Learning all about El Salvador

27 August 2014

Gemma Salter, CAFOD’s primary school resources writer, introduces CAFOD’s new El Salvador Geography pack, written for the new Geography curriculum.

Geography was always one of my favourite subjects at school. I loved learning about new places and cultures, immersing myself in an entirely different context. Having specialised in Geography during my teacher training, I was always looking for new material to inspire my children to start this journey of love too. And so it was with much interest that I followed the changes in the primary Geography curriculum.

From September, thousands of schools in England will be teaching a new Geography curriculum, with the new core requirement that children learn about regions in North, Central and South America. To support this new focus, at CAFOD we have produced an education pack that focuses on El Salvador, in order to help primary schools deliver the new curriculum, through the lens of this small corner in Central America.

El Salvador mapCAFOD has worked with local people in El Salvador since the 1970s. At that time, there was much inequality between rich and poor. Many people, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, began to demand change. CAFOD partners supported the families of people who were imprisoned or killed for speaking out against injustice. The country suffered a long and violent civil war. Although the war ended in 1992, there are still serious problems of violence and inequality, along with the ongoing threat of earthquakes and hurricanes. Today, CAFOD focuses on projects which reduce the risk of disasters, help farmers to improve their crops and help to build peace in the country.

That’s the general wider context and background of El Salvador. But for us, it is really important to share stories of children, and their experiences and hopes for the future. That is why I travelled to El Salvador to hear first-hand from children what their life is like there.

El Salvador young girlPart of our journey took us to Puentecitos, a couple of hours’ drive to the west of the capital San Salvador. The landscape here is beautiful, with steep hillsides and volcanoes rising in the distance. It’s also one of the poorest regions in the country. Three out of four families here have no clean water and most houses are made of mud bricks. Finding work is a big problem, with many people moving away to the cities to find jobs. Picking coffee is one way to make a living, but the steep and rocky landscape makes farming difficult. It’s here that I met eight-year-old Jacqueline. She lives with her parents, three brothers and one sister.

El Salvador young girlJacqueline is an extraordinary young girl. She struck me as older than her eight years. She had a quiet wisdom about her that kept me spellbound as she described, though a translator, how she is learning about volcanoes and earthquakes at school. A few years ago the family home was destroyed by an earthquake. Since they rebuilt their house, the family and the entire community are taking careful steps to prepare themselves for any future natural disasters.

Puentecitos is a place rich in community spirit. Sharing is a big part of life here, with neighbours teaching each other to grow crops, women coming together to share skills, and the Church caring for sick and elderly people in the community.

CAFOD has been working with the people of Puentecitos since 2001. We fund a project through our partner organisation the Jesuit Development Service, which teaches organic farming and helps people to make a reliable income.

El Salvador familyJacqueline’s family grow at least 43 different varieties of crops, including corn, beans, tomatoes and marrow. Through using low-cost environmental farming methods, the family are saving money and are still able to produce healthy, good-quality food.

Jacqueline is one of four children who feature in our new pack. Together with Diego, Karen and Aracely, they paint a full and varied picture of life in El Salvador. They convey the richness of colour and culture, the strength of community spirit and the determination of this remarkable country.

Through the eyes of these four children – using stories, photos and films – we are given an insight into the many challenges communities face. We see how the changing climate is affecting them, how they are learning to prepare for natural disasters, how they care for the environment, what secure housing means to them and why peace building is so important.

CAFOD El Salvador PackAll of this is bound in a beautiful photo pack, kindly illustrated by renowned Salvadoran artist, Fernando Llort, and film package, ready for teachers to pick up today and begin exploring a new country, and a new continent for the new curriculum in primary schools this year. We hope it inspires and delights children here, helping to deepen their understanding of life in other countries and adding a global dimension to other subjects across the curriculum.

Visit cafod.org.uk/geography to download the new education pack, illustrated map, photo cards, online films and classroom activities today.

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