Adding to Centre College’s destinations across the globe for study abroad, Eva Cadavid, associate professor of philosophy, and Laura Chinchilla, assistant professor of Spanish, recently led the College’s first course in El Salvador, collaborating for the CentreTerm class with CoCODA, a national partner of the Bonner Scholars Organization.
CoCODA is a non-profit organization devoted to the mission of cooperating in projects for democratic, community-based social and economic development in Central America and promoting awareness and social responsibility in the U.S. for more than just relations with Latin America.
“The inspiration for this class came from our personal trajectories, intellectual interests and areas of study, but also a desire to respond to the historical moment in which we live and the urgency for those of us in the U.S. to understand and work alongside Central Americans,” Chinchilla said.
The course, “El Salvador: Community and Justice,” provided an introduction to the history and culture of Central America in the 20th century. Students learned about the Civil War (1980-1992) and studied contemporary issues, like immigration. They visited sites related to the memory of the war in the capital city of San Salvador, engaged in service learning in the town of Santa Marta and explored the colonial town of Suchitoto.
“This course gave students a chance to immerse themselves in the culture and history of El Salvador by hearing testimonies from survivors of the Civil War, sometimes even at locations where the survivors escaped massacres,” Cadavid said. “Students also lived in homestays in two different towns, working alongside people at both locations—in one case at a greenhouse and, in the other, to help construct an addition to a clinic.
“Centre and our students received a special welcome, a recognition and a farewell party at one of towns,” she continued. “Our students and the communities had the opportunity to learn greatly from each other and foster bonds of friendship and understanding. We finished our stay in El Salvador at San Blas, where we were able to rescue newly born turtles and help them find their way to the Pacific Ocean.”
Chinchilla said she hopes students gained a better understanding of El Salvador—its people, culture and history.
“We also hope that this experience has given both our students and the communities that hosted us a chance to learn about each other as people who have values in common,” she added. “Learning about history from the people who have lived through events, such as the conflict in El Salvador, adds a layer to what we can teach them in the classroom that is invaluable.”
Spanish and social justice studies double major Digna Rosales Cruz ’20 (Brooklyn, New York) participated in the course and believed this was the perfect opportunity for her to engage in an intercultural experience with a community she is passionate about on a personal and professional level.
“As a social justice studies major, I have had the opportunity to develop an understanding of the theoretical frameworks that guide perceptions of justice,” Rosales Cruz said. “As a Spanish major, I knew spending CentreTerm in El Salvador would be an amazing opportunity in which my academic focuses, although already interdisciplinary, would be formally tied. Aside from my professional motivations, studying ‘latinidad’ does not often encompass Central America, so I found this experience important to me as a person with cultural ties to the region.”
While in El Salvador, Rosales Cruz and her classmates engaged in discussions of solidarity, memory and trauma-informed education concerning the Salvadoran Civil War. With support from CoCoDA, they were able to build relationships with the communities of Santa Marta and Mazatepeque and support them within local organizations and projects.
“As I reflect on my time in El Salvador, I can recognize how truly empowering it was to engage with community leaders and their social justice work,” she shared.
Rosales Cruz said she was impressed by their LGBTQ advocacy and initiatives on female empowerment. She is thankful for CoCoDA, Cadavid and Chinchilla for coordinating this program and for their support in El Salvador, as it was a remarkable and enlightening experience for her.
“It is fundamental to our goal of being global citizens to ‘move over,’ be open and let members of the community guide us toward what they want to share,” she added. “As we travel domestically or abroad, we must consider the everyday realities of the spaces we enter. It is through consideration of the communities we temporarily join that we are closer to global citizenship.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
February 27, 2020