It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been two weeks since my flight touched down at Comalapa International Airport. We landed in the darkness with the lights of San Salvador casting an obscure amber glow into the night sky. Stepping off the plane I felt both fear and anticipation well up in my stomach. I’ve been planning for the AP fellowship for the past few months, but the weeks leading up to my departure were a whirlwind: finishing my graduate coursework in Vermont, packing up my apartment, attending the AP training session in DC, vaccinations, visas, spending some time in New York with friends, generally just trying to organize my life before embarking on this new chapter.
Only now am I finally beginning to feel settled again. After my enthusiastic introduction to San Salvador and my new coworkers, I’m more excited than ever about the work I’ll be doing this summer with the Fundación Red de Sobrevivientes y Personas con Discapacidades (The Network of Landmine Survivors and Persons with Disabilities).
I hit the ground running two weeks ago and have been extremely busy since day one: attending staff meetings and strategic planning workshops, traveling to rural communities with the organization’s outreach workers to visit survivors in their homes, participating in an educational workshop with the coordinator of the health program, and spending each day with my new colleagues learning little by little what amazing work they do for people with disabilities. The unrelenting dedication, moments of camaraderie and laughter, and genuine affection of the staff has left me with an unparalleled first impression.
Before I go into the detail of my day-to-day work with the Survivor Network, I feel it’s best to begin this fledgling Blog with a little background information…
The organization was originally established as a network partner of Survivor Corps in 2001. Even though the armed conflict officially ended in 1992 with the signing of a peace agreement, El Salvador is a country still healing and struggling with repercussions from the decade long civil war. The Survivor Network (formerly LSN-ES) was founded with the intention of assisting survivors of the armed conflict. There are more than 70,000 survivors in El Salvador who carry with them not only the psychological trauma of war, but a physical scar left behind after the violence of a battle or a landmine explosion.
Peer Support is one of the principle methodologies adapted from Survivor Corps’ path to survivorship. Through the one-on-one support, Survivor Network’s outreach workers meet with people with disabilities who may have felt discouraged or alone in their situation. This type of support enables the person not only to heal, but to become empowered through the recovery process. By sharing their experiences with an outreach worker who has also suffered through the trauma of a disability and learned to embrace life, clients begin to find an inner-strength that sparks the transformation from victim to survivor.
The Survivor Network focuses on three distinct program areas: human rights advocacy, health and recovery, and economic opportunity. In the past few years, the organization has begun to expand their services. They not only support persons with physical disabilities, such as amputations, but are now reaching out to include people with other types of physical disabilities. Today the Network reaches 11 of the 14 departments throughout the country and has assisted more than 3,500 individuals with disabilities.
- After attending a series of small-business workshops, survivor José Navaro received support from the Network’s Economic Opportunity Program to open a small store in San Antonio. Nine months later the store is thriving and José is grateful that he is able to better provide for his family
2009 has already proven to be a monumental year for the Survivors Network. In January of this year they became an independent, Salvadoran nonprofit organization. The Network is still going through a transition and learning to function as an independent organization. As they move forward, they carry with them the philosophies and ongoing support of their international partner and benefactor Survivor Corps. Continuing the struggle for equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities in El Salvador, the Survivor Network will expand and increase their support of people with disabilities throughout the country. It’s encouraging to see program participants, who were once recipients of peer support themselves, are now becoming leaders in their communities and extending the philosophy of peer support and citizen advocacy to help other people with disabilities in their area.
Although their name has changed from LSN-ES (Landmine Survivor’s Network El Salvador) to La Fundación Red de Sobrevivientes y Personas con Discapacidad, their mission and vision remain the same: to be the leading organization in the promotion of social and economic inclusion of armed conflict survivors and persons with disabilities, so that they may reach their full potential and become independent.
Posted By Carolyn Ramsdell
Posted Jun 25th, 2009