Monday, August 10, 2009

La Cooperativa Juan Chacon

"La Cooperativa Juan Chacon" was formed by demobilized combatants of the Salvadoran revolutionary army in 1994. As part of the peace process between the FMLN and the government of El Salvador, each of the 33 families that joined together to form the cooperative were given a small parcel of land and materials needed to build a house.

The decision to form the cooperative was an act of courage. None of the members had experience farming, or the first idea how to go about forming an agricultural cooperative. For most of them, being revolutionary soldiers was the only life they knew.

Dinora, the president of the 17 member coop council, has the kind of amazing personal story common among the coop's members.

The army burned down her small house in the mountains of Chaletanango when she was 6 years old. From then on she lived with her family in the forrest, continuously on the move, avioding aireal bombardment or capture and murder at the hands of the army.

From the age of 11, she was stitching up wounded combatants in the make shift mountain hospitals of the Ejercito National para la Democracia (END). Her teacher was a Spanish Psycologist named Maria del Pilar, effectionately known as "Maria Bruja" because the hide out hospitals she set up were never discovered by the army during the entire course of the war.

In addition to her work in the hospital, Dinora also worked as a communications specialist. She stands 5 feet tall. I couldn't help but smile when she told me how light she felt after the demobilization, no longer having to carry her hospital equiptment, her radio, and her rifle around with her.

Canton Los Chilamates, where La Cooperativa Juan Chacon is located, is unusual in El Salvador in that you can safely drink the tap water. This tremendous contributor to the health and well being of the community is thanks to a water system that includes a 390 foot deep well, a storage tank complete with a clorification system, and the system of pipes that deliver the
water to each house in the community.

Understanding how this water system was created in a community of very limited resources provides a context for understanding much else about La Cooperativa: it was made possible by the increadible level of organization in the community. A series of donations from NGO's raised the $100,000 needed to purchase the materials. The work of laying the water pipes was done by the community members themselves. The process required both advocacy and hard work.

I'm inspired and grateful to be here.

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