Board Member Tom Howarth Visits El Salvador

I travelled to El Salvador with Scott Wright, the director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, last November to observe the 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs: the six Jesuit priests and their two women co-workers that were murdered on November 16, 1989.

We attended many events, panels and discussions for our first couple of days in El Salvador including, but not limited to, a panel discussion on US policy toward El Salvador that featured Rep. Jim McGovern, Fr. Charlie Currie, Geoff Thale of WOLA and Fr. Tom Smolich formerly of the Jesuit conference. Whether it was a movie, a discussion panel or an awards ceremony, each event felt exciting and important. Many events were, of course, in Spanish with translation not always available, so I did the best I could with occasional words from Scott.

tom_trip_5.pngTraveling with Scott Wright in El Salvador keeps one grounded. We constantly ran into people who knew Scott during his 8 years in the mountains and the refugee camps. 

When Scott returned to the US after a few days, I reported to CIS (Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad) for a trip to Suchitoto to visit SEW’s indigo dye project, Pájaro Flor. Our purpose to going to Suchitoto was to conduct an evaluation of the project. 

We met with about 10 women who ranged in age from 21 to 74. Jenny, 25, is a business major at the university and is looked to for much of the administrative tasks related to the business. This business has been sustained by the ready market provided by the production of school uniforms under government contracts. 

tom_trip_4.pngPájaro Flor is flourishing. It has employed 11 women, all of whom are in the process of developing a coalition of artisans and getting training in presentation and marketing of products. The Pájaro Flor women have been getting paid, keeping their kids in school, growing personally and as a group.

They have been facing a few obstacles. For example, maintaining sewing machines required skills that the women do not currently possess. They need tools for repair and 80 hour training course.  If they could afford the tools, they could open a repair shop. Also, they need to develop alternatives to government contracting in the case that politics upsets their current contracts. 

I asked how their employment impacted their relationships with the men in their lives. One woman told of escaping an abusive relationship because the job gave her the ability to care for her children. It was quite a discussion. The women have done a phenomenal job.


Next, I visited the new “Tienda de Canasta Basica” in San Pablo Tacachico on their opening day. I even helped cut the ribbon! The store sells basic necessities like sugar, coffee, rice, cleaning products etc. The store is in the front of the building and SEW paid for the addition and supplies. 

There is a leadership team composed of impressive young women. Julia, the leader of the overall project is a quite impressive woman who has been a vital part of this project’s success.

tom_trip_3.pngI accomplished what I set out to do and learned a lot in the process. There are many blessings and always some unexpected ones in El Salvador.