Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A big job for a Texas grad: Bring social justice to El Salvador

Texas resident Felicia Scott earned her degree in human services with a concentration in clinical counseling from Post University last year. She's now completing post-graduate work with me to obtain her Drug & Alcohol counseling certificate.

Felicia also advocates for mental illness with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and works locally in Austin to advocate for the rights of AIDS patients.

That's just her regular routine. Recently, she took her human services work to a new level -- an intense 10-day trip to El Salvador to help improve the lives of the country's poor.

Felicia heard about the El Salvador project, sometimes referred to as "Social Justice for El Salvador," from a pastor at her local church, who had gone last year. The project is coordinated by many churches around the United States in partnership with the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Their goal is to better the lives of people in the El Salvador's rural communities. Every January for the last 10 years, about 25 men and women of all ages go to El Salvador on this mission.

Felicia's experience in El Salvador was profound. We wanted to share a slice of what it was like to work alongside the people of El Salvador, and what she learned after 10 days of being immersed in their culture.

Here are two e-mails she sent us about her journey. In her first one, she details what she did in El Salvador and what the experience meant to her.
I recently went on a ten day journey to El Salvador after being invited to go help the community of Algeria (small area outside of San Salvador). This project has been in existence for over ten years now with various groups volunteering their time from medical personnel, social workers, doctors, priests, clergy and the list goes on.
I was at first concerned about stepping foot into their culture and cautious about not wanting to bring our American ways to them. As I left my two small children behind in Austin, TX with my husband, I was still concerned about what I could truly do for a culture that works harder than me, knows how to live off their land and survive much better than I do.
What I quickly learned after arriving is I was right, they could work a lot faster than us, they are already surviving on their land and their limited resources, and can definitely handle a machete much better than me!
As the days went on and we worked to build a community center, a "garden" (which was on a 45 degree angle and had not been cleared) the presence of the people is why I was there. It was not about who could work faster or harder it was clear they wanted to know my family, my culture, my background and schooling. Their children are only allowed to attend school until ninth grade in this area.
El Salvadorian children at the site of the future community center
The point of beginning there began to transition itself from working in 101 degree heat alongside the El Salvadorian people to embracing what they had to offer me and in the end that was much more than I had imagined.
Yes, we built the community center and dug trenches for the community garden for many days but the real inspiration came from the people and their land and I will continue to go back each year I can & many more areas to learn and receive the people's gift to me.
Being in Human Services, I have quickly learned it is about embracing the unknown and reaching out in small ways to understand others' value systems but also stopping and listening.
My experience being with the people in El Salvador, listening to their stories about horrific killings, loss of children & family members, Civil War, earthquakes, and much more will forever change me, as I go forth in the states to stress about finding work here in Austin, Texas- I will stop and think of these stories, the faces of children I met and worked alongside with, and their families & at many times during my day stop and think Human Services is about all people.
Felicia Scott, MS in Human Services & Counseling Program, class of August 2010
-Continuing @ Post working on Drug and Alcohol courses.
The team works on the community center garden for tomatoes and peppers
And in a follow-up e-mail, Felicia told us more about why she went on the trip.
WHY I went on the trip: it is not enough to say you are a Human Services professional, you have to live like one. My passion for helping people does not end in my own community, my own state, or even the U.S. it never ends for people who deserve the help.
I have to make the connection with people and their struggles to work in this field and truly understand others lives but being behind a desk, on the phone, writing papers at school, in my opinion is not enough- at all times I have to be aware and an advocate for people who can't or do not know how yet.
Being with a community and understanding one's daily life and struggles is why I have to continue to hope & try, not for just myself but for others, their families, and my own young children. I have to immerse myself in one's culture to truly have the sense of what they go through and if that means many days without clean & sometimes not great running water that is what you do.
What an amazing journey! Thanks for sharing it with us, Felicia.

If you're interested in this project or something similar, ask your local religious or outreach organization about how you can get involved.