Tag Archives: El Salvador

Cause and effect- the migration problem

North Morazan

The north of Morazán, in the mountainous north-east of El Salvador is hands down the most beautiful place in the world. Yet it has one of the highest rates of migration in the country of young people seeking opportunity elsewhere. Many are in the USA, most with no legal status to be there.

Why, you would ask, would anyone in their right mind leave the most beautiful place in the world and leave family and children behind to live in the shadows in a foreign land where they are not fully welcome.

Leaving politics aside, where all positions may be justified, let us take a look at cause and effect. The north of Morazán was a free fire zone during the Salvadoran civil war, causing 100% displacement of the civilian population and complete destruction of productive infrastructure. As a volunteer during the 80s in the Colomoncagua refugee camp, across the border in Honduras, I watched the daily bombing runs of Dragonfly jets over Morazán, part of the one million dollars a day in USA military aid to El Salvador. This period marked the beginning of the migration problem, which continues today given the failure of post-war reconstruction in providing economic opportunity.

Regarding President Trump’s remark that the USA should only accept the best, I would argue that we need them here. Our brightest and best went to war in the late 70s and most were killed or maimed. They continue to leave today in search of a means to care for their families. We need to create conditions that allow the brightest and best to stay here and build Morazán into its full potential.

Morazán was not destroyed in one day. It took a decade of pounding and a lot of resources to do it. It will take some time, resources and determination to reach our goal of prosperity.

Amún Shéa is focused on assisting the creation of that reality in which  the brightest and best may prosper and thrive here at home and migration is no longer the only option. It is no magic formula and offers no quick political solution. It is an arduous task, one step at a time, one student at a time, often seemingly against the current.

Public policy is important, but if you would like to join us on the groundwork, building change from this remote territory, we would more than welcome you.

Thank you
Ron Brenneman



Building the Great Wall

There is certainly much ado regarding the construction of a wall on the border of the United States with Mexico. Known primarily as the Great Wall or Trump’s Wall, the objective is to stop undocumented movement through the southern border.

As with most politically motivated projects, this proposal has created tremendous emotional reactions, both pro and con. In an emotionally charged debate such as this, everyone on both sides of the issue is absolutely convinced they are right. The emotions of this debate are fostered by frustrated illusions on the one hand and fear of unpleasant changes of lifestyle on the other. There is little effort put forth by either side to inject a bit of objectivity into an analysis of the situation. It is within this continuing disorder that a parasitic industry of traffickers, lawyers, jailers, and unscrupulous employers rake in tremendous profits. Many special interests are involved, some representing very powerful financial pursuits and a very few working for a solution.

If the answer to the problem of controlling illegal migration is to be reduced to simply putting an obstacle in the way, that is to build a wall, it is doomed to failure from the start. Actually it would likely result in strengthening the same parasitic industry of human trafficking by provoking an increase in the fare paid for transportation as they become more creative in their methods.

If we are able to overcome the emotional part of the discussion, perhaps we can come to the same conclusion as the American poet Robert Frost, when he wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That is to say we need some order in the backyard and a clear definition of the boundaries in order to avoid a constant dispute with the neighbor. Remember that a good fence serves in both directions. In looking at El Salvador and the USA, it is clear that a case may be made for mutual accusation of invasion and abuse in recent history. It is also very clear that neither party has been represented by its most favorable spokespersons in this exchange. Fear is not a good advisor to either party. In order to move forward, we must quiet emotions, identify appropriate counterparts and start dealing with this in an objective manner.

In most cases, the decision to set off on the journey to the USA is made with the perception that it is the only option to obtain a decent livelihood. It is not a decision taken lightly. Loved ones are left behind, knowing that some will never be seen again, and children are left with grandparents. The sale of land or debt incurred provides the veritable fortune demanded by the trafficking industry. This is reality for, and is the decision made daily by, dozens of men and women in villages and hamlets throughout El Salvador. We often ask how it is possible that they are willing to give up so much and to risk life itself under such adverse conditions when it is compared to the option of investing a modest amount in their own country. The answer is very simple. The confidence factor. There is little confidence that conditions in the country can actually provide a secure enough opportunity to motivate such an investment.

Following the illusion of the “American Dream” requires a high level of courage and sacrifice. It also demands resignation! This combination forges a determination that will not be interrupted by concrete walls or razor wire. To put this in perspective, most are already paying 20 times the cost of an air ticket, and in addition, are willing to risk their very essence and being on a route fraught with inconceivable dangers. Can any wall actually contain this level of determination?

The only wall feasible for containing the migratory flow from El Salvador to the United States is one that makes it more attractive to stay here than to leave. It must replace the “American Dream” with the “Salvadoran Sueño”. It must be a wall that displaces the perception of migration as the only real economic option. That is a wall built of opportunity, in El Salvador.

The foundation of this wall must be an integrated educational program that prepares the young with a proactive attitude and sense of responsibility, real life skills and opportunities for achievement. This implies a true technical-professional preparation and scientific focus in the development of a new enterprises and technologies. The wall itself must incorporate innovation, investment and open access to all technical information and productive processes. The top of this barrier must be a public policy that motivates initiative and protects local and individual economic activity from outside intervention.

So, let’s come together and build this Great Wall. Let’s create the Salvadoran Sueño that keeps our talent here through a solid program of training and opportunity and keeps your opportunists on your side of the fence.

The practical issue that comes to mind of course, is the cost. Who is going to pay for all of this? A very good question and one which deserves serious discussion. A good question to start with is, who is paying now for the disorder? The information on security and protection costs is readily available for review and is staggeringly high. As an example, in 2015 the daily cost for holding a minor in custody for illegal border entry into the USA was $252. That amount would pay a full scholarship for 45 students at Amún Shéa, a private innovative problem-based learning program in Morazan, El Salvador, which is an area of extremely high migration. Does a 45 to one ratio sound like a good investment?

Mr. Trump, you are a businessman and fully understand the difference between an investment and wasted expenditure. Let’s make a deal and work together on building a wall of education and opportunity that works for both of us. If we accept that good fences (walls) make good neighbors, then great gates may be built as well, wide open and welcoming, making us even better neighbors!

Creating victims


You were a hero, a real-life hero,
a sparkle in your eye, a swagger in your walk,
scarred inside and out; twenty years of war carried with quiet pride;
self-assured, confident and able, a real-life hero; great to be around that sparkle in your eye.
oh but then, offered rights and restitution, you traded in your sparkle and your swagger
suddenly a victim…
complete with the victim slouch and slur and gaze
all within your rights, Jose, all your choice
but I miss the hero and the sparkle in your eye.

Rights and restitution for those who have suffered wrongdoing is a noble endeavor. Unfortunately, gaining access to those rights often requires reliving trauma and assuming an idealized victim pose. Financial compensation becomes the all-encompassing goal and remedy, with a little “that will show them” punishment against the aggressors thrown into the mix. While that compensation may be gained (or may remain a promise), the question as to the long-term impact of this victim conversion process on the quality of life of each hero should not continue to be ignored.

-and to those friends who will speculate on the identity of “Jose”, this is a composite of this behavioral phenomenon I have observed over the years and does not apply to a particular individual.-

A proposal for education from Morazán

IMG_7357For the purpose of contributing to a sustained discussion regarding the state of education in El Salvador, I would like to make a concrete proposal. My proposal is based on seven years of experience with the Amún Shéa Center for Integrated Development, in northern Morazán.

Amún Shéa is a proven educational option existing in El Salvador, Central America and is one of many that exist around the globe.

In a world with such diversity it becomes necessary to question whether the uniformity sought by a national education program is valid today. My premise is that the pace of learning, as well as interest and motivation, has a highly individualistic component, and is very unlikely to be fully developed through curricular and methodological standardization.

My proposal is aimed toward “liberation of education.” To do this academic standards are raised and pathways to learning are expanded, clearly establishing the goal of education and assessment requirements, but leaving freedom of choice for the individual regarding the route to reaching that goal.

It would also require establishing a committee or group of experts detached from the educational institutions themselves. Following the criterion of a separation between judge and jury, this commission would independently define standardized criteria of excellence, setting clear goals for each specialty and establishing mechanisms to evaluate those aspiring to graduate.

Currently schools and universities bestow titles and diplomas on their own students, with a variety of criterion and often with dubious results. With this new procedure, the effectiveness or validity of a center or education program would be determined only by the quality of graduate it produces, leaving behind the superfluous discussion on approaches, practices or the role of teachers.

In addition to technical and academic skills, educational goals would respond with a beneficial individual molding of citizens capable of bringing El Salvador out of its backwardness and current state of violence. I do not propose replacing the public system, but to enrich it with agile and independent alternatives, more adaptable to local needs and opportunities.

Educational liberation, as I see it, is the easing of curricular and methodological uniformity and bureaucratic obstacles that do not directly contribute to the learning process. In this scenario, government would focus on encouraging and supporting alternative programs that respond to the diversity of interests and passions of the student population, as well as meeting the genuine demand for local skilled labor and technical and professional skills.

Far from being an idealistic approach, this proposal responds to the reality of an unequal distribution of resources and opportunities based on geography and the social background of students. By contrast, the traditional education system is “idealistic” in that it assumes equality throughout the country that, despite being small in territory, is highly diverse. If we can free ourselves from rigid strategies we could level the playing field for all players. We have found that in the absence of resources, creative solutions to problems tend to blossom and thrive.

Those of us from the Pink Floyd generation remember that their classic “Another Brick in the Wall” invited us to change the world. The challenge was not limited to changing the color of the bricks or replacing them with a different material, but to deliver us once and for all from the enslaving uniformity that dominates the current notion of education.


This blog appeared first as a article in spanish in the Jan. 20 edition of the Prensa Grafica in El Salvador. Go here to see the original article.

November – Noviembre

Site 2

We saw you off with pride and fear…and resignation
Te despedimos con orgullo y miedo…y resignación
 so full of life; energy and glory seeping from your very being
tan lleno de vida; envuelto en un aire de energía y gloria
to God´s will… a la voluntad de Dios.
 Took years to find your resting ground, one of so many scattered through the hills.
Llevó años encontrar tu lugar de descanso, uno de tantos regados por el monte.
Not forgotten and not forgiven for abandoning us, but today is your day
No olvidado y no perdonado por habernos abandonado, pero hoy es tu día
in November… en Noviembre
our tears are for ourselves, not getting past your absence
nuestros lagrimas son para nosotros, no superamos tu ausencia

 All Saint´s Day or the Day of the Dead activities in many areas of El Salvador are not limited to graveyards, but extend into the hills and mountainsides where thousands of lives were cut short during the civl war. Some families gain closure by successfuly tracking down their loved ones remains, many more have not. Our family is one of the fortunate ones and each year we have a picnic at Nelo´s resting place. Nelo, who would have been my brother-in-law died at age fifteen, less than a month after entering the war front. He would have been forty years old and in his prime today. The toll of war…

Las actividades del Día de los Muertos, en muchas lugares de El Salvador, no están limitadas a los cementerios, sino se extienden hacía las lomas y montañas donde se trancó la visa de miles durante la guerra civil. Algunas familias han logrado un especie de cierre por haber encontrado los restos de sus seres queridos, muchos más no han podido. Nuestra familia es de las afortunadas y cada año celebramos con un picnic en el lugar de descanso de Nelo. El quien hubiera sido mi cuñado murió a la edad de quince, a menos de un mes de haber entrado al frente de guerra. Hubiera estado con cuarenta años hoy y en su mejor momento. El precio de la guerra…

Integrating Education and Development

Garden Results

Northern Morazán is a remote border region in El Salvador. It is an area where the dimensional divide between education and development is very clearly demonstrated. Hundreds of local young people graduate from “vocational school” each year and enter “the real world” without the basic skills needed to face daily obstacles and to seize the occasional opportunities when presented.

High school in El Salvador has both a two-year general program as the route to university studies and a three year vocational option. Most rural students opt for vocational studies, as they lack the financial resources involved not only for tuition but for travel, lodging and living expenses to go to university. The problem is that most rural high schools have only one, and at the most two, vocational options. The high school in Perquín, Morazán provides Accounting and Secretary as the two vocational options, from which over one hundred students graduate each year. The obvious contradiction is that northern Morazán, statically the poorest area in El Salvador has little to no openings for these positions. The other difficulty is that the educational curriculum for these specialties is outdated, requiring the graduate who does find employment to relearn their skills once again.

Actually, a vanguard educational system should be the most significant means available to lead development and fight poverty in remote areas of developing countries. However, the traditional separation of formal education from socioeconomic developmental programs results with both falling far short of essential expectations and having little impact on real living conditions. It is indeed a sad truth that expectations regarding both program areas have plummeted, as the status quo of helplessness reigns supreme.

Attempts to effect change are often viewed as unrealistic and discarded as impractical theories. Programs too often are funded only because tradition and political correctness mandates tolerating this social burden, even though the probability of failure can easily be assumed.

Both, may we say, industries, have become institutionalized and increasingly specialized, conceivably to their own detriment. There is an obvious flaw in educational programs that are focused on forming excellent employees but work within a reality of very few job opportunities. Equally, developmental programs often mistakenly assume that the beneficiary population has sufficient knowledge or has the capacity to assimilate new techniques and productive innovations, creating frustration and inefficiency during program implementation and operation.

Very often these educational and developmental programs operate side by side without ever coming into contact with each other. Ostensibly they are all inclusive and mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, neither has managed to solve the social or economic woes in rural areas of developing countries. Both focus on content, knowledge, tools, resources and projected outcome. It is striking that neither consider attitude, self-motivation and self-realization to be basic components in their strategic planning and methodology.

A credible study of the long history of charity programs, reconstruction projects and readily available technical training courses will reveal a high degree of passivity and dependence on outside intervention as a direct result of their implementation. Development projects actually become a means of subsistence in and of themselves without hope of actually originating self-perpetuating productiveness and sustainability. The projects themselves become the employer and the organizations are often converted into a type of family business. Within this setting, traditional education has no clear purpose and therefore offers very little beyond simply keeping the children occupied while parents are working. It could essentially be said that these areas are primary components (purposely or not) of the Poverty Industry, in that “Education” provides the beneficiaries for continuous “Development” which maintains the demand for perpetual assistance and expert intervention.

Constructive socioeconomic change requires integrating the technical capacity focus of development with motivation or positive change in attitudes which are developed through appropriate educational methodology. This implies bringing the two programs together in a way that will enhance both. It requires providing education with a purpose for its existence. It means channeling development through those with interest, willingness and the capacity to assimilate innovative programs. It will provide a support structure to development and coverts education into a relevant, meaningful activity.

Amún Shéa, Center for Integrated Development in Perquín, Morazán is an example of the needed integration, with a curriculum that strives to bridge the dimensional split between academics and development. This is done with hands-on participation by the students in building solutions to local developmental hurdles. Beginning in 2008 with kindergarten through third grade, the program has expanded one grade per year, reaching ninth grade this year (2014.) Accreditation for High School next year is in process with the Salvadoran Educational Ministry.

Amún Shéa stands out from the Salvadoran norm in several concrete ways. The Amún Shéa program runs from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm, practically doubling the half-day public education system. Whereas the methodology in the public system is limited to the teacher copying material from a textbook to the chalkboard (whiteboard now, in some cases) and the student copying that same information into their notebook, our problem-based methodology integrates current and developmental concerns into the subject matter.

As the school runs a full day and nutritional-related health deficiencies within the area are alarming, Amún Shéa incorporates a complete nutrition program which provides nourishing meals, nutrition training, cooking lessons, vegetable farming, fishing farming and hygiene training. Coordinated with the USA-based organization GlobeMed, the objective of the program is to go beyond providing the daily snack and lunch to each student to actually modifying eating habits and diet within the community, beginning with the families of the students. As well, this activity opens the opportunity for families to learn from the program and implement vegetable gardening and fish farming as a business enterprise, which helps broaden the local production base from subsistence basic grains.

Amún Shéa students take on real-world problems for their scientific investigation projects. In one case, the sixth grade investigated the local municipal water supply after experiencing firsthand in their homes the indication of contamination within the distribution system. They traveled to the water source of the system, high in the neighboring Honduran mountains, interviewed the inhabitants living around the source and inspected the source. They then inspected the filtration plant, tanks and distribution system. They uncovered lapses and gaps of responsibility between the municipality and local health authorities. In the end, their investigation forced improvements in the water system for over 3,000 people.

Creation of business plans is another exercise for the integration of real-world situations into the subject material. Several small enterprises have germinated from this process, as parents are convinced of the viability by their child´s work.

Cultural research and investigation as a means of building community and personal identity is an elemental part of the program. Collecting testimony from senior citizens regarding past events, practices and local history, researching local legends and lore, and searching out traces of indigenous roots all assist in personal orientation. In this aspect, not only the past is covered, but current tendencies as well, including immigration, economic activities and opinion polls.

Each student is equipped with a Personal Learning Environment, basically the digital tool-kit and portfolio they will use and further develop throughout their lives. This emphasis on digital tools and resources actually levels the playing field for our students, giving them access to the same information and processes as students in more favorable conditions. It also compensates for the lack of locally available information in needed areas of technical study.

Integration of education and development is the key to initiating positive socioeconomic changes. Its success will depend on the extent that real-world application is implemented throughout the process.