The last few weeks I have been spending my time in meetings, meetings, and more meetings. However, I am finding that for this site, this is part of the development process here. Because of the extreme poverty of this municipality, many NGOs and GOs are here, initiating projects, following up on past projects, and many things are in the works that I had no idea existed here. Lately I have been going to the meetings by the NGO called ADEL that gives money to micro-businesses, with a focus on women´s groups. And because this municipality is forming a women´s association with the hopes of income generation projects (funded by yet a different NGO), ADEL wishes to include Caluco in it´s activities. This means that all the women´s groups in our department are organizing and sharing information on where the markets and fairs are to sell their products and who is selling what. Eventually they hope to create some tourist route that will focus on visits to all the artisan groups in the area. As Caluco has yet to begin to think about some income generation projects for the women´s association, this will most likely happen far in the future.
But, because other projects are going, like the previously mentioned (by yet 2 other NGOs) project with pigs and chickens, the prospects for income generation here are still very good. The canton that started this pig-chicken project last spring has been having problems selling their products, and ADEL has suggested that some of these women with eggs and meat to sell start attending these meetings with me and going to the markets. I hope there is interest here. However, I am finding that as micro-enterprises, for helping women especially, is somewhat glamorized and misconstrued. While they do have the potential to alleviate poverty, at least in the context of this area, and El Salvador, the women´s groups that are having the most success are from women who already have disposable funds, and really aren´t the poorest of the poor. This is likely because these are the women who have time to invest in a big project, have the education to think of a business, and the luxury of making a time (and therefore monetary) investment in something that is slightly precarious and often takes a lot of time to see a payment or results.Furthermore, these women often live in bigger cities with more access to places to sell, whereas the poorest women live in rural areas with unreliable and less money available to spend on transportation. So in the context of Caluco, starting up a women´s micro-business includes many challenges that are often invisible in the big picture of income generation and context matters!
Also, I was able to witness two events that were really exciting personally, since they related to what I focused my studies on in school. The first was a pay day of direct cash payments that happens on one day every two months. People from all over the municipality come to town to receive about 20-40 dollars in cash. Women are the primary recipients, as research and experience has shown they show more responsibilty with the investment of the money. Families that are eligible are based on poverty of course, but mostly on whether the woman is pregnant, how many children under a certain age are in her care. Then, if the children complete the required number of days in school and the required number of medical check-ups over the span of 2 months, they will receive their cash payment. This is a fairly contested method of aid, even by people who live here, and there is really no mechanism to determine ultimately how the money is spent. But the hope is that cash will give them the flexibility to buy those things that aren´t donated or easily accessible, like shoes for kids, medicine, or other supplies.
The other event I got to see was the payment of a food-for-work program. In the 2001 earthquake that devastated El Salvador, a crucial bridge from a canton was destroyed, which made crossing the river very dangerous or impossible in the rainy season. This bridge was recently completed, and the people who worked on the bridge received their salary in the form of food, which was donated by the UN´s World Food Program, through El Salvador´s government agency, the Secretary of Families. This method of development also has it´s pros and cons, but today seeing people recieve huge bags of beans, rice, and oil was truly a magnificent sight.
And each day I learn more about the complexity that is Caluco, but through the tragic stories and frustration with the broken system and extreme poverty, situations like these continue to provide hope for a better future and show that little successes, even with setbacks, are part of the development process.