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CIS: Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad
(Center of Exchange and Solidarity)
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. --Robert F. Kennedy
In 2013, KABF Director Debra Hannula traveled to El Salvador as a member of the SOA Watch delegation with Father Roy Bourgeois. There she met Leslie Schuld, executive director of CIS. Ms. Schuld organized the delegation’s itinerary and led the group for 10 days, so Debra was able to observe her up close and personal. Leslie explained to the group that she had heard Father Roy speak at her college and he transformed her life. She moved to El Salvador in 1993 and has been working for justice ever since. She had the SOA Watch delegation meet with the former President of El Salvador, the current Vice President of El Salvador, and their Human Rights Assembly and with the communities fighting for their rights to land, clean water, dignity, and work. Leslie is working with those in poverty to fight against a Canadian mining company that wants to mine for gold, poisoning their water supply/land where they live. Debra discovered after the trip that Leslie happens to be close friends of a close friend of KABF Director Katy Jo’s. It truly is a small world after all! Along with fighting for human rights, Leslie has been instrumental in working with native artisans and keeping their craft work alive. After getting to know Leslie and her wonderful causes, Debra asked her to write a proposal for KABF:
Thank you for your efforts to continue the work of Kelly Ann Brown for social justice, creative education, the arts, sustainable food, and research and development of effective treatment for alcohol and drug addictions. My name is Leslie Schuld and I am the Director of the Center for Exchange and Solidarity–CIS–in El Salvador. I recently had the privilege of hosting the School of the Americas Watch Delegation in El Salvador where I met Debra Hannula from your board of directors and we spoke of different ways to work together. The CIS is dedicated to promoting people to people solidarity to build social justice and economic justice in El Salvador, especially for women and youth.
We would like to invite the Kelly Ann Brown Foundation Board members to support one of our efforts for empowerment and economic justice for women. CIS works with women in rural communities to help them organize, to get information and education on human rights, women’s rights, and self-esteem, and then to form a small business for them to generate income for themselves and their families, and contribute to the development of their communities.
Specifically, CIS has been working with a women’s group on the Tasajera Island in La Paz with the organization, empowerment, and vocational training for the group. The women have learned to make beautiful purses out of hand-woven cloth and have been trained in making school uniforms. This has been a process of work with them over the last 3 years. CIS has facilitated four intensive sewing workshops for the women as well as empowerment and organizational workshops.
There are 13 women in the group and the only source of income on the island is fishing, which is unpredictable, doesn’t pay well, and is mostly left open as jobs for men. The women have been working on making purses and organizing out of one of the women’s homes for the past 3 years. We encourage groups to start slow to make sure the women are going to stay together and see if they really want to form a small business. These women have been patient and persistent and have a very high quality product and have shown their willingness to overcome obstacles. Now with the number of sewing machines and the size of the group, they have taken over one of the women’s homes, practically, and it is time for them to have their own space. There is a house for sale on the island that CIS is interested in purchasing for the women to continue their work. The women are currently selling about 400 purses a year and are looking for new markets. They are also trying to get accreditation from the Ministry of Education to be able to make school uniforms so they can generate more employment and income.
It is worth noting that the fishermen on the island earn about $90 a month which is only enough to put food on the table. For the kids to go to high school they have to take a boat to the mainland which costs about $5 per day. The CIS started a small scholarship program this year so the women’s children could go to high school and the women and children cried when they found out they were able to continue studying. Two of the adult women in the group, who have children, have been inspired by the organization and the scholarship program, have re-enrolled in junior high school with their children and are hoping to go on to adult high school. The women have also been elected to run a clean water campaign supported also by the CIS to prevent water-borne illnesses due to extremely contaminated water on the island. The efforts to support the women to have their own sewing center will multiply into stronger organization, empowerment, and income so the women can sustain their families; give the women a voice, and creative education.
The Kelly Ann Brown Foundation is thrilled to partner with CIS. In 2013, we gave CIS a grant to purchase the house turned co-op. Thanks to the donations KABF received from three of Kelly’s dear friends, Lisa, Robert and Julia, we were also able to fund a student scholarship. We wish the women and their families of Tasajera Island all the success in the world!
Click here to learn more about CIS.