“They would learn to fight by fighting. Near the Sapo River we heard the final chant: “For those who have no bread, no shoes, we promise to win!””– Salvadoran Guerrilla Fighter 1979. Rebel Radio: The Story of El Salvador’s Radio Venceremos by Jose Ignacio Lopez Vigil
The above quote struck a chord with me. I have traveled to El Salvador from canton to canton– rural towns — to deliver school supplies and uniforms to young students. I cannot recall the name of the first canton we visited, but I do remember riding in the back of a small pick up truck. The tires on the truck were pretty worn out and we were driving up a mountain on an unpaved dirt road. We passed coffee fields, which I imagined were like the ones my family worked in when they lived in El Salvador.
We arrived at a small one room school house where the entire town had gathered. People had traveled a long way up the mountain to meet us. We began sorting out the uniforms and school supplies. As soon as the uniforms were distributed, children immediately changed into them for sizing. The children looked happy with their new white-collar shirt tops and blue slacks. I looked at their feet and saw either no shoes or torn, worn out ones. I desperately wished we had also given them shoes.
After sorting out school supplies, we had empty boxes of BIC pens. The children excitedly asked if they could have the empty boxes and used them to play—pretending the boxes were little cars.
A few people had made for us chicken soup [this was years before I went vegan] to show their gratitude. After eating, the children took us to the peak of the mountain. We saw small homes scattered along the way, homes without electricity, running water, or furniture.
At the time I did not know how to feel. I grew up poor, but this was a different kind of poverty — atleast my family had had electricity, our own little apartment, a working television, and running water for a hot shower. When I was younger, I never knew there were times my mom did not have enough money to feed us and at times sacrificed her meals to feed my sister and me. The poverty I was witnessing didn’t compare to any of my lived experiences.
I was glad we were doing something “nice”, but this is the life of many people in many parts of El Salvador. A country where the average worker makes $5 per day and the U.S. dollar is the nation’s currency. To contextualize this, I went to a grocery store in San Salvador and a Mott’s apple juice cost $6. I couldn’t imagine how people managed to survive in such an economy.
Gandhi spoke about treating the illness, not only the symptoms. By raising money and delivering much needed school uniforms and supplies we were temporarily curing a symptom of poverty.
The debut broadcast of Radio Venceremos, a guerrilla radio station in El Salvador, stated, “…broadcasting from somewhere in El Salvador to accompany the Salvadoran people step by step in their march towards final victory over centuries of oppression.”
I finally understand why my feelings at the time were not clearly developed. The only way to eliminate the dehumanization of people’s daily existence created by a greedy global world is by eradicating poverty. I knew there had to be something more than visiting people one day and leaving them forever; only now understanding the liberation of the people by the people is what needs to happen. Radio Venceremos conveyed this message to the people of El Salvador.
“Ours is not a struggle for vengeance or reprisal. It is a struggle to achieve true peace, justice and liberty. Our forces fight to build and not to destroy. “
-Salvadoran Guerrilla Commander Joaquin Villalobos