By Robyn Stegman
¡Bienvenidos! I am part of a group from Mary Baldwin College that arrived in El Salvador last Thursday for a spring break course titled “Witnessing the Peace Process.” Led by MBC’s artist-in-residence Claudia Bernardi, the trip includes visits with lawyers and human rights practitioners involved in the peace process in El Salvador, to the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (Museum of Words and Images) to see exhibits on the country’s 12-year civil war, which started in 1980, and to the Walls of Hope Open School and Studio.
Since our arrival, I have hardly had time to breathe much less write. From the moment of our arrival, we were put in a bus and taken up to Perquin, a beautiful mountain town which is the subject our visit. Claudia first came to Mary Baldwin College in 2006 and has served as an inspiration ever since. This trip was designed to visit El Salvador with her and see her work, beautiful murals she helped the community create to heal and beautify the town.
Perquin is a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from San Salvador so after we got off our plane, we were off. On the way there we saw utility poles painted red and white or red, white and blue, representing the country’s political factions. Red and white is the left-leaning Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Naciónal (FMLN) and if you add blue you have the opposing party’s hues, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). It was strange to see political messages portrayed on defaced property, but it is a fact of life here.
When we reached Perquin, we realized the immediate impact of Claudia’s work. The town’s posts were instead decorated with beautiful art by the children of Perquin. It was a message to protect the environment and to protect the children. The town has gotten the message, and you do not find red and white stripes on any poles in Perquin.
Since our arrival, we have met so many people from the teachers at a school for art that Claudia has set up, to a lawyer working on bringing the case of El Mozote, a massacre in which Salvadoran armed forces killed at least 1,000 civilians in 1981, to justice. For now, however, I must end this first entry because I am off again to visit the site at El Mozote. Until next time …
Robyn Stegman is a senior at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. Majoring in international relations, she is the president of Mary Baldwin Global Initiative. In fall 2007, she participated in a program through Antioch University in which she stayed and studied at a Buddhist monastery in India. Her blog on that trip can be found here: http://robynindia.blogspot.com/