile in the United States, US citizens were questioning the role of the United States military policy in El Salvador's Civil War. In the 1980’s Arlington had a very active group of citizens who were concerned about the United States intervention in Central America called The Central America Committee. This group participated in protests and rallies, invited speakers to Arlington and worked on specific political actions.
At that same time, in El Salvador, CRIPDES (The Christian Committee for the Displaced of El Salvador) was matching communities in the United States with resettled communities in El Salvador. Arlington’s Central America group wanted to partner with a specific community in Central America. As a result, when Teosinte resettled in August of 1988, it was matched with Arlington. In 1988 Arlington's Board of Selectmen officially recognized Teosinte, El Salvador as it's Sister City.
In the early years volunteers played many important roles. They organized a political rapid response network and lobbied Congress to end U.S. military aid to El Salvador. Volunteers traveled to Teosinte, bringing supplies and moral support, and bearing witness to the human rights atrocities taking place. It was clear that villages in El Salvador were safer from the local military if they had U.S. citizens working as partners with them to advocate for their human rights. Volunteers sold crafts made by Teosinte's newly formed women’s cooperative and in the late 1980s the first letter exchange occurred between children in Arlington and Teosinte. Money raised supported projects related to dental health, solar energy, bike generators to provide electricity and the women’s sewing cooperative.
Around the time of the peace accords many core members of the sister city group moved out of Arlington and the group became less active, but continued to sell Teosinte crafts at craft sales.
In 2005 the relationship was re-established. Since the, the Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project has worked with Teosinte in six major ways:
1) Fostering people-to-people connections and cultural exchange by working within our public schools
In 2007 ATSCP worked with the Arlington Public Schools to launch a 4th grade curriculum focused on the unique relationship between Arlington and Teosinte. In the curriculum "Learning from International Friendship," Arlington's fourth graders study the geography, culture, weather and daily life of their peers in Teosinte. Several schools Skype with college students from Teosinte and host Salvadoran speakers. One of the highlights of the curriculum is a letter exchange between the schools. Many schools celebrate receiving the letters with a fiesta of typical Salvadoran food, music and crafts. The curriculum culminates with an exciting, district wide, bilingual concert performed by the wonderful duo of Sol y Canto. This curriculum is supported by parent volunteers in each of the 7 elementary schools.
In August, 2011, 6 of Arlington’s fourth grade teachers traveled to El Salvador to experience life in Teosinte. They returned inspired to share the personal stories with both their students as well as the other fourth grade teachers. Below are links to two teachers’ reflections of this special experience.
Teacher Reflection 1
Arlington Advocate article on teachers discussing visit to El Salvador
2) Raising funds for educational scholarships
As there is no high school in Teosinte, students who wish to continue their studies beyond 9th grade must pay for uniforms, books, transportation and food. Those wishing to pursue a college degree must travel to the larger cities and pay for tuition, books, rent, food, and utilities. These costs are prohibitive for families who are primarily subsistence farmers.
Education is the highest priority for the villagers of Teosinte, and their Town Council has asked for our help in making it attainable for as many of their youth as possible. Scholarship money raised by ATSCP is currently helping 21 students attend high school and college.
Teosinte is proud of its recent high school and college graduates.
3) Providing a market for Teosinte's women's fair trade sewing cooperative
A group of women in Teosinte have become skilled tailors of hand-woven cloth that they buy from a women's weaving cooperative near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Most of the members of each of these cooperatives are widows from the war or political violence, and this work provides them with vital income. Their products include handbags, backpacks, placemats and yoga mat bags made of brightly-colored hand-woven Guatemalan cloth. The Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project participates in several craft sales yearly to sell their beautiful products at a fair-trade price to benefit both the Teosinte tailors and the Guatemalan weavers. Contact us if you are interested in purchasing these crafts or hosting a home party to sell them.
4) Raising funds to support humanitarian and sustainable development projects in Teosinte and the broader province of Chalatenango, where it is located
Money raised may also be used to support various infrastructure development projects approved by the community. Past projects have included supporting a local midwife/health promoter, financing a vehicle for emergency transportation, paying for water irrigation pipes to bring clean water into the village, replacing a leaking roof on the community room, and helping to rebuild houses and the school.
We are currently working to create a library in Teosinte. Contact us if you have books in Spanish to donate or wish to help coordinate this project.
5) Community awareness and political advocacy
One of our primary goals is to increase community awareness in Arlington in regards to the connection between the United States and El Salvador, both past and present. We provide informational booths at our annual Town Day celebration and local international festivals. In addition we submit editorials and articles to our local newspaper, The Arlington Advocate.
We lobby our elected officials in pursuit of just and sustainable policies toward El Salvador. The Arlington Sister City Project supports Teosinte in their resistance to gold mining, the building of several huge hydroelectric dams in neighboring communities and the building of a transnational highway through Northern El Salvador. The Project also supports fair trade and the political/social movement to end discrimination against and create job opportunities for youth and women.
6) Delegations to Teosinte
Visiting Teosinte is a life experience that you will never forget. We invite you to spend time with a host family, swim in the river, try your hand at forming a perfectly round tortilla and take a siesta in a hammock. We believe that these personal experiences are the most important connections we can make between our towns.
We will help you organize your trip and you will be accompanied by a bilingual Sister City employee who lives in El Salvador. All are welcome in Teosinte. We are also interested in sending down delegations based on topics such as education, health care, local government, community organizing and advocacy.
Whatever your interest, please contact us to learn more about delegation opportunities. You will return inspired!